Tuesday, December 07, 2010

9 months, no government

The US is warning that it could cut substantial funding to Iraq’s Health, Education, and Transport ministries if the anti-American Sadr bloc is given those cabinet posts in a new government being formed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
The comments by a senior US embassy official were the clearest public statements yet of US determination to try to limit the influence of the Sadr movement if it continues to rebuff American overtures. The hardline Shiite bloc won the single biggest number of seats in the Iraqi parliament in March 7 elections but refuses to meet with American officials.
"We accept and understand there are going to be Sadrist ministers, but some of the ministries that have been mentioned in the press as potentially going to the Sadrists happen to be ministries that we look at very closely,” said the embassy official in an interview with the Monitor on Saturday. “We hope that if Sadrists are able to head those ministries, they will be able to take a more pragmatic approach than they have in the past, because it would be a terrible shame for the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people if we were no longer able to run the very substantial education programs we’re running in Iraq."

The above is from Jane Arraf's "US warns of aid cuts if Sadr bloc takes certain Iraqi ministries" (Christian Science Monitor) and it's an important article. The most obvious takeaway is: "The US is trying to influence the government in Iraq!" Yeah, and what else is new. At last they're talking Nouri's language: Cash. They should have been threatening that a long time ago (the 2007 benchmarks were supposed to come with the built-in threat of no more cash if benchmarks weren't met but a for-show Democratic Congress wasn't interested in doing their damn job -- individuals members were interested, leadership wasn't). Had stopping cash flow been threated earlier, Iraq might already have a government.

Related, Alsumaria TV reports, "Iraqi President Jalal Talabani affirmed that the next government will be formed soon before the end of the constitutional deadline." He "affirmed" that with US Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey. Jeffrey is a marked improvement over Chris Hill which really doesn't come across like much of a compliment since a pet rock would have been an improvement over Hill. But Jeffrey's arrival is taking place as the US appears willing to use more tools in its diplomacy shed.

And they're going to need them. Today is the nine month anniversary? Of? The March 7th elections. Still no government.
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 nine months and counting. Thursday November 25th, Nouri was finally 'officially' named prime minister-designate. Leila Fadel (Washington Post) explained, "In 30 days, he is to present his cabinet to parliament or lose the nomination." Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) added, "Even if Mr. Maliki meets the 30-day deadline in late December -- which is not a certainty, given the chronic disregard for legal deadlines in Iraqi politics -- the country will have spent more than nine months under a caretaker government without a functioning legislature. Many of Iraq's most critical needs -- from basic services to investment -- have remained unaddressed throughout the impasse." Jane Arraf (Al Jazeera) offered, "He has an extremely difficult task ahed of him, these next 30 days are going to be a very tough sell for all of these parties that all want something very important in this government. It took a record eight months to actually come up with this coalition, but now what al-Maliki has to do is put all those people in the competing positions that backed him into slots in the government and he has a month to day that from today."

You've taken your half out of the middle
Time and time again
But now I'm damned if I'll give you an inch
Till I get even
She said: Just because you're stronger
And you hold it over me
I'll put the pedal to the floor
And prove to you that I'm free
Though you've stopped me once again
It's not the end of the war
It's vengeance, she said
That's the law
-- "Vengeance," written by Carly Simon, first appears on her Spy

Vengeance is all they have in Iraq. No justice. That's what happens when blood-thirsty exiles who fled the country are put in charge by the US government. They seek vengence, not justice. It's Nouri's operating impulse as was evident over the weekend in Shashank Bengali's "WikiLeaks: Maliki filled Iraqi security services with Shiites" (McClatchy Newspapers) about Nouri's purge of security forces this year to get rid of Sunnis. It's their in Nouri's attacks on the largely Sunni Sahwa. Shashank Bengali (McClatchy Newspapers) reports:

Few in Maliki's government are enthusiastic about the Sahwa, which formed when Sunni tribal leaders and former insurgents rose up in opposition to al Qaida in Iraq's brutal tactics. When the U.S. military began paying some 95,000 of them upwards of $350 a month in 2007 to provide security in their neighborhoods, many Iraqi officials were skeptical, regarding them as "thugs at best and Sunni terrorists at worst," as the International Crisis Group research agency wrote in a recent report.
"When America started reaching out to Sahwa in 2006 and 2007, basically they were told, 'You're part of Iraq; we want you in the political order,' " said Joost Hiltermann, an Iraq expert with the International Crisis Group. "For them, this (new government) is the litmus test: Are they in or are they out?"
Two years ago, American forces handed over the program to Maliki's government, which pledged to integrate 20 percent of the fighters into the security forces and place the rest in government jobs. Iraqi officials say that nearly 40,000 have been employed, but Sahwa leaders argue that many hundreds of former fighters have walked out of their jobs after going months without salaries or because they found the work demeaning.

We'll close with this from Debra Sweet's "US Response to Wikileaks: Diplomacy as Another Means of Warfare" (World Can't Wait):

Can you imagine the conversation in the Obama administration since the cables have been released by Wikileaks.org? Attorney General Eric Holder, who can’t find a reason to prosecute anyone for actual torture, says ominously, referring to the legal difficulties in possible U.S. prosecution of Julian Assange,

“To the extent there are gaps in our laws, we will move to close those gaps, which is not to say that anybody at this point, because of their citizenship or their residence, is not a target or a subject of an investigation.”

But Robert Gates, whose Pentagon has been threatening Wikileaks openly since the Afghan War Diaries release in July, said on November 30:

“I’ve heard the impact of these releases on our foreign policy described as a meltdown, as a game-changer, and so on. I think those descriptions are fairly significantly overwrought… Many governments — some governments — deal with us because they fear us, some because they respect us, most because they need us. We are still essentially, as has been said before, the indispensable nation…Is this embarrassing? Yes. Is it awkward? Yes. Consequences for U.S. foreign policy? I think fairly modest.’’

The refrain from the government goes: Wikileaks is guilty of terrible crimes which “endanger national security;” they have blood on their hands…but, for damage control purposes, it’s not such a big deal when what they revealed. Yet pressure was placed on Amazon.com this week to remove Wikileaks from its servers. The site is up now, after being removed from Amazon.com’s servers Wednesday December 1.

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