Friday, October 01, 2010

Iraq sets a new record

Iraq on Friday will surpass the record for the country that has gone the longest between holding parliamentary elections and forming a government, experts say.
The Netherlands had held that unfortunate honor after a series of failed attempts left the country without an elected government for 207 days in 1977, according to Christopher J. Anderson, director of the Institute for European Studies at Cornell University.
On Friday, Iraqis will have spent 208 days with no new government and, while the Dutch weathered their storm, Iraq's weak institutions may not hold up against mounting pressure and a steady level of violence.

The above is from Leila Fadel's "Still struggling to form government, Iraq breaks a world record" (Washington Post) and it's another proud moment for post-invasion Iraq, like becoming one of the most corrupt nations in the world. People say Nouri's done nothing since becoming prime minister in April 2006. Nonsense, people just don't know which rocks to look under. When you have nothing else to take pride in, Nouri, wallow in your own incompetence.

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 twenty-four days with no government formed.

Roula Khalaf and Andrew England (Financial Times of London) report that the US and Iran joining together in their support for the continued reign of Nouri as prime minister has made -- or kept -- him a contender he otherwise might not be due to his being hugely unpopular with the people of Iraq. They quote an unnamed "senior western diplomat" stating, "Some people think Maliki is the only Shia tough guy around, and it starts from the premise that Iraq needs a strong man to ensure security. [. . .] the impact of the American push for Maliki is that it has actually been a solidifying factor for his opponents." A tough guy? Try thug. AFP quotes Iraqi voter Haidar Ibrahim stating, "I sometimes regret voting. From the very beginning (after the elections), there were always disputes among the political blocs -- the calls for recounts, the delays to the results. How could I have hope after all these things happened?" What a proud moment for the US government. They've meddled and interfered and done everything to keep puppet Nouri in place -- every undemocratic thing you can think of including fighting the efforts to have the United Nations appoint a caretaker government months ago since Nouri's term long ago expired -- and it has had an effect: It's convincing Iraqis that voting just isn't worth it.

Among the many things Nouri has ensured: an unsafe environment for journalists. Reporters Without Borders noted this week:

Reporters Without Borders deplores a targeted attack on Alaa Mohsen, the host of the programme “Liqa Sakhen” on state-run Al-Iraqiya television, who was badly injured by a bomb placed underneath his car as he was about to leave his home in the Baghdad suburb of Saydiya on the morning of 27 September to go to work. Rushed to the Yarmouk district hospital, he was reported to be in a critical condition yesterday.

It was the third targeted attack on a TV presenter since the United States announced the withdrawal of its last combat troops on 31 August (,38320.html). Safaa Al-Dine Abdul Hameed of Al-Mosuliyah was shot dead in Mosul, in the northern province of Ninawa, on 8 September while Riad Al-Saray, another Al-Iraqiya presenter, was gunned down in Baghdad on 7 September.

The current climate of terror and impunity has also seen an increase in violence against journalists by members of the Iraqi security forces.

Today on Morning Edition (NPR), Kelly McEvers reports that journalists in Iraq are facing increasing problems including that the Communication and Media Commission "The commission recently announced that all news organizations, both Iraqi and foreign, are now required to register, pay hefty licensing fees, and sign a pledge that they won't ignite sectarian tensions or encourage terrorism. Human rights groups say this opens the door for people in power to punish their enemies."

Among the many human rights tragedies of Iraq is the blind eye that Nouri, et al and the US government have turned to the assault on Iraq's LGBT community. Michael T. Luongo (Gay City News) is in Iraq and reporting on the LGBT community:

An organization that mostly serves women, many widowed, who have suffered horrifically since the US invasion, OWFI has an open door policy to anyone needing assistance. With my limited knowledge of Arabic, I noticed that the staff used the polite term “mithlee” for homosexual, rather than more offensive labels common among Iraqis.

I met with men on the Sadr City death lists, the postings placed throughout this part of Baghdad by Muqtada Al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. Mohammed was on the list for many reasons, not just his sexuality; the calculus that determines death sentences in Baghdad is jumbled and terrifyingly far-reaching.

My interviews at the women’s center were difficult not only because many men were reluctant to fully explain why they faced persecution, but also because of the OWFI’s office layout. There was no privacy as people watched interviews; little children sometimes played in the room, climbing into my lap as I tried to make sense of a cacophony of languages — English, Arabic, and Kurdish.

A loud air-cooler made hearing difficult, but the power repeatedly blacked out, easing the burden until the Badhdad heat became overwhelming. Still, the welcoming staff made the OWFI one of my favorite places in Baghdad.

Mohammed told me he loves Americans, showing me a cell phone picture of himself with American soldiers. It’s part of what sparked having his name put on the death list. As I tried to dig deeper, he paused, sighed, and told me, “because I drank and stayed out late” and because of his tight Western clothes that showed off the body he built up at a gym eventually shut by the militias as un-Islamic.

Members of the Mahdi Army “phoned me and threatened me,” he said, his words translated by others in the room. Though he never told me why, the militia killed his brother, and his panicked family sent him into hiding. Mohammed told me the name of his brother’s killer, someone the women’s group is familiar with. On another visit, I watched a video of the killer.

I came to learn that in Baghdad people know the murderers in their midst, but can do nothing to stop them. Because of the numerous grounds on which murder victims are singled out, it is quite possible that the number of gay killings has been undercounted, with families saying other motivations were at play.

TV notes. On PBS' Washington Week, Gloria Borger (CNN), Susan Davis (National Journal), Christi Parsons (Chicago Tribune) and Jeff Zeleny (New York Times) join Gwen around the table. Gwen now has a weekly column at Washington Week and the current one is "Telling Our Stories." This week, Bonnie Erbe will sit down with Eleanor Holmes Norton, Melinda Henneberger, Tara Setmayer and Kristen Soltis on the latest broadcast of PBS' To The Contrary to discuss the week's events. And this week's To The Contrary online extra is on whether or not female politicians should call out sexism used to attack them. Need To Know is PBS' new program covering current events. This week's hour long broadcast airs Fridays on most PBS stationsthe Penatgon Papers (Daniel Ellsberg is a guest on the broadcast) and Joe Pantoliano discussesmental illness. Turning to broadcast TV, Sunday CBS' 60 Minutes offers:

Unfinished Business
Lesley Stahl goes to Iraq to report on the many possible sources of conflict that could erupt there once the U.S. military completely withdraws from the country by the end of next year. | Watch Video

The Go-To Guy
He was in charge of the 9/11 victim's compensation fund, and adjudicated claims of Virginia Tech Massacre victims and those of Agent Orange. Now Kenneth Feinberg is tasked with sorting out the thousands of claims stemming from the BP oil spill. Morley Safer reports. | Watch Video

Giving Away A Fortune
Scott Pelley catches up with the world's most generous philanthropists, Bill and Melinda Gates, and travels to some of the world's trouble spots their billions are helping. | Watch Video

60 Minutes, Sunday, Oct. 3, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

The Diane Rehm Show airs on most NPR stations (and begins streaming online at 10:00 a.m. EST). For the first hour (domestic news), guest host Katty Kay is joined by panelists Ron Elving (NPR), Melinda Henneberger (PoliticsDaily) and Michael Hirsh (National Journal); for the second hour (international), the panelists are
Nadia Bilbassy (MBC TV), Courtney Rube (NBC News)and David Sanger (New York Times).

We'll close with this from David Swanson's "The Book the Pentagon Burned" (War Is A Crime):

The Pentagon spent $50,000 of our money to buy up the first edition of "Operation Dark Heart" by Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer and destroy every copy. The second printing has lots of words blacked out. Wikileaks claims to have a first edition, but hasn't shared it. However, reading the bleeped-through version reveals plenty.
Shaffer and others in the military-spying complex knew about U.S. al Qaeda cells and leaders before 9-11 and were prevented from pursuing the matter. Shaffer believes they could have prevented 9-11. He so informed the 9-11 Commission, which ignored him. The Defense Intelligence Agency retaliated against Shaffer for having spoken up. We knew this, but the book adds context and details, and names names.
The bulk of the book is an account of Shaffer's time in Afghanistan in 2003, and the title comes from the name of another aborted mission that Shaffer believes could have and should have captured or killed al Qaeda leaders at that time in Pakistan. Shaffer blames the CIA for screwing up any number of missions, for working with Pakistan which worked with the Taliban and al Qaeda, for counter-productive drone attacks, and for torturing prisoners. He also describes the insanity of General Stanley McChrystal's scheme of sending armed soldiers door-to-door to win hearts and minds and flush out "bad guys."
Shaffer doesn't say whether people he helped capture were tortured, but proudly recounts helping murder people and interrogating people without using torture. He does, however, detail the interrogation he did of a man whom he repeatedly threatened with shipment to Guantanamo. Bleeped out throughout the interrogation are repeated references to what is almost certainly the man's identity as an American.

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