Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Refugees, violence and continued deployments

The soldiers yanked Arkan Subhi Ahmed al-Habshi out of bed shortly before dawn, screaming and striking him with their guns, a scene that has become routine in Sunni districts of Baghdad.
His family's futile attempts to navigate the criminal justice system into which he disappeared after his detention in July fit a pattern that has left Sunnis across the country feeling bereft and indignant.

The above is the opening to Ernesto Londono's "Iraq's Sunnis view justice system as cudgel" (Washington Post) and you can pair that with some of Ned Parker's ground breaking reporting for the Los Angeles Times on the ministries. Who appoints these ministers? Oh, that's right, Nouri al-Maliki. That would be the thug that the US government decided to keep as prime minister in Iraq.

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, seventeen days and counting.

Parliament's meeting today and Alsumaria TV reports, "A quartet meeting was held on Tuesday at the house of Reform Movement Leader Ibrahim Al Jaafari attended by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, appointed Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki and Parliament Speaker Ousama Al Nujaifi." To give Nouri more time than the Constitution allows, Jalal Talabani plans to 'officially' name him prime minister-designate tomorrow. Or that's what Jalal's been saying all week, that tomorrow he names Nouri the designate.

Hey, there's no real rush, after all Iraq's rainbows and peace signs these days, right?

Wrong. Reuters notes 2 Shirqat roadside bombings targeting Sahwa which claimed the life of 1 Sahwa and 2 other people, a Baghdad roadside bombing injured two people, a Mosul roadside bombing injured two children and 1 construction worker was shot dead in Mosul. Saad Abdul-Kadir (AP) drops back to last night to note that 1 surgeon and 1 engineer were shot dead at Baghdad International Airport while 1 professor was shot dead in Baghdad.

The never-ending violence has created the a refugee crisis. Michaela Yule (Global Post) reports from Syria on the estimated 1.5 million who have sought asylum there including a young woman whose family left Iraq 3 years ago and who states, "Personally, I do not even have a slight hope that Iraq will recover. It is impossible because of greed, and the fact that everyone wants to have a piece of Iraq." Yule observes:

The Iraqi refugee crisis is currently the worst humanitarian crisis in the Middle East since the start of the Palestinian refugee crisis in 1948.
An estimated 2.5 million Iraqis are displaced abroad, and an equal number are internally displaced. With little hope for immediate return, these displaced Iraqis live in a state of limbo, most unable either to return to their homes or settle in their new locations.

A very small number of Iraqi refugees have been accepted by the US and England -- despite both countries being the chief leaders of the march to illegal war. Those few allowed into the US often continue to struggle. Tara Bahrampour (Washington Post) reports on Manal Jafer and her family. She and her husband lived well in Baghdad prior to the start of the illegal war. He was a professor, she was a medical doctor. After the illegal war began, things changed. A fall 2003 home invasion left her husband dead and her wounded, she believes the stress from all the violence is what killed her teenage son. With her remaining three children, she went to Jordan and then to the US where the economy and the cheapness of the Bush administration -- which was continued by the Barack administration -- means that refugees are receiving a tiny and limited stipend and then on their own -- in a country where the real unemployment rate is estimated to be around at least 17.3% but officially at 9.6%. Meanwhile BBC News reports that the UK Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt has announced this week that England will continue deporting Iraqi refugees. Amnesty International issued the following:

Responding to comments from UK Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt, saying that the UK would continue to remove refused Iraqi asylum seekers to Baghdad, Amnesty International UK Refugee Programme Director Jan Shaw said:

"The UK should listen to the European Court of Human Rights and, like the Dutch authorities, suspend removals to Baghdad until it’s safe.

"The authorities are, of course, entitled to remove people if they don't need international protection and it's safe to return them. But Iraq is still incredibly dangerous.

"Amnesty is opposed to all forcible removals to central and southern Iraq until the security situation improves considerably.

"The UK government knows full well that anyone applying to the European Court under 'Rule 39' will have their removal suspended. So effectively they are just trying to catch out anyone who doesn't know about this ruling, or who doesn't have decent legal representation. Sadly this still includes far too many people."

Meanwhile this week there was a send-off for 280 Amy National Guard soldiers from Georgia who left for two months at Fort Hood (for training) before deploying to Iraq, a send-off for approximately 75 Iowa National Guard soldiers who will deploy to Iraq for a year, Wisconsin's West Bend National Guard unit is sending an estimated 30 members to Iraq, and, no, the Iraq War has not ended.

The US State Dept issued the following yesterday:

Office of the Spokesman
Washington, DC
November 23, 2010

The 6th-century BC Ishtar Gate is one of several landmarks at the ancient site of Babylon in Iraq that will receive much-needed conservation attention under a $2 million grant from the U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP). Established by Congress and marking its 10th year, the AFCP has demonstrated America’s respect for the cultural heritage of other countries by supporting more than 645 projects worldwide. The World Monuments Fund (WMF) will carry out the four-year project in partnership with the Iraq State Board of Antiquities and Heritage (SBAH) and in coordination with the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

The former imperial capital of Kings Hammurabi and Nebuchadnezzar in southern Mesopotamia from the 18th to the 4th century BC, Babylon was once one of the largest and most influential cities in the world. The Ishtar Gate, Nabu-sha-Khare temple, inner city walls, and other landmarks at this renowned archaeological site are in urgent need of comprehensive conservation to reverse decades of deterioration due to environmental and other factors. The project includes archaeological site preservation, environmental monitoring, and training in the conservation of earthen architecture.

For more than 45 years, WMF has worked with communities around the world to support the preservation of their endangered architectural and cultural heritage. This AFCP-supported collaboration with the SBAH at Babylon developed from a broader preservation community concern for Iraqi cultural heritage that has included placing archaeological sites in Iraq on the World Monuments Watch and a WMF-Getty Conservation Institute joint initiative to create a Geographic Information System (GIS) database for archaeological and heritage sites in Iraq to assist with conservation, planning, and monitoring for sites under SBAH jurisdiction. The goals of this work are to develop appropriate conservation solutions, to incorporate holistic preservation approaches embracing environmental, social and economic factors, and to expand SBAH capacity to be an effective steward of Iraqi cultural heritage.

The U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation is administered by the Cultural Heritage Center of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, which supports the foreign affairs functions of the U.S. Department of State that relate to the preservation of cultural heritage. The Center also administers U.S. responsibilities relating to the 1970 UNESCO Convention to reduce pillage and illicit trafficking of cultural property.

Media Contact: Catherine Stearns, (202) 632-6437 or

Lastly, at War Is A Crime, Mickey Z interviews David Swanson about his just released book War Is A Lie. Excerpt:

Mickey Z.: What is it about the way war is portrayed in mainstream culture that led you to write this book?

David Swanson: War is portrayed as good and glorious, as a crusade against the gravest dangers, as something that makes us safer rather than increasing our risk, as defensive rather than aggressive, as humanitarian and a question of our responsibility to the people we are terrorizing whether they want us in their countries or not, and as unavoidable. If war lies are exposed, they are treated as an exception. If one war is viewed as a mistake, it is as a mistake rather than a crime, and as an exception rather than the norm. I was tired of the Iraq War being treated as somehow unique when all wars are based on lies, and when authors like you have documented the lies told about World War II, the single most glorified and defended war.

MZ: Has anything substantial changed about war-related propaganda in this post-9/11 world?

DS: There are always variations on the themes that have supported wars for 10,000 years or so. The threat of the Soviet Union or communism was, within a dozen years of its elimination, replaced with the threat of al Qaeda or terrorism. I write in the book:

"Wars against an empire and an ideology would become wars against a small terrorist group and a tactic. The change had some advantages. While the Soviet Union could publicly collapse, a secretive and widely dispersed collection of terrorist cells to which we could apply the name al Qaeda could never be proven to have gone away. An ideology could fall out of favor, but anywhere we fought wars or imposed unwelcome control, people would fight back, and their fighting would be 'terrorism' because it was directed against us. This was a new justification for never-ending war. But the motivation was the war, not the crusade to eliminate terrorism which crusade would, of course, produce more terrorism. The motivation was U.S. control over areas of 'vital interest,' namely profitable natural resources and markets and strategic positions for military bases from which to extend power over yet more resources and markets, and from which to deny any imaginable 'rivals' anything resembling 'American self-confidence.' This is, of course, aided and abetted by the motivations of those who profit financially from the war making itself."

Okay, rest of the week. Today there will be a snapshot. Tomorrow I will do two entries here and there may or may not be a snapshot. That will depend on news coming out of Iraq and pretending Nouri just got named prime minister-designate isn't going to qualify (especially since if I do a snapshot, everyone else is the community will feel they have to post). Kat plans to do two album reviews -- they'll run in the next 36 hours. Friday, we'll resume the normal amount of entries here.

The e-mail address for this site is