Friday, December 17, 2010

The children, the stalemate, the deals

In Ban's mind, everything was perfect in Baghdad before the civil war. Her family had Internet access and satellite TV, and she could do what she wanted. But her Shiite Muslim family lived in the mainly Sunni neighborhood of Dora, and in early 2007, the country's violence caught up with them.
Her father was wounded when gunmen ambushed his car. Soon after, a neighbor warned her parents that they were on a list of people to be killed. The family fled to Najaf, where they knew they would be safe and Ban's father, a doctor, could find work.
Najaf was a rude awakening. Their neighbors didn't say hello to Ban and her older sister, Dina, the way people did in Baghdad. The girls missed their friends.

The above is from Ned Parker's "Teen angst heightened by war, sectarianism" (Los Angeles Times via San Francisco Chronicle) and maybe at some point Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates (as well as others in the administration) can stop a minute to think about what eternal war has done to a generation of young people who have grown up under it? Though unable to think about the victims, Hillary continues to demand more money for the State Dept despite the nation having yet to emerge from the Great Recession. Someone inform department heads that everyone has to take a hit due to the economy. Isn't that what Barack keeps insisting? So start applying to the administration as well. State needs to quit spending beyond its needs and if Barack or anyone's hungry for what State's been offering in diplomatic cables, Liz Smith provides gossip for free each week day at wowOwow.

Meanwhile the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has announced its objection to Europe's forced returns of Iraqi refugees. Spokesperson Melissa Fleming states, "UNHCR strongly reiterates its call on countries to refrain from deporting Iraqis who originate from the most perilous parts of the country." UNHCR adds, "In the latest incident, Sweden on Wednesday forcibly returned a group of some 20 Iraqis to Baghdad, including five Christians originally from the Iraqi capital. Fleming, speaking to journalists in Geneva, said UNHCR staff in Baghdad had since interviewed three of the Christians and three Arab Muslims among the group. One of the Christian men said he escaped Iraq in 2007 after militiamen threatened to kill him. He travelled through several countries in the Middle East and Europe before reaching Sweden, where he applied for asylum." And as wrong and as bad as that is, The Local reports that the Swedish government deported one 52-year-old male to Iraq . . . but he wasn't from Iraq. He was from Iran.

Over the weekend, KRG president Massoud Barzani spoke of Kurdish independence. Some feigned shock. Hiwa Osman (Rudaw) explores the remarks and context today:

Once again, the people of Kurdistan have realized that neither the media nor those who raised a brouhaha over President Barzani’s statement about self-determination seem to have understood or want to understand what the new Iraq is about.
Barzani has been under fire for publicly stating that Kurds have a right to self-determination, an argument that is not new. He was simply repeating a long-held Kurdish position on self-determination.
This should not have shocked anyone -- but the exaggerated, critical response to Barzani's statement shows that the new reality of Iraq is not accepted by everyone.

Again, this was news when it happened and remains news now. Barzani's party (KDP) won in the July 2009 elections, destroyed Jalal Talabani's party (PUK), due to the fact that Barzani knows not to call Kurdish independence a "dream" that won't and can't come true. It was a signal to Kurds in Iraq and across the globe and it's part of the leveraging that the US press is ignoring but is going on currently as Barzani attempts to play maybe-we-walk to force Nouri to make additional concessions to the Kurds or risk tanking his shot at a second term as prime minister.

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 National 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, nine days 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."

Nizar Latif (The National) explains, "Negotiations continue, with parliament due to discuss the matter in tomorrow's session. Parliament will make the final decision on exactly what status the council is to have, and it will require a constitutional revision. Amending the constitution involves navigating a labyrinth of parliamentary procedure, something likely to take many months. Until all of that is complete, the council will have no powers at all, regardless of any agreements between rival blocs." Parliament's scheduled session for tomorrow was supposed to take place on Tuesday. In a completely no-surprise move, the session was postponed.

Wednesday, Reidar Visser (Iraq and Gulf Analysis) offered his take on US efforts:

First, the Obama administration played a key role in Sunnifying the Iraqi nationalism of Iraqiyya so that it could be more acceptable to Iran: By encouraging Iraqiyya to accept a junior, “Sunni” role in a power-sharing arrangement for the next government where the Iranian-supported Shiite parties clearly have the upper hand, Washington basically gave Iran what it wanted in Iraq in terms of a politics defined in sectarian fronts. To add insult to injury advisers to Obama went on to spin the US involvement in the affair as a triumph of American diplomacy against Iran! Today the US government went a little further: To celebrate the latest “progress”, it decided it was time for the UN Security Council to give up some of what little remains of outside-world leverage in Iraq, including a formal termination of the oil-for-food programme and restrictions relating to weapons of mass destruction.

TV notes. On PBS' Washington Week, Janet Hook (Wall St. Journal), Doyle McManus (Los Angeles Times), Martha Raddatz (ABC News) and Pete Williams (NBC News) join Gwen around the table. Gwen now has a weekly column at Washington Week and the current one is " The Sincerity Test." This week, Bonnie Erbe will sit down with Debra Carmajam. Eleanor Holmes Norton, Nicole Kurokawa and Genevieve Wood to discuss the week's news on the latest broadcast of PBS' To The Contrary. And this week's To The Contrary online extra is a discussion on the topic of our bodies, our health. Turning to broadcast TV, Sunday CBS' 60 Minutes offers:

Editor's Note
A full-length "60 Minutes" program has been prepared, but due to live CBS Television Network programming before and after Sunday's broadcast, whether time will allow a whole hour cannot be determined until Sunday night. Both programs will contain the two-part story listed below.

Endless Memory
Lesley Stahl reports on the recently discovered phenomenon of "superior autobiographical memory," the ability to recall nearly every day of one's life. Stahl interviews the handful of individuals known to possess the skill, which scientists are only now beginning to study. (This is a double-length segment) | Watch Video

60 Minutes, Sunday, Dec. 19, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

Radio note. The Diane Rehm Show begins airing on most NPR stations (and streaming live) at 10:00 a.m. EST. Her guests for the first hour (domestic news roundup) are Jeanne Cummings (Politico), Ron Elving (NPR) and Greg Ip (Economist). For the second hour (international roundup), Diane's joined by Daniel Dombey (Financial Times), Jay Solomon (Wall St. Journal) and Nancy A. Youssef (McClatchy Newspapers).

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