Thursday, November 18, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, stronger analysts (including The Economist) weigh in on Iraq's political issues, Iraqi Christians continue to be targeted, Military Families Against the War calls for all US troops to be brought home from Iraq and Afghanistan, the whores of Beggar Media continue to avoid realites that would make them call out the War Hawk in the White House, and more.
"Iraq Is a Democracy." In theory, but it doesn't work like one. Yes, it has had three, free national elections and a constitutional referendum and there are elements of democracy. I started covering Iraq in 1998, living there from the start of the war until late 2009, and it certainly feels freer than before. Saddam Hussein held his last election, a plebiscite in 2002, and claimed 100 percent of the vote (and maybe it was true -- who would risk voting against him?). Under the old regime, even when I could slip away from government minders, people were usually too scared of informants among their family and friends to speak openly. You weren't even allowed to keep your mouth shut. Failure to join the chanting crowds at pro-government rallies -- watched closely by neighborhood-level Baathists -- could cost you your job, admission to university, or worse. Now there's lots of open talk, government criticism, and widespread Internet access.
But Iraq is not democratic in a reliable or deep sense, where people can expect equal rights, legal protections, or access to their leaders. Free speech is still a dangerous pursuit. At least seven reporters or their staff have been killed this year in what appear to be direct attacks on news agencies, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Most others are afraid to get too specific in their criticisms of the leadership. Regulations are tightening, and the track record of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has just maneuvered himself into another term in office, is getting darker. The government has started requiring that news agencies register their staff and equipment. Media regulations ban quotations from anonymous sources. Human Rights Watch recently documented government efforts to ban public demonstrations and encourage security forces to violently disperse attempts at peaceful protest.
Some people, like Kaplow, claim three national elections. We don't. There was the 2005 elections (December 2005) and there was the March elections this year which were national elections. The way they're getting three is they're counting the 2009 elections which were provincial elections. Could they be considered "national elections"?
Most of the time a national election takes place on a set date. Whereas the 2009 provincial elections were held on two different dates, months apart. The KRG voted on their own and were not part of that. January 31, 2009 was election day for 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces. The KRG held their elections July 25, 2009. And Kirkuk wasn't allowed to hold elections -- which is why only 17 of 18 provinces held elections in 2009. In addition, if we were going to count those, it would be four elections because January 30, 2005 saw governorate council elections. National elections, for our purposes here, were the December 2005 and March 2010 parliamentary elections. Only the parliamentary elections result in the creation of a national government so we only count the two parliamentary elections as "national elections" here. Others can count as they want.
Let's stay with the most recent elections. 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. November 10th a power sharing deal resulted in the Parliament meeting for the second time and voting in a Speaker. And then Iraqiya felt double crossed on the deal and the bulk of their members stormed out of the Parliament. David Ignatius (Washington Post) explains, "The fragility of the coalition was dramatically obvious Thursday as members of the Iraqiya party, which represents Sunnis, walked out of Parliament, claiming that they were already being double-crossed by Maliki. Iraqi politics is always an exercise in brinkmanship, and the compromises unfortunately remain of the save-your-neck variety, rather than reflecting a deeper accord. " After that, Jalal Talabani was voted President of Iraq. Talabani then named Nouri as the prime minister-delegate. If Nouri can meet the conditions outlined in Article 76 of the Constitution (basically nominate ministers for each council and have Parliament vote to approve each one with a minimum of 163 votes each time and to vote for his council program) within thirty days, he becomes the prime minister. If not, Talabani must name another prime minister-delegate. . In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister-delegate. It took eight months and two days to name Nouri as prime minister-delegate. His first go-round, on April 22, 2006, his thirty day limit kicked in. May 20, 2006, he announced his cabinet -- sort of. Sort of because he didn't nominate a Minister of Defense, a Minister of Interior and a Minister of a Natioanl Security. This was accomplished, John F. Burns wrote in "For Some, a Last, Best Hope for U.S. Efforts in Iraq" (New York Times), only with "muscular" assistance from the Bush White House. Nouri declared he would be the Interior Ministry temporarily. Temporarily lasted until June 8, 2006. This was when the US was able to strong-arm, when they'd knocked out the other choice for prime minister (Ibrahim al-Jaafari) to install puppet Nouri and when they had over 100,000 troops on the ground in Iraq. Nouri had no competition. That's very different from today. The Constitution is very clear and it is doubtful his opponents -- including within his own alliance -- will look the other way if he can't fill all the posts in 30 days. As Leila Fadel (Washington Post) observes, "With the three top slots resolved, Maliki will now begin to distribute ministries and other top jobs, a process that has the potential to be as divisive as the initial phase of government formation." Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) points out, "Maliki now has 30 days to decide on cabinet posts - some of which will likely go to Iraqiya - and put together a full government. His governing coalition owes part of its existence to followers of hard-line cleric Muqtada al Sadr, leading Sunnis and others to believe that his government will be indebted to Iran." The stalemate ends when the country has a prime minister. It is now eight months, eleven days and counting.
David Romano (Rudaw) offers his take on the power-sharing arrangements, "A Sunni Iraqiya parliamentarian, Osama Al Nujaifi, became Speaker instead. The Kurds remain weary of Al Nujaifi and his penchant for strident Arab nationalism, reminding them a bit too much of yesterday's Ba'athist discourse. Nujaifi will likely remain a fierce opponent of most of the Kurdistan Bloc's aspirations in the new government. Meanwhile, something clearly had to be done to placate Allawi, so a new 'National Security Council' was created for him to lead. The only problem is that no one seems to know what powers, if any, this new National Security Council will have. Muqtada Al Sadr's group of parliamentarians is also entering this new government, despite their bitterness towards Maliki for the offensive against them in 2008 as well as their abiding distrust of the Iraqiya bloc. They will want some important portfolios which no one trusts them enough to give them. Nuri al Maliki, once again, isn't particularly liked by any of the other groups, but somehow he has managed to engineer his resurrection as Prime Minister for another term. Finally, virtually all the other parties remain deeply suspicious of Kurdish aspirations, especially fearing that implementation of Article 140 could set the stage for eventual Kurdish secession from Iraq." The Economist emphasizes a number of issues -- including the Kurdish issues, "Mr Maliki has agreed to nearly all of the 19 demands made by the Kurds, including a commitment to hold a referendum on who should control the disputed city of Kirkuk. Mr Maliki is also said to have promised some powerful ministries to a Shia group led by a populist anti-Western cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr." Writing today, The Economist also grasps what few other outlets can:
A new government has not yet been born.
Why The Economist has the ability to grasp that and so many others don't is puzzling but credit goes to them for noting reality in their opinion piece when most pieces passing for reporting from news outlets continually hail the 'new' 'government'.
On the issue of the National Security Council, Alsumaria TV reports, "State of Law Coalition senior official Hassan Al Sunaid stated that the political parties have started the legislation of a special law for the national policy council which will play a major advisory role in shaping Iraq's future policies, he said." Bernard Gwertzman (Council on Foreign Relations) interviews Charles W. Dunne (NSC during the previous Bush administration) about the developments. Gwertzman notes of the power-sharing deal, "Allawi is supposed to have an important policymaking role, says Dunne, although it remains to be seen whether Maliki keeps his word and whether the Obama administration will press him to do so." Excerpt.
Bernard Gwertzman: A key question is how important this new National Council for Higher Strategic Policies that Allawi is supposed to head, will be, right?
Charles W. Dunne: This council has not yet been enshrined in Iraqi law. There is a school of thought that believes there will need to be a constitutional amendment to make it serve as an effective check on the prime minister's power. This is all going to be very contentious and the outcome is very uncertain, which is probably one of the reasons why Allawi said, before he departed for London, that the power-sharing deal is dead. In addition, there are very different views among the Iraqi political leadershipr about how this council should function. Maliki clearly sees it as an advisory body, whose advice he can ignore. Allawi and a number of his supporters see it as a venue in which national security decisions by the prime minister, and important economic decisions, can be altered or veteoed. Even if legislation has passed to create a fairly robust council, the concept of this council as it exists right now will require 80 percent consensus within the council in order to implement a decision, which in this political system -- as in any political system -- is going to be difficult.
At Foreign Policy, David Bender offers an analysis of the deal that sees the new council and other efforts themselves as being of little value and noting that the council -- under Allawi or another Iraiqya member -- is not going to have grand powers:
But formally changing the chain of command in Iraq would require a highly unlikely constitutional change, and it seems unlikely that Maliki will ultimately agree to a significant reduction in his powers. He has argued that the new council will function as an advisory panel with no independent authority. If Allawi decides he is powerless in his new position, he could resign and become a forceful leader of the opposition.
Between an unclear Iraqiya role, an uncomfortably large Sadrist contingent, rising Kurdish demands, and no unity of purpose among any of the political groups, the prospects for the next government are not great. But the overall situation in Iraq will probably improve anyway. The next government isn't going to resolve much of Iraq's deep social and political dysfunction, but having it in place will finally allow the oil sector, budget, and infrastructure projects to begin to move ahead.
Was it worth the eight (soon to be nine) month wait? No.
But is it a good thing that there's likely to be a government by the new year? Absolutely.
Meanwhile Currency Newshound reports that the Ministry of Planning declared today that 10 times the current allocation of the investment budget is needed to address issues of operations such as government salaries and the rations card system. Shashank Bengali (McClatchy Newspapers' Middle East Diary) crunches other numbers -- the latest Brookings Institution figures for Iraq -- and notes, among other things, that Iraq is "on track to exceed the 2009 death total of 3,000". Bengali picks many interesting figures. Some he doesn't note include that landlines are down in Iraq as compared to the middle of 2004 -- this may be partly due to the large increase in cellular phones (and there was no cell phone industry prior to the start of the Iraq War according to Brookings). The report finds that an estimated 20,000 Iraqi medical doctors have left the country since the start of the war and only 1,525 of that number have returned -- so (check my math) 18,475 doctors have left and not returned. In addition, 2,000 Iraqi medical doctors have been killed since the start of the Iraq War. So the Iraq War has resulted in the country losing an estimated 20,475 doctors. The most recent estimate finds approximately 16,000 medical doctors remain in Iraq. CIA estimates put the Iraqi population at between 26 and 30 million. Check my math but that should put the number of doctors at 0.053% of the population. The median age in Iraq is 20.6 years-old. In 2008, the official unemployment rate in Iraq was 15.2%. Though there are no figures for this year, there's been no improvement and that official figure is much lower than the actual unemployment figure (the CIA notes that the unofficial estimate is 30%). But in 2009, a number of Iraqis were surveyed and asked if they thought unemployment would improve in 2010? 37% hoped it would "fall slightly" or "fall a lot," 35% thought it would increase -- slightly or a lot) and 24% expected it would remain the same.
Turning to some of today's reported violence, Reuters notes a roadside bombing outside Baiji wounded one Sahwa leader while clashes at Baghdad's al-Tasfirat prison left twenty prisoners injured. Xinhua reports 2 Baquba bombings targeted Sahwa today with Firas Ahmed being killed in one and two other people being killed in the second one.
At Answers For The Faith, Dr. D. explains, "Tuesday a six-year-old girl and her Christian father were killed by a car bomb in Mosul. On Monday in Mosul, gunmen barged into a home and killed two Christian men in their living room. Today on Wednesday the bullet-riddled body of a 20-year-old Christian student was found on a street also in Mosul."
Natasha Dado (Arab American News via New America Media) reports on last week's rally in Detroit to protest the targeting of Iraqi Christians and quotes Patrick Lossia stating, "As a result of the U.S. occupying Iraq, its Christian population has declined from three percent to one percent. If America never invaded Iraq in 2003, we would have stabilization. We're almost less than one percent of the minority in Iraq, but we're the ones dying the most. I didn't like Saddam Hussein, but it's a fact Iraq was safer under his regime." October 31st, Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad was attacked, over 70 people died, over 70 were wounded. Among the dead were two priests, one of which was shot in the back of his head "execution style." That event began the latest wave of attacks on Iraqi Christians.
Leila Fadel and Ali al-Qeisy (Washington Post) report, "The names of the dead are pasted on the floor in the center of the church and surrounded by lighted candles. But the window glass is missing, destroyed by blasts and gunfire, and craters dot the ground - all reminders of the four suicide bombers who carried out the deadly attack along with other gunmen." The response to the latest wave of attacks is no different from earlier responses: many Iraqi Christians attempt to relocate within and outside of Iraq. The government response? When the issue receives global attention, Iraqi politicians make a few public statments and nothing more is done. This has especially been the pattern since Nouri al-Maliki was installed as prime minister in 2006. Alan Holdren (Catholic News Agency) quotes the Syrian Catholic Archbishop Basile Georges Casmoussa of Mosul stating, "In terms of declarations, we are really saturated. What we are asking for are concrete actions. We must find a solution, solutions, effective ways to safeguard the security of Christians." Meanwhile Alsumaria TV reports that Iraqi president Jalal Talabani is whining over France's offer of asylum to victims of the October 31st attacks and their families and saying that Iraqi Christians are welcome in the KRG. But they're not always safe in the KRG. And they don't have all the bodyguards that Jalal does, do they? Jalal is one of the two types of stupid on display of late. The first is someone basically in Iraq but well protected who has a hissy that another nation might offer asylum to the defenseless persecuted. The second is the Iraqi Christian who has fled Iraq at some point and is now safely in another land (often a citizen of that land) and who insists that Iraqi Christians must stay in Iraq. The Detroit rally was made a joke by one of the leaders of the rally insisting that Iraqi Christians must remain in Iraq. The very obvious point is that that leader didn't remain in Iraq nor has he taken it upon himself to go back to Iraq. It's easy to call for someone to make what could be a last stand while you're safe elsewhere.
The latest wave of attacks is one in a series of ongoing attacks. Iraqi Christians have not been protected throughout the war. Anyone who feels they need to leave should have all the resources and support needed. Anyone who feels they want to stay should be encouraged and the Iraqi government should be offering them all the resources and support they need. But what shouldn't happen is for other people to be making the decisions for them. This is life or death and it will be blood on someone's hands if they attempt to make the decision for Iraqi Christians. Repeating, there is something highly offensive about an American-Iraqi who wants Iraqi Christians to remain in Iraq while he sits his happy little ass safe in Detroit. If what he now advocates had been done to him and his family, he'd still be in Iraq. That no one involved in planning the rally saw that rank hypocrisy is rather telling. (As was his cries that the US military must remain in Iraq for years to protect Iraqi Christians. The targeting is not an excuse to continue the illegal war.)
Kevin Menz (The Sheaf) reports on a Saskatoon protest against the violence and quotes Peter Kiryakos stating, "It's genocide, essentially. The Christian people, since the war began, have had no protection and have been targeted by terrorist groups wanting them out of the country." If it's genocide, it's criminal to suggest that Iraqi Christians should be forced to stay in Iraq. (Repeating, some may want to leave, some may want to stay. That is for them to decide and governments world should open their borders to those who make the decision to leave.)
(Text of the petition is below -- click here to sign).
Dear President Obama and Members of Congress:
As of November 2010, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have lead to: • the deaths of over 5,787 American service members • the deaths of tens of thousands of Afghani and Iraqi civilians • over 2,000 suicides of American veterans • over 40,000 injuries to American service members
In financial costs: • It costs $1 million to keep one soldier on the ground in Afghanistan for one year. • The operational costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have already surpassed $1 trillion. • The total projected costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is $4 trillion, including an estimated $1 trillion to provide care for returning veterans.
These wars are not making us safer. They are betraying the values that lead many of our young men and women to volunteer for their country and are ransoming the futures of this generation and the next. These funds should be used to take care of the troops when they come home, rebuild our economy, and protect our communities.
Enough is enough! Bring our troops and our tax dollars home NOW!
Action is needed to end the wars. A lot of people are willfully deluding themselves, keeping their heads in the sand, refusing to call out War Hawk Barack.
"Doesn't matter what he encourages as long as he's got style." Who knew Carole was a prophet? Barack's encouraged war, encouraged drone attacks and so much more. But so many are so damn scared to call the Christ-child out. Supposed life-long peace activists tremble in fear at the notion of pointing out that the emperor sports no peace symbols. They better grow the hell up pretty damn quick because they're not just being played for fools, they're risking lives around the world as they avoid calling out the War Hawk in the White House. This week, Gareth Porter (Dissident Voice) breaks new ground with his monumental scoop detailing how the White House has actively been working to decieve the US voters into believing the Iraq War would end when, in fact, it would not. NSC-er Puneet Talwar was dispatched to offer Iraq 15,000 US troops after the end of 2011 'withdrawal' and to explain that the would simply shove these 15,000 under the US Embassy to hide the remainders. As we've noted for months, Nouri got US-backing to remain prime minister because he promised to allow US forces to remain in Iraq past 2011. From Gareth Porter's article:
The Iraqis also asked whether the 15,000 regular combat troops could be augmented with Special Operations Forces, according to the Iraqi official's account. Talwar said the additional deployment of SOF troops after the withdrawal deadline would be possible, because the United States had never publicly acknowledged the presence of SOF units in Iraq.
The Pentagon signaled last summer that it was assuming the post-2011 U.S. military presence in Iraq would be less than 20,000 troops. In a press briefing last August, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Middle East, Colin Kahl, said Iraq "is not going to need tens of thousands of [American] forces".
Talwar also told the Iraqis that any deployment of combat troops in Iraq beyond the termination date of the U.S.-Iraqi agreement would require a letter from Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. The Iraqi officials said the letter would be sent.
How many times do you have to be lied to before you wake the hell up? How many lies can you stomach in order to avoid keeping your membership in the Cult of St. Barack?
Philip J. Crowley: Well, we have a Status of Forces Agreement and a strategic framework. The Status of Forces Agreement expires at the end of next year, and we are working towards complete fulfillment of that Status of Forces Agreement, which would include the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq by the end of next year. The nature of our partnership beyond next year will have to be negotiated. On the civilian side, we are committed to Iraq over the long term. We will have civilians there continuing to work with the government on a range of areas – economic development, rule of law, civil society, and so forth. But to the extent that Iraq desires to have an ongoing military-to-military relationship with the United States in the future, that would have to be negotiated. And that would be something that I would expect a new government to consider. [. . .] Should Iraq wish to continue the kind of military partnership that we currently have with Iraq, we're open to have that discussion.
That should have sent off alarm signals immediately. Yet despite this being declared a press briefing at the US State Dept, Amy Goodman couldn't cover it. Of course, she used Barack's inaugaration to raise funds for her program Democracy Now! To raise big funds for her program -- or maybe you think it's normal to CHARGE $1,000 for a ticket when you're so-called 'independent media'? That's what she did. "For a donation of $1000, you can join this extraordinary celebration" insisted Goodman in her reach-in-your-pockets e-mail (entitled "Last Tickets for 1/20 Inaugural Peace Ball & VIP Reception" and sent out January 8, 2009 at 8:55 pm). This is the woman who makes millions -- in fact, Pacfica Radio would have a lot less economic problems if they still owned Goodman's program but she bullied, blustered and blackmailed in order to get ownership of it. Why? It's not like it does anything unless you need to hear what's going on in Aspen at the conference she and her program used to criticize but now Amy speaks at. She's feathered her nest very well and yet continues to beg non-stop. Pacifica is paying far too much for her middle-of-the-road Charlie Rose style program. And her whoring for the White House knows no end. In a functioning independent media -- as opposed to the Beggar Media we've had for the last years -- Goodman would have been called out for all of her whoring.
She whored and she continues to whore. (Which is why the WikiLeaks revelations were actually ignored on her program. She provided a distraction, she just avoided providing an actual service -- i.e. explaining to her audience that treaties were broken when the current White House turned over prisoners to suspected and/or known torturers.) Her program is useless and until her audience starts demanding accountability, they're not going to see any change. In the meantime, it's past time Pacifica made clear to her that she already has ownership of that program, they're not also going to fork over millions to air it.
People ask: "Where's the peace movement? Why did it flounder?" It floundered because whores in Beggar Media whored to get Barack in the White House and all this time later they still can't take accountability. Hearing the ridiculous Larry Bensky try to pontificate on KPFA two weeks ago about ethical standards was hilarious. Not only is he a sexist pig, he's also the cheating whore who booked a TWO HOUR 'analysis' of a Barack-Hillary debate and booked only people who had endorsed Barack and 'forgot' to inform people of that. He allowed them to present as 'independent' 'analysists' and they were in no hurry to tell KPFA audiences that they'd endorsed Barack. That's how you rig the analysis, that's how you ruin and destroy open debate and free speech. So it needs to be made very clear to Larry Bensky that his tired and whoring ass isn't a respected voice and he can't claim the high ground until he can take accountability for his whoring. For reasons, never clear to me, Howard Zinn decided to whore in the last five months of 2008. Howard Zinn died. For many of us, all his words about elections and politicians were rendered meaningless when he hopped on the Barack Obama wagon. He destroyed his own legacy and you'd think some of the other whores would look at that and think, "Damn, I better take accountability now before my whoring becomes my legacy." But thinking has never been Beggar Media's strong suit.
For those who missed Crowley's remarks, another administration figure soon spoke up. From the November 9th snapshot:
Anne Gearan (AP) breaks the news this morning that US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates stated publicly today in Kuala Lumpur that the US military may stay in Iraq beyond 2011. She quotes him stating, "We're ready to have that discussion if and when they want to raise it with us." Donna Miles (Defense Dept's press department) adds, "But Gates said he wouldn't expect such a request, at least until the Iraqis have selected a president, prime minister and speaker of the council of representatives and made ministerial-level appointments."
Beggar Media's Cult of St. Barack better find its comfort zone to critique Barack from or they better start embracing these illegal wars because their silence allows these wars to continue. Finally, last month, we noted:
Another Times' journalist who has moved on from Iraq is Joao Silva. His photographs have illustrated (and often saved) many a Times' article filed in Iraq -- for example, in the Let's-Meet-The-Awakenings nonsense of 2007, it was Silva's photographs that told the larger truths. Today, the New York Times reports at their blog, Silva -- who has been covering Afghanistan -- was injured after stepping on a land mine.
J.J. Sutherland (NPR) reports this evening, "Joao Silva is the legendary New York Times photographer who stepped on a land mine last month in Afghanistan. He lost both legs among a host of other injuries. Amazingly. because of the incredible battlefield medicine available these days, he's going to live. And like most soldiers in his condition he's ended up at Walter Reed. "