Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Stalemate drags on, Nouri cracks down on press

Much is at stake in the never-ending negotiations to form Iraq's government, but perhaps nothing more important than the future of its security forces. In the seven years since the U.S.-led invasion, these have become more effective and professional and appear capable of taming what remains of the insurgency. But what they seem to possess in capacity they lack in cohesion. A symptom of Iraq's fractured polity and deep ethno-sectarian divides, the army and police remain overly fragmented, their loyalties uncertain, their capacity to withstand a prolonged and more intensive power struggle at the top unclear. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has taken worrying steps to assert authority over the security apparatus, notably by creating new bodies accountable to none but himself. A vital task confronting the nation's political leaders is to reach agreement on an accountable, non-political security apparatus subject to effective oversight. A priority for the new cabinet and parliament will be to implement the decision. And a core responsibility facing the international community is to use all its tools to encourage this to happen.
Iraq's security forces are the outcome of a seven-year, U.S.-led effort, which began after it comprehensively uprooted and dismantled remnants of the previous regime. This start-from-scratch approach entailed heavy costs. It left a dangerous security vacuum, produced a large constituency of demoralised, unemployed former soldiers, and fuelled the insurgency. The corollary -- a hurried attempt to rebuild forces through rapid recruitment, often without sufficient regard to background or qualifications -- brought its own share of problems. Iraq's increasingly fractured, ethno-sectarian post-2003 politics likewise coloured recruitment and promotions. Facing a spiralling insurgency, the U.S. felt it had no choice but to emphasise speed above much else; today, some one in seven Iraqi adult males is under arms. And so, even as they have gained strength in numbers and materiel, the army, police and other security agencies remain burdened by this legacy of expediency.

That is the opening to the International Crisis Group's executive summary of their new [PFD format] report released last week "Loose Ends: Iraq's Security Forces Between U.S. Drawdown and Withdrawal." There is no legitimate government in Iraq, not even a puppet government with the appearance of legitimacy. The US government endusred that would be the case when they rejected calls for a caretaker government to be put in place while the election results were sorted out. Instead, they insisted that keeping Nouri al-Maliki on as prime minister -- while he launched attacks on opponents using his post as prime minister -- was 'fair' and 'reasonable.'

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 seven months and twenty-six days and still counting.

John Drake (A Take On Iraq) notes
it is now 34 weeks since elections were held. Hoshyar Zebari is the country's Foreign Minister and Rudaw interviews him. Excerpt:

RUDAW:The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) seems to prefer Maliki's State of Law and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) is trying to make sure that Iraqiya is included in the new government. Can you tell us where does the Kurdish position exactly stand now?

Zebari‪:‬ There are now two ways to form a government‪.‬ The Parliament way ‪,‬ after the ‪[‬Iraqi‪]‬ Federal Court issued a verdict for the parliament to convene in two weeks time. This way is going towards imposing a solution based on a majority voting. Even a government is not created; the speaker of parliament can at least be elected. The president can also be elected to appoint a candidate to form a government. The other way is an initiative made by His Excellency President of the Kurdistan Region [Massoud Barzani] calling on all wining lists and coalitions to meet altogether. Obviously, they have not met thus far and the meetings have all been bilateral 8 months after the elections. A possible government has to be nationally inclusive. Everybody should be part of the government. The initiative has two phases. The first phase is about allowing wise leaders of each coalition to meet with others to find common grounds. Clearly, each party or coalition has its own demands. They should be matched in order to come up with a common thing. Whatever is subject to disputes shall be put aside. The issue of posts and this sort of things will be left for the next phase. There should be a leading meeting where all the leaders sit together and decide about a government. Both of these ways have started and kept going along each other. If these two ways match, they would be helpful to each other. It means that they are not two different ways.

Meanwhile Alsumaria TV reports today that Al Fadhila Party has announced it will back Nouri. Of course, with Al Fahila Party there is generally the announcement followed by an announcement that the previous announcement should be discarded. (As was most recently demonstrated in September when they announced they had left the National Coalition only to turn around and issue a statement denying they had left the National Coalition.) Equally true is that the group holds 6 seats in Parliament -- should it stay with Nouri, it gets him closer, it does not get him to 163. The Dinar Trade reports that Nouri has declared it a foregone conclusion that he will be prime minister.

In other news, Iraq continues its crackdown on a free press. Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reports:

On Monday, the Iraqi Communication and Media Commission accused al-Baghdadiya television of having a link to the church kidnappers and ordered the station to close, state television reported. Iraqi security forces surrounded the bureau of al-Baghdadiya TV in Baghdad.
Two of the station's employees were detained, according to a statement posted on the al-Baghdadiya TV website. It said the two employees had received a call from the church kidnappers demanding the release of female prisoners in Egypt in return for the hostages' freedom. The demand was later broadcast on al-Baghdadiya TV.
The station, which which is an Iraqi-owned, Egypt-based network, subsequently reported that its employees had been released.

Daily News World adds

Al-Baghdadia, the TV station in Baghdad that said it was contacted by gunmen during Sunday’s church hostage drama, has been taken off air.
It stopped transmitting shortly after its building was taken over, reportedly by a large number of government troops.
The station says its director and another employee have been charged with terrorism-related offences.
[. . .]
Al-Baghdadia – an independent station based in Egypt – says its public hotline number was phoned by the gunmen who requested it broadcast the news that they wanted to negotiate.
As the station was being taken over, it broadcast pictures of security forces surrounding the building, before the screen went blank. Transmission then resumed from al-Baghdadia’s Cairo studio. The station says its office in Basra has also been taken over by security forces.
It has called a sit-in at the building and appealed to local and foreign media to attend in soldidarity.

Nouri's long pattern of attacks on the press and what appears to be at best weak 'evidence' would indicate that the station's biggest 'crime' was broadcasting news of an event that was internationally embarrassing to Nouri.

We'll close with this from "
Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project: A Supremely Bad Supreme Court Decision" (Revolution newspaper via World Can't Wait):

Attorneys and the activists who were subpoenaed by a federal grand jury after the FBI raids in late September have pointed out that they "fear that the government may be seeking to use the recent Supreme Court decision in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project to attack conduct that clearly falls under the realm of freedom of speech and that we never imagined could be construed as 'material support for terrorism.'" ("Grand Juries," by Committee to Stop FBI Repression.)

In order to understand this point, it is first necessary to understand that the U.S. Secretary of State has the authority to designate any group as a "foreign terrorist organization," or FTO. This authority has been used in a highly selective way. According to David Cole, a civil rights attorney who argued before the Supreme Court for the Humanitarian Law Project, groups and individuals can be blacklisted as a FTO if the Secretary of State "finds that the group’s activities undermine our 'national defense, foreign relations, or economic interests.' There is essentially no viable process to challenge this designation." (Cole, Less Safe, Less Free, p. 55) The government can designate a group as "terrorist" based on its say-so, just like it did with the people it seized and held in Guantánamo.

Nancy Chang writes in her book Silencing Political Dissent that if the FTO statute had been on the books in the 1970s and '80s, then Mandela's African National Congress could have been put on the FTO list during the anti-apartheid struggle.

There are currently many Palestinian groups on the list and no Israeli groups.

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