Thursday, November 11, 2010

Iraq snapshot

Thursday, November 11, 2010.  Chaos and violence continue, the political stalemate ends when Iraq has a prime minister and as of today the political stalemate continues, Iraqiya walks out of Parliament, Jalal Talabani becomes the 'new' president of Iraq, and more.
Yesterday's death toll in the latest attacks on Iraqi Christians in Baghdad has risen to five and there are over thirty said to have been left injured. Vatican Radio reported on the violence and Chris Altier interviewed Monsignor Philip Najim, the Apostolic Procurator for the Chaldean Church in Rome.

Msgr Philip Najim: They are practically taking any hope from the mind of Iraqi population and they are telling them, "Leave the country and go out." And this is also, I'm telling you, yes, it is against the Christian people, there is a persecution. They are attacked because [they are] a minority in the country. But at the same time, you know, they [assailants] are attacking the Muslim people. So the whole Iraqi community, the whole Iraqi population is targeted. The whole thing depends on the responsibility of the goverment, the front of protecting the people, protecting the society.

Chris Altieri: What is your impression of the sensitivity, the awareness of the international community, to the plight of Christians?

Msgr Philip Najim: This is, I think, the duty of the international community: To protect not only the Christian community in Iraq, not only the whole population in Iraq, but also the humanity everywhere because if we are only talking about the terrorism in Iraq, this terrorism in Iraq, this integralism, it's going to be spread in the whole area and it will be very difficult to control it. So the international community, it has to interfere, the [United Nations] Security Councilhas to interfere, you know, to put an end to these attacks and to this integralism.

Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) does the count from yesterday's attacks on Christians and comes up with 4 dead and 37 wounded. Yesterday's multiple bombings targeting Iraqi Christians in Baghdad, follows last weeks series of attacks which started Sunday October 31st when assailants attacked Our Lady of Salvation Church resulting in at least 58 deaths. Patrick Martin (Globe and Mail) reports:

As Christians converged on their churches Wednesday to seek counsel from their religious leaders, the capital's Syrian Catholic archbishop made an emotional appeal for Western countries to come to their rescue.
"It would be criminal on the part of the international community not to take care of the security of the Christians," said Athanase Matti Shaba Matoka as he tried to console members of the Baghdad cathedral's congregation.
"Everybody is scared," he told reporters. "People are asking who is going to protect them, how are they going to stay on in Iraq. We are trying to encourage them to stay patient."

Gerald Butt (Church Times) notes, "The intensification of violence directed against Christians, believed to be the work of the al-Qaeda-backed group Islamic State of Iraq, raises concerns that a co-ordinated campaign by militants has begun to intimidate the remaining members of the already-diminishing Chris­tian community into fleeing. Secur­ity at churches has been increased, but protecting whole neighbour­hoods is much more of a challenge."  Alice Fordham (USA Today) reports:

Human Rights Watch says the number of Christians in Iraq had fallen to about 675,000 in 2008 from 1 million at the time of the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. The Catholic Church in Iraq says there are 1.5 million Christians in Iraq, 1 million fewer than 2003.

Many Christians who remain in Iraq are leaving their homes behind for safer areas like the Kurdish-held north. Others have left the country entirely, going to Syria, Jordan or Egypt.

Emma Hovasapien, 50, a Christian who works near Our Lady of Salvation, said that her neighbors have begun selling their furniture. She spent five years abroad but had struggled to find work and came back this year to find an Iraq worse than she had left it.

"This is my country, but how long can we hold on, that is the question," she said.

Jomana Karadsheh (CNN) reports that KRG President Massoud Barzani is declaring Iraqi Christians are welcome in the KRG: "I want to let them know that the Kurdistan Region is open to them. If they want to come, we will protect them and provide them with all services. We are extremely sorry for the crimes they have been subjected to and we condemn these criminal acts, they are innocent people and a precious part of this nation." Meanwhile Mike Hammer issued the following statement:
The United States strongly condemns the recent terrorist attacks in Iraq, which were perpetrated by Al Qaida in Iraq against Christians in Baghdad in their homes and in their churches.  We also strongly condemn additional attacks against innocent civilians throughout Iraq, to include pilgrims in the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala. We offer sincerest condolences to the families of the victims and to all the people of Iraq who are targeted by terrorism. We remain steadfast in our commitment to stand with the Iraqi people as they reject violence and resist efforts by Al Qaida in Iraq to spark sectarian tension during this critical period in which Iraqis are forming their next government. We pledge our support to the Government of Iraq as it takes all necessary steps to combat terrorism and intensify its efforts to protect all Iraqis citizens, including vulnerable religious minorities.

Mike who?  The spokesperson for the US' National Security Council.  This is the second time Hammer has issued a statement and a sign of just who is the go-to on Iraq for the White House.  It's not the State Dept, is it?  Turning to our own Mike, last night he noted the remarks of France's member on the United Nation's Security Council, Gerard Araud.
Gerard Araud: As you know, the horrendous attack against the church of Our Lady of Salvation has created a lot of emotion in the French government, but also in the French public opinion. Let us be clear: any victim of terror deserves our attention, and any terrorist attack deserves utter condemnation. What is at stake with the attack against the Iraqi Christians is the deliberate will to destroy the Christian community there. Defending the Christians of Iraq is not only a moral and ethical choice, it is also a political necessity because when terrorists, Al-Qaida, are plotting to destroy the Christian community in Iraq, it is simply trying to attack the diversity and pluralism of the Iraqi society, which means the Iraqi democracy. The Christians in Iraq are on the front line of the fight for democracy and France wanted the Security Council to express its solidarity with the Iraqi Christians, which means with all the Iraqis and with the Iraqi democracy.

Q: On a related matter, what is France's view of the request by the government of Iraq for the extension of immunity to the Development Fund for of Iraq ...?

Gerard Araud: We are going to discuss that now. I think we will be able to answer this question later on

Q: [Christians in Egypt, Western Sahara]

Gerard Araud: On the first question, we were focusing on Iraq. We were raising the issue of the Al Qaeda fight against the Iraqi Christians. On Western Sahara, there is a briefing which is due on the 23rd of November. There were some discussions that since we have had the talks between the Government of the Kingdom of Morocco and the other side in Greentree, this briefing could take place earlier... but it is up to the presidency of the Security Council to see with Mr. Christopher Ross if the agenda allows it. It is a question of agenda. And as you know next week is a pretty busy week, there is one day off and there is also the debate about Sudan, and the retreat of the Security Council. It is an agenda problem, it is not a political issue.
Political issues?  An Iraqi journalist tells the BBC today, "I think a lot of people who voted this time round will have hoped for a change, and will be disappointed to see the same people in charge." John Leland, Jack Healy and Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) add, "Iraq's lawmakers took a small step toward forming a government of Thursday evening, hammering out the details of a deal struck one day earlier to end an eight-months political impasse."
March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board noted in August, "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 eight months and three days and still counting.

Today the KRG website announces:

Baghdad, Iraq ( - Iraq's political leaders yesterday agreed to hold the parliamentary session as scheduled on Thursday and to name an individual for the post of Speaker of the the parliament (Council of Representatives). The Speaker post will go to the Al-Iraqiya bloc, which is headed by former prime minister Ayad Allawi.
During the meeting, which was attended by the leaders of all the winning blocs at President Masoud Barzani's Baghdad headquarters, agreement was reached on two other points: to create a council for strategic policy and to address issues regarding national reconciliation.
President Barzani, who sponsored the three days' round of meetings, stated that today's agreement was a big achievement for Iraqis. He expressed optimism that the next government will be formed soon and that it will be inclusive and representative of all of Iraq's communities.
Martin Chulov (Guardian) reports one hiccup in the process today involved Ayad Allawi who US President Barack Obama phoned asking/pleading that he accept the deal because "his rejection of post would be a vote of no confidence". Ben Lando, Sam Dagher and Margaret Coker (Wall St. Journal) confirm the phone call via two sources and state Allawi will take the post -- newly created -- of chair of the National Council On Higher Policy: "Mr. Obama, in his phone call to Mr. Allawi on Thursday, promised to throw U.S. weight behind the process and guarantee that the council would retain meaningful and legal power, according to the two officials with knowledge of the phone call."  So all is well and good and . . . Ooops!!!! Lando, Dagher and Coker file an update, Iraqiya wasn't happy and walked out of the session.  Prashant Rao (AFP) reports that "a dispute erupted in the Council of Representatives chamber when the mostly Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc argued that the agreement they had signed on to was not being honoured, prompting the bloc's MPs to storm out. [. . .] Specifically, Iraqiya had called for three of their lawmakers, barred for their alleged ties to Saddam Hussein's Baath party, to be reinstated before voting for a president."  As The Economist noted earlier today, "An actual government is not yet in place; last-minute hiccups may yet occur."  AP notes, "A parliament vote on the government could still take several weeks, as the factions work out the details of who gets what posts."  According to Suadad al-Salhy and Waleed Ibrahim (Reuters), the Parliament today elected Jalal Talabani to the presidency, voted Osama al-Nujaifi Speaker and "Talabani then nominated Maliki to form a new government."  They had to vote, first, on Speaker.  That was al-Nujaifi and the two deputies -- Qusay al-Suhail and Aref Tayfoor. Nujaifi or Nejefi or Najafi is the brother of Nineveh Province Governor Atheel Nejefi who is part of al-Hadba Party.  Following his 2009 election, he declared that they did not need the help of the Kurds in the province -- not for security, not for political partnership and that the borders being in question didn't mean they were for the Kurds to design (he's openly hostile to the Kurds and described as an Arab nationalist). He was the one leading one side of the repeated  2009 stand-offs over Mosul. In June of 2009, Patrick Cockburn (Independent of London) observed:
In Iraq, everybody is paranoid and everybody has a reason to be so. In Nineeh, the capital of which is Mosul, the Sunni anti-Kurdish party al-Hadba won the provincial election in January and took over the local council.  The Kurds are refusing to retreat from territory where they are in the majoirty. Last month the new al-Hadba governor of Nineveh, Atheel al-Najafi, accompanied by some 50 police cars, tried to enter a Kurdish-held part of his province, and was turned back by Kurdish forces. They said they had received orders, though everybody denies issuing them, "to shoot to kill" if he persisted. Had they done so there would have been general slaughter.
 In 2008, Sam Dagher (then with the New York Times) reported that Nouri had given support to Atheel al-Nujaifi -- apparently due to shared sentiments regarding the Kurds -- and also noted that Atheel was "a prominent businessman who owns a ranch in Mosul that once supplied purebred Arabian horses to Mr. Hussein's sons, Uday and Qusay.
The New York Times' John Leland, Jack Healy and Steven Lee Myers report the Speaker was elected and  "With the diminished numbers [following Iraqiya's walkout], however, there were not enough votes to give Mr. Talabani the required two-thirds majority on the first round. A second round of voting, requiring only a simple majority, was to follow."  Mohammed Tawfeeq Jomana Karadsheh and Arwa Damon (CNN) report that Talabani was elected and named Nouri prime minister-delegate at which point the session ended with the plan to reconvene on Saturday.  Mu Xuequan (Xinhua) reports has Talabani winning -- in the second round -- 199 votes and Talabani then declaring, "I ask Nouri al-Maliki to form the next government as his is the candidate of the largest bloc, according to the constitution."
Let's stay with Arwa Damon (CNN -- video) because she's grasping what many -- including NPR this morning -- can't.
Arwa Damon: Now the Iraqiya list won the highest number of seats following those inconclusive March elections. It is headed by former prime minister Ayad Allawi, it's cross-sectarian and it also received the backing of most of Iraq's Sunni Arabs.
Damon's report is worth viewing in full and, as an added bonus, outside of an episode of Scooby Doo, when do you hear someone referred to as an "arch-enemy" (Damon calls Nouri the "arch-enemy" of Allawi.)  But let's go to Kelly McEvers and Steve Inskeep on today's Morning Edition (NPR -- link has text and audio).
MCEVERS: Probably not. I mean the power always rests with the top man in Iraq, and that man is still the prime minister, who is Nouri al-Maliki. The key difference in this government is in this particular election cycle, actually, is that a Sunni bloc, called the Iraqiya Party, actually took the most votes in the election. But despite that, they were unable to form a coalition with other parties to then get a majority of seats in the parliament. So even though they took the most votes, they're actually in third place.
INSKEEP: So what happens to the guy who was the head of that Sunni group, Ayad Allawi?
MCEVERS: Well, he was vying for a top post. I mean he, you know, claiming all along, you know, I took the most votes in the election, I should be the prime minister. Then when it looked like that wasn't going to work out, he and his American supporters were really pushing for him to take the presidency. But the Kurds wouldn't budge on that. The Kurds have long held the presidency and it's a point of prestige for them. Allawi's case is an interesting one. You know, here's a secular guy - he's actually a Shiite - who has the support of nearly all of the country's Sunnis. The Americans and Iraq Sunni neighbors, like Turkey and Saudi Arabia, had really hoped that he could take some top position to sort of maintain the balance of power between Sunnis and Shiites and, you know, to keep the country from lurching back into sectarian unrest.
McEvers is correct that Allawi is a Shi'ite.  But Iraqiya is not "Sunni."  State Of Law is Shi'ite.  But Iraqiya is cross-sectarian or non-sectarian (both terms have been used).  A group of lawmakers came together to form the party and the did so on the basis of non-sectarianism.  Far more serious errors took place on Democracy Now! yesterday where foundatin baby Nir Rosen was allowed to pontificate at length and traveled the globe unfettered by gravity or facts.  Rosen declared that Nouri has "the support of some countries in the region." The region may just be Iran for Nir, but Iran's actually in the minority. And, no, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey were not pulling for Nouri. As Bushra Juhi (AP) observes of the reported deal, "The deal reached late Wednesday reflects a significant victory for neighboring Iran, which had pushed for al-Maliki's return." See Elaine's "What they actually know is much less" for more and also wonder why an Arab region is being 'expertized' by Nir Rosen when there are plenty of Arabs available.
Nouri wasn't supposed to be nominated today -- they were supposed to wait until near the end of the month, after a holiday -- so Talabani's decision to push through and nominate him today most likely goes to alarm and worry over the walkout and fear that the entire agreement could fall apart.  Jason Ditz ( observes:
Iraqiya members seem now to be quite up in arms about the deal, having realized that all Allawi has actually gotten was a promise for a really long name plate at his seat in parliament. The bloc says if Allawi's position doesn't get some defined powers within the next month it will bolt from the fledgling coalition. As other officials have suggested the new government won't be finalized for 30 days, this could mean another seemingly done deal will collapse before a government can be seated.
Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) sees the stalemate over.  Wrong.  The issue that caused the bottleneck was the who would be prime minister.  That issue is not yet resolved.  Nouri has 30 days to try to move from prime minister-delegate to prime minister.  If and when he does make that move, the stalemate ends. 
Some attention is going to the concessions Iraqiya was asking for -- except for Speaker, none appear to have been met (wow, more broken promises from Barack).  Namo Abdulla (Rudaw) states, "The Kurds say they support Maliki because he has agreed to most Kurdish demands including the implementation of Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution that determines the fate of the oil-rich regions like Kirkuk, whether they should be under the jurisdiction of the central government in Baghdad or join Kurdistan."  That's important all by itself but it's especially important when Iraqiya is already pissed off.
Iraq has no prime minister.  We're going to continue with the stalemate continues until the country has a prime minister.  Nouri is the delegate, the prime minister delegate.  When Jalal Talabani named him delegate today, the clock began ticking.  He has thirty days to create a cabinet.  Nouri needed every one of those days last time -- after boasting that he'd be done ahead of thirty days. Nouri can't afford to piss off anyone this time and it appears he's already pissed off Iraqiya which has the power right now to see to it that he is either renamed prime minister-designate in 30 days or someone else is.  But let's stay with the Kurds.  They want the oil rich Kirkuk.  Baghdad also wants to control it.  It is disputed territory and a heated topic. Years ago, a census was supposed to have been held -- mandated for 2007 per the country's Constitution -- and Nouri, prime minister then, played kick the can, kick the can.  Most recently he had set a date of October 2010.  Possibly he thought the wrangling from the March elections would be over by then?  He kicked that back to the start of December.  Back to December 5th.  If it's not held by December 5th?  Will Kurds see it as a betrayal and decide they should throw their support to someone else?  If it does take place, will Shi'ite support for Nouri -- tentative at best -- collapse?  December 5th is within the 30 days.
Nouri could pick ministers quickly -- and reported has bargained most of the posts away already with the US especially pleased by the Ministry of Oil post.  But -- check the Constitution -- it's not that easy. Ministers not only have to be approved by Parliament, Parliament can change their mind -- at any time -- on a Minister.  Let's stay with that latter part because that demonstrates the power everyone else holds should they feel double-crossed.  Sa'ad Jafarri (made up name) is nominated to be the Minister of the Interior.  Nouri's well on his way to creating a cabinet . . . except . . .
Each of those ministers requires approval by at least 163 MPs.  The same number required for Nouri to become prime minister-designate.  Each of those ministers and Nouri's entire ministral program must be approved by the Parliament with a minimum of 163 votes each time.  If Nouri can't nominate a cabinet in 30 days, Talabani -- per the Constitution -- is supposed to name a new prime minister-designate (new, he can't simply 'renew' his previous nominee) who would then have 30 days.  But it's also true that the same procedure kicks in if Parliament does not sign off on all the ministers in 30 days or on the program Nouri proposes.  Should he nominate but even one not be approved in 30 days, Talabani, per the Constitution, must name a new prime minister-designate. 
Piecing together votes was highly difficult for Nouri (both last time and currently), peeling off votes generally is a lot easier than picking them up.  He's Prime Minister-designate.  The stalemate has not yet ended and does not until Iraq picks a prime minister.  (The presidential post is ceremonial.  The prime minister runs the country.)
Marc Lynch (Foreign Policy) sees happy Iraqis, "This outcome has to be seen as a real letdown from the much-touted idea that the Iraqi people had voted for change in March 2010. But those hopes faded so long ago that I wonder if anyone even remembers them. After the long months of political paralysis, I suspect that most people will just be happy to have a government which can start addressing the many long-neglected issues facing Iraq." Really? BBC News gets Iraqi reaction and we'll again note, in light of Lynch's opinion, an Iraqi journalist in Mosul: "I think a lot of people who voted this time round will have hoped for a change, and will be disappointed to see the same people in charge."   John Leland (New York Times) gathers reactions from around Iraq and we'll note some of those voicing objection to Nouri.  Hamza Abdul Harziz in Baghdad, "In any other place, when someone wins an election, it goes to him. So why is it going to Maliki? Something strange is going on." Alos in Baghdad, Majida Sameer: "Why does Al-Maliki remain while Allawi has the legal rights to the Prime Minister position." University of Mosul professor Amjad Abdul Karim Abdullah, "America sold Iraq to Iran." History teacher Jasim Mahmood, "Today we are witnessing the birth of a dictatr in control of Iraq's government for the next 20 years." Abu al-Hasanen Ala in Basra, "I feel upset because we will face the same thing as the last four years." While Mohammed Azai of Kirkuk states, "The Americans brought these politicians. They are not representing Iraqis. If we asked the United Nations now to make free elections, Iraqis would not elect any of these politicians, not Maliki, not Allawi."
John Leland and Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) quote International Crisis Group's Joost Hiltermann, "You're not going to have an effective government in Iraq anytime soon."  I don't care for Paul Pillar (Georgetown and former CIA) but we'll note his take (at National Interest) on the developments: "[. . .] the reported accord demonstrates far less about what Iraqi democracy has achieved than about its continued woeful shortcomings. There is no hint of acceptance and understanding of such democratic concepts as a loyal opposition and the possibility of alternation in office. Instead, there has been the kind of apportionment of posts and power that has little to do with the popular will and more to do with distrust among politicians who see the least risk in getting everyone into a single tent, where everybody can warily watch everybody else."  We'll try to tackle Chris Hill's nonsense today in tonight's "I Hate The War."
In some of today's reported violence, Reuters notes a Baghdad roadside bombing left ten people injured, a second Baghdad roadside bombing left four more injured, 2 more Baghdad roadside bombing injured five people and a Baghdad sticky bombing injured one person.
In the United States, Iraq Veterans Against the War have launched Operation Recovery and this week they're doing outreach:
The Campaign Team and Chapters from across the nation are starting an effort to do regular outreach on and around military bases and universities.
The Campaign is in the popular research and base building phase. To win this struggle, hundreds of IVAW Members, Veterans, Service Members, and Allies are needed to help organize. Service Members and Veterans are in our communities and looking to be part of a community of people that understands them.
If you are a member of IVAW and want to learn more about how to get involved and do outreach click here.
Today is Veterans Day. Last week, at Truthout, Sarah Lazare reported on Iraq War and Afghanistan War veteran Jeff Hanks who has self checked-out in an attempt to get treatment for his PTSD: "I am just trying to get help. My goal in this situation is to simply heal. And they wonder why there are so many suicides." Kristin M. Hall (AP) reports that Jeff plans to return to Fort Campbell today and Hall explains what happened when attempted to get treatment before self-checking out: "He returned to Fort Campbell to seek behavioral health treatment, but when he was referred for a meeting with a therapist, he said he was told by his commanders that they wanted him medically cleared to return to Afghanistan the next day. He spoke to a therapist for less than two minutes and was instructed to get marriage counseling when he came back."
Ross Caputi is among the veterans reflecting today.  He tells Dan Petersen (Daily Free Press) his story:
Caputi immediately enlisted upon graduating from high school in 2003 but returned to the U.S. after three years without finishing his tour.
"I got out because I saw that we were just massacring people basically," he said. "Someone in my platoon shot an innocent old man who was just sitting there with prayer beads in his hands and…we bulldozed a house on top of a house that had a 10-year-old kid in it."
Caputi fought in the Second Battle of Fallujah in November of 2004, which he said was one of the worst areas of the conflict because it caused more than 1,000 civilian deaths and displaced another 200,000 Iraqis. There are no widely accepted numbers for civilian deaths, but the United States has estimated that 70 percent to 90 percent of civilians had left the city before the battle began.
Fallujah was also considered a major victory for the American forces.
"In Fallujah, that was enough to show me that every justification that was given for the war was false," he said. "We were killing civilians, we were forcing them to go leave their homes and go live in the desert and we completely leveled that entire city."
He said the army used controversial weapons such as depleted uranium and white phosphorous, which may cause horrible mutations such as six fingers or three heads and huge rates of leukemia in fetuses. The Guardian has reported that there has been a large increase in birth defects after the battle.