Monday, October 11, 2010

Iraq snapshot

Monday, October 11, 2010.  Chaos and violence continue, a lot of Sunnis are targeted today, fears of a military coup continue to float in Iraq, Iraqi Christians receive attention from the Vatican, Nouri tries to trick Sunni exiles, Gloria Feldt starts a movement conversation, and more.
Phil Sands (National Newspapers) reports on the 5,000 Iraqi Palestinians who are refugees in Syria who have to live in temporary camps, "Syrian policy is that displaced Palestinians are the responsibility of all Arab states and that each must contribute to their cause and support their right to return to ancestral homes. Damascus already hosts more than 450,000 Palestinians and believes that the Baghdad government should have safeguarded the 35,000 Palestinians who were living in Iraq. That did not happen and many fled, leaving 12,000 Palestinians in Iraq, according to UN estimates." The United Nation's Walter Kalin speaks with WRS (World Radio Switzerland) today discussing Iraq's internal refugees.
Walter Kalin: Many of them have found a kind of acceptable way of life but as many are living in very, very difficult conditions particularly in Baghdad there because there was no alternative they had to squat on the public land where they are illegally occupying public buildings. They are threatened by eviction. They are really living in poverty, totally inadequate housing, no access to water, in some parts of the city even no access to education and health. Up in the north, it's a bit better. But people up there spend the meager income they have mainly on rent meaning that they can't send their kids to school. There's a huge amount of child labor. And we're also told that for instance involving trafficking which is a general problem, displaced women are prone to be a target.
Last week, Walter was wrongly billed by me as Walter Kearns. I do not regret the error. Especially when I hear him babble on about 'safety' when you consider 2006 . . . 2006 is four years ago. 2006 was the height of ethnic cleansing. While, in 2010, it might make some sense to point to 2009 if a yearly trend can be established, it makes no sense to hide behind 2006. After bringing it up, he quickly adds, "But still if you're looking just at the UN security reports, there are security incidents everyday particularly in and around Baghdad, in and around Mosul." So, no, the answer it isn't safe in Iraq.  That is one of the main reasons there is no Great Return to Iraq.  The political stalemate is not the reason that there's no Great Return.  This has been addressed by many and addressed many times.  One of the true experts on Iraqi refugees is Deborah Amos who spoke with Steve Inskeep (NPR's Morning Edition -- link has text and audio) August 10th:
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.   
The most recent broadcast of War News Radio (began airing Friday) also featured Deborah Amos. 
Emily Crawford: The US invasion of Iraq triggered an explosion of sectarian violence especially after Saddam Hussein's fall from power.  Until then, the minority sect of Arab Sunnis had been the dominant political force but they lost influence along with Saddam and a dramatic power struggle ensued. Uprooted by sectarian militias and the general chaos of a nation suddenly without government or infrastructure, there was a mass exodus of Iraqis.  As the closest and most accessible of the surrounding countries, Syria was an obvious choice of a destination for the refugees.  Deborah Amos, NPR foreign correspondent and author of the book   Eclipse of the Sunnis [: Power, Exile, and Upheaval in the Middle East]. has devoted extensive research to the flight of these Iraqis and their lives in exile. She says that the majority of the refugees were the newly persecuted Sunnis.
Deborah Amos: It was overwhelmingly Sunnis who were leaving Baghdad.  It was a demographic exodus to be sure.  It was also an exodus that was a middle class exodus -- these were the professionals from Baghdad and that tended to be the Sunnis of Baghdad, the more educated of Baghdad.  It was the doctors, it was the lawyers, it was the school teachers, it was the poets, it was the television producers.  It was the very people that the government was going to need to rebuild the nation and they were leaving.  
Emily Crawford: Although most of the refugees in Syria are Sunni, there are also significant numbers of Iraqi Christians, secular Shias, Kurds and other marginalized minorities.  Saddam's regime had been oppressive but it had least ensured a degree of stability in Iraq. With that gone, sectarian tensions became intensified.  Ahmed Ibrahim al-Karkhi, an Iraqi artist who lived in Syria for three years before coming to the US, remembers the eruption of sectarian tension in Baghdad.
Ahmed Ibrahim al-Karkhi: Honestly, I remember the day I left Baghdad because I felt like I was an outlaw. I did not have any other guilt except I was from one sect and living with another -- and this wasn't present before the war. Everybody used to live together -- the Christian, the Kurd, and the Shi'ite and the Sunni.  But all of these concepts changed with the appearance of all the militias. The struggle for power started so all of these things happened.
Meanwhile Mona Nagger, Nick Amies and Rob Mudge (Deutsche Welle) report that threats and fears mean even more Iraqi Christians could become exiles and they quote London School of Economics and Political Science's Dr. Kristian Ulrichsen stating, "Iraqi Christians became caught up in the overlapping violence and multiple conflicts unleashed after 2003. They became exposed to the similar patterns of kidnappings, extortion, beheadings, rape and forced taxation that affected all other communities at the erosion of central government control left a security vacuum that was exploited by organised and opportunistic criminality and anti-occupatin resistance groups. In addition to this, Christians specifically were targeted by Church bombings and assassination attempts owing to a perceived association witht he aims and intentions of the occupying forces." Vatican Radio (link has text and audio) reports that Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East at Sunday morning mass yesterday and, "In a reference to one of the principle concerns of many church leaders in the Middle East, the exodus of Christians from the cradle of faith, Pope Benedict reminded all those present that 'in Jerusalem the first Christians were few. Nobody could have imagined what was going to take placae. And the Church continues to live on that same strength which enabled it to begin and to grow,' the strength of the Pentecost."  Last week, Michel Martin (Tell Me More, NPR -- link has text and audio) reported on the fact "that the wetlands in sourthern Iraq" --  believed by some Biblical scholars, to have been the Garden of Eden -- are being restored and she discussed the restoration with the Minstry of Water's Dr. Azzam Alwash.
Michel Martin: So give us a status report.
Dr. Azzam Alwash: At this point in time, the marshes are about 35 percent restored. Now, they were about 65 percent restored in 2008. The last two years were essentially drought years, and the amount of water that came in was a lot less, so we lost a lot of the areas that was flooded. But what we have to remember is that this is not the first time this marshes saw drought. And so it just - it's part of nature. It's part of the natural process that the areas around the perimeters of the marshes become wet and dry over the seasons. We just have to work with nature and facilitate the bringing of as much water as possible. And, you know, the problem right now in Iraq, between Iraq and Turkey, is the fact that Turkey is building a lot of dams upstream to generate hydroelectric power to irrigate fields. And so we have solutions. We're working with the Iraqi government. We're talking to Turkish organizations about creating solutions for the long-term future. Our models indicate that we can restore up to 75 percent of the marshes even using only Iraq's limited water resources. I'm glad to report to you that the Ministry of Water Resources of Iraq has bought into our plan, and, in fact, is building all the regulators that we have designed. And by March 2011, all the systems will be in place. What remains is the political world to dedicate enough water to restore as much of the marshes as we can.
Dropping back to October 4th: "But the US government 'helps' in some ways. UPI reported on Friday that the Pentagon wants to sell $4.2 billion in weaponry to Iraq. Iraqis make due on a few hours of electricity a week, they lack potable water but Bobby Gates and other fools think what the country really needs is some 'air-to-air, heat-seeking missiles for dogfighting'. And if you're not getting how screwed up the priorities are (or how alarming that an easy to topple puppet regime would possess missiles), grasp that they'll be spending $42 billion on weapons but they're begging the IMF for -- and getting -- $741 million to do rebuilding to their infrastructure. That's right, they'll throw away $42 billion. But they'll insist no infrastructure rebuilding unless the IMF loans them a tiny fraction of that amount."  James Denselow (Guardian) observes:
There are numerous dangers in empowering an Iraqi military in the current national and regional environment. Petraeus adviser David Kilcullen warned last year that Iraq was witnessing the "classic conditions for a military coup" – where a venal political elite divorced from the population lives inside the Green Zone, while the Iraqi military outside the zone's walls grows both more capable and closer to the people, working with them and trying to address their concerns.
A Rand report into the US redeployment from Iraq recognised that "there is a risk Iraq's political and military leaders could be emboldened by the departure of US forces and their own growing strength to seize control".   
The record-breaking hiatus in forming a government will only have furthered Iraqis' contempt for their politicians and empowered the hand of the military.
Another danger is that while empowering the Iraqi military may allow for a smoother US exit from the country and provide it with a potential card to use against Iran, it creates a very real sword of Damocles that threatens the Kurds. Historically, Baghdad has always looked to make peace with the Kurds when it is weak and attack them when it is strong, a lesson very much in the minds of Kurdish politicians today.
Coup?  Saturday, Maad Fayad's "Fears of Military Coup Surface in Iraq" (Asharq Alawsat Newspaper) reported:
Iraqi political and security sources in Baghdad have spoken of their fears of either a military coup taking place in Iraq or a militant Shiite militia overthrowing the government.                        
An Iraqi official, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat from Baghdad, revealed that "important Iraqi political leaders have strengthened the security of their headquarters, offices, and homes" adding that they have also "restricted their movements both inside and outside of Baghdad." The source claimed that this came "following advice or warnings from Iraqi security and US [military] commanders in Iraq."   
The Iraqi official, who spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, said that "we are not ruling out a military coup taking place especially as the political history of Iraq is full of military coups, and in light of the decision of the commander-in-chief of the Iraqi armed forces, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, to surround Baghdad with military forces…and to exclude other leaders from positions of direct responsibility of the movements of the army, as well as the arrest of senior officers in Baghdad, Mosul, Diyali, Tikrit. This gives rise to fears of a military coup in the event of al-Maliki not being able to remain as prime minister."
India Daily added, "An Iraqi security source has revealed that U.S. forces have given orders for U.S. officers to join key military units in Baghdad as advisers due to fears of an attempt to overthrow the government." The talk followed  Mark Schlachtenhaufen (Edmond Sun) reported, "Iraq is entering a crucial period, which could include a coup triggered by disenchantment and frustation with the political class, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist [Anthony Shadid] said Monday." Shadid heads the New York Times' Baghdad Bureau and he spoke earlier this week at the University of Central Oklahoma.
AFP reports that Nouri made a little speech today in Baghdad insisting that, "We must . . . turn a new page with all those who have gone too far and made mistakes. [. . .] We forgive and turn the page because the country cannot be built on the basis of hatred and rancour." AFP rightly interprets the remarks to be aimed as Sunni exiles, Nouri's political opponents.

The ones he always lashes out at, remember? A bomb goes off in Baghdad and Nouri's insisting it is former Ba'athists in Syria. And then he's demanding that Syria force out all the Sunnis in the country. ('Forgetting' that when he was an exile, he sought and was provided refuge in Syria.) As Rickie Lee Jones once asked, "What could make a boy behave this way?"

Let's see, St. Bernadette visited him in a dream? No. There's been no Nouri transformation. This is the man who actively used star-crossed lovers Ali al Lami and Ahmed Chalabi and their so-called Justice and Accountability Commission to purge Sunnis before the March 7th elections, during the March 7th elections and after the March 7th elections. But the world's supposed to believe Nouri's had a sudden change of heart?

Nouri was unable to force Syria to expell the exiles. Now he seems to be banking on the belief that he's smarter than the exiles and can trick them into returning which would allow him to seek the retribution his blood lust demands.

As Nouri's opponents have been repeatedly targeted with assassination in the months since the elections, as Nouri has expelled Sahwa (largely Sunni fighters, also known as "Sons Of Iraq" and "Awakenings") from Iraq's security forces despite pledges to incorporate them into the security forces and the government, he now wants to show up claiming that Sunni exiles are welcomed in Iraq and he really expects to be believed?

That's how dumb Nouri is and, let's face it, the US government has a long record of installing the weak minded and stupid as puppets throughout the world.
Would-be puppet Ahmed Chalabi visited DC in an attempt to put a new spit shine on his questionable reputaion.   As Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) observes, Iraqi politicians have become the Iraq Globetrotters:

A leading Shiite cleric, Ammar al-Hakim, was in Damascus, Syria, on Wednesday, while the Sunni vice president, Tariq al-Hashimi, flew to Istanbul. And Ayad Allawi, the champion of secular politics across the Shiite-Sunni divide who is losing ground in his campaign to be recognized as the rightful prime minister, went to Damascus and Cairo seeking Arab backing for his quest.   
The Kurdish region's president, Massoud Barzani, who emerged from the election a political kingmaker, was in Vienna, while Moktada al-Sadr, the radical cleric whose followers now wield more political influence than ever, worked the phones from his exile in Qom, Iran.

Everyone scrambles to shore up support and the political stalemate continues.  Jason Ditz ( reports, "As the Obama Administration applies growing pressure to all sides to accept a unity government with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki (the favorite candidate for both the US and Iranian governments) retaining his position, it seems increasingly the other blocs are falling in line."
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 four days and counting.
Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) observes, "For outsiders, it may be difficult to fathom the idea of a political stalemate crippling a government for most of the year, destabilizing a fragile state and raising fears of new strife. But Iraq's ruthless history helps explain the psychodrama behind the seemingly endless negotiations that could drag on until early next year." Thom Shanker and Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) report, "The delay has affected much of the American strategy in Iraq, including trade deals and talks over what, if any, military role the United States will have after a deadline to remove the remaining 50,000 American troops by the end of 2011. The Sadrists vehemently oppose any longtime American military relationship with Iraq."
Meanwhile Caroline Alexander (Bloomberg News) reports that two Sunni groups not affiliated with the non-sectarian Iraqiya -- Tawafuq Party and United Iraq -- which control 10 seats have formed their own coalition and announced that yesterday. They're attempting to translate their 10 seats into some sort of influence at the bargaining table.  One Shi'ite group not yet rushing into Nouri's embrace is the Islamic Supreme Council and their leader Ammar Al Hakim. Alsumaria TV reports, "Melkert conveyed the General Assembly and the Security Council interest in Iraq and their call to make progress in government formation talks. UN Chief representative stressed the necessity to engage all parties in the new government."
In today's violence, Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reports, "Gunmen wearing Iraqi army uniforms stormed at least four houses, pulled the residents outside and shot them -- killing four, police in Baghdad said." Reuters adds that the 4 were Sahwa and that two more were injured. Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports that the assailants attempted to assassinate six; however, after they left, it turned out that two were still alive and are now "in critical condition."  Reuters notes a Falluja home invasion in which 1 police officer (it was his house invaded) was killed.
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing injured four people, another Baghdad sticky bombing targeted the photographer of Sunni and former Speaker of Parliament Mahmoud al-Mashhadani -- the former Speaker of Parliament and left the photographer injured, a Falluja sticky bombing claimed the life of 1 person and wounded the man's wife, a Falluja roadside bombing which claimed the life of 1 police officer and left two more wounded, a third Falluja roadside bombing wounded one police officer and a Kirkuk roadside bombing wounded a doctor and destroyed an ambulance.
Reuters notes a Baghdad roadside bombing injured the Ministry of the Interior's head of evidence Maj Gen Abdul Munim Saeed and his driver, a Falluja home invasion in which 1 police officer (it was his house invaded) was killed, a Qaim roadside bombing which injured four police officers, a Kirkuk roadside bombing which injured one doctor and an Abu Ghraib roadside bombing which injured eight people (including one Iraqi soldier).
In the US, Gloria Feldt has a new book and is engaging int:
[. . .] an online discussion about women and power as presented in Gloria Feldt's new book, No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power.
In No Excuses, Feldt asserts that today nobody is keeping women from parity -- except themselves. Combining extensive research, her personal experience as former CEO and president of the Planned Parenthood Federation, and interviews with dozens of women politicians, business owners, and activists, Feldt concludes that the doors of opportunity are open; however at the rate women are leading the way through the doors, it will take 70 years to reach parity with their male counterparts. 

Feldt gives women 9 Ways to overcome the external and internal barriers keeping them from their own power and leadership. No Excuses has nine chapters, each organized around a specific power tool that will help women change the way they think -- and the way they act -- so they can lead unlimited lives.

Starting today, October 11, join Gloria Feldt for 9 Ways in 9 Weeks: a conversation about how you can apply the power tools in No Excuses to your own life. Feldt will share interviews with amazing and inspiring women as well as her thoughts and links to resources. Each week a different power tool will be posted, topics will be presented, and discussion will take place.    
Please visit at to join the conversation. You can also visit Gloria Feldt's fan page on Facebook to stay up-to-date on No Excuses and the 9 Ways. Please contact me if you are interested in reviewing the book, interviewing Gloria Feldt, or have any additional questions.   
I have not read 9 Ways in 9 Weeks.  I'm sure it's a thought provoking read because Gloria's always been someone to toss things around and come at it from many different angles.  I look forward to reading the book -- and hope to this week -- but I need to note that there are systematic barriers to women's progress.  We certainly saw that in 2008 with the near uniform attacks on Hillary Clinton -- a time when White men repeatedly urged African-American males to take pride in bi-racial Barack but attacked women of all races who took pride in Hillary's run.  Gloria knows that and wrote strongly about that in real time.  It's also true that we can be our own worst enemies.  We are in the majority. Why haven't we seized control?  Why do we continue begging for our rights?  In all the attacks on Hillary, in all that sexism that spewed in 2008 -- sexism that also rendered Cynthia McKinney invisible and allowed for some of the most vile things in the world to be said about Sarah Palin -- in all the attempts to badger and batter women into what a bunch of White males thought should happen, no one bothered to note that we don't have equal rights.  All the talk about voting and blah blah -- Emma Goldman appears more and more correct about how little suffrage would actually matter -- concealed the fact that women do not legally have equality in this country.  The Equal Rights Amendment did not pass, there's never been a serious effort to restart the drive for it (immediately after the failure of it, the decision was made to go the route of the courts).  I don't know that Gloria does or doesn't acknowledge the systematic oppression in her book -- my guess would be not in any great detail because that's not what it sounds like her focus is -- but I'm sure it's a book that will haunt and one worthy of a serious and pro-longed conversation.  I look forward to reading it and hope to finish it by the end of the week.
the guardian
james denselow