Tuesday, March 29, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, the US and UNAMI seem intent on sending the message to Iraqis that written and agreed upon law is just tossed aside when you don't get your way, the political process in Iraq continues to grind slowly, a spectacular attack in Tikrit leaves many dead and more injured, Barack Obama tries to use Iraq to sell his Libyan War, and more.
Last night at the National Defense University in DC, US President Barack Obama stammered and started and stopped in that gear ripping speaking 'style' he has. (Here for text of speech at The Atlantic; here for text and video at White House website.) As Ava and I noted in early 2009: "We watched Monday in full as Barack uh-uh-uhed and spoke in that robotic manner that allows him to find more unnatural pauses than Estelle Parsons and Kim Stanley combined. 'He's our Method president!' we quickly gasped while wishing we could have one president this decade capable of normal speech. If he gets any worse, he'll be Sandy Dennis."
To be blunt, we went down that road in Iraq. Thanks to the extraordinary sacrifices of our troops and the determination of our diplomats, we are hopeful about Iraq's future. But regime change there took eight years, thousands of American and Iraqi lives, and nearly a trillion dollars. That is not something we can afford to repeat in Libya.
And it's not something that was done in Iraq. Is he that stupid or is it his speech writers? First off, does he really want to be playing True Confessions when his British buddies like Jack Straw have insisted there was no policy of regime change -- insisted that before the Iraq Inquiry? Second, Saddam Hussein was president of Iraq when the US invaded in 2003. The US took Baghdad April 9, 2003 and Hussein was no where to be found. Presumably, that was regime change. If not, US forces captured him December 13, 2003. Did that qualify as regime change? He stood trial beginning in June of 2004. Are you telling me regime change still hadn't taken place? He was executed December 30, 2006? Regime change still hadn't take place?
What a load of crap. Regime change took place April 9, 2003. The US has occupied Iraq since and propped up a puppet government. A new thug replaced an old one, that's not progress and shame on anyone who attempts to pretend it was.
It's exactly those kinds of lies that breed the violence in Iraq. Today, AFP reports a Tikrit provincial counil building was invaded by assailants wearing "suicide vests" and a security official stated at the time the report was filed, "Police cannot approach because the gunmen are shooting from inside. All of the attackers are wearing suicide belts." DPA notes that before they took control of the building, they first "set off two car bombs outside the headquarters." Citing Ministry of the Interior officials, Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reports that the assailants wore police uniforms. Lara Jakes and Sameer N. Yacoub (AP) quote the province's governor, Ahmed Abdullah, telling AP, "We've lost contact with three provinicial council members who were inside the building when the attack took place." The death toll continued to rise with updates. By 6:16 PM Baghdad time, Al Jazeera had counted 19 dead and noted, "Rawya Rageh, Al Jazeera's correspondent in the capital Baghdad, said there has not been this kind of attack since the siege on a Baghdad Church" October 31st.
Among the dead is said to be journalist Sabah al-Bazi. Al Arabiya reports their correspondent was one of 20 people killed. AFP reports that, as police rushed to the scene, a car bomb went off claiming the lives of Sabah al-Bazi, police Col Imad Nofan and Nofan's deputy. MediArabe reports 20 dead and sixty injured. By ten p.m. Baghdad time, Zhang Xiang (Xinhua) was reporting 40 dead and one hundred injured while Hassan Obeidi (AFP) was reporting 58 dead and ninety-seven injured. Xiang notes that at least four of the dead "were provincial council members" and that "U.S. helicopters flew over the area as U.S. and Iraqi SWAT (Special Weapons And Tactics) force arrived in the afternoon at the scene and started operation to free the hostages and killed the suicide bombers, the source said." Obeidi adds, "Hospital sources said they had received the bodies of six attackers. They said two showed they had died after detonating their suicide vests, and four were killed by shots fired by security forces."
Many in this divided city want U.S. troops to stay longer than President Barack Obama's administration has said they will, and a tense standoff last week showed why. Kurdish troops from the north were in positions on the outskirts of Arab neighborhoods. To calm the latest flare-up of the longstanding ethnic rivalries here has required a rush of high-level diplomacy, including phone calls from Vice President Joe Biden to Kurdish leaders and the deployment of U.S. troops, a rarity in Iraq today.
Oil-rich Kirkuk, sought after by the KRG and the government or 'government' in Baghdad. A story of grievances of who was forced out most, who suffered the worst, who can claim it. In 2005, a method for resolving the issue was decided upon and written into the Iraqi Constitution. By 2007, a census would be taken followed by a referendum on the issue. The Constitution went into effect in the second half of 2005, Iraq held elections in December 2005. In April 2006, Nouri al-Maliki became prime minister-designate and, in May 2006, prime minister.
Who dropped the ball?
That would be Nouri. Despite being bound by the Constitution, despite then agreeing to the White House benchmarks (which included the resolution of Kirkuk) in 2007, Nouri's never followed through as he was required to do. As late as November, it appeared the census would finally take place. Sure, Nouri had postponed it plenty of times. But it was set for early December and it needed to take place. And Nouri was full of promises to the Kurds of how it would take place. Then he became prime minister designate and, although he couldn't come up with a full Cabinet, he could and did immediately call off the census.
Kirkuk is an issue for Iraqis because, once decided, it will be a sore spot for decades, possibly longer. It is their country and, for those who don't give a damn about that, you really don't decades of hate towards the US because they awarded Kirkuk to one side or the other. By not ensuring that Nouri followed the Constitution, the US has made the decision: Kirkuk belongs to Baghdad. If that doesn't change real damn quick, the US takes the fall for the decision.
The US government has repeatedly supported Nouri and backed him up. They've kept US forces on the ground to ensure he remains in power. To allow him to repeatedly ignore the Constitution is making a decision. By default, the US government is making a decision.
And it's a real damn shame that so few have paid attention to the issue. And a real damn shame John Kerry's become such a joke that he'd support a nominee for US Ambassador (Chris Hill) who clearly didn't grasp the issues in his confirmation hearing despite bragging about the intense tutorial he'd received. Kirkuk was minor, Hill insisted, nothing but a minor land dispute. And it all just sailed over John Kerry's head. And whatever the US had diplomatically accomplished under Ryan Croker fell by the wayside. John Kerry wants to be Secretary of State but he wasn't ready to be Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. From the March 25, 2009 snapshot reporting on then-nominee Chris Hill's testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:
He was ill prepared throughout and even with the softballs lobbed by the Democratic majority committee, he wasn't able to answer the questions. He was prepped. Senator Edward Kaufman asked a question and Hill was bragging about his prep there. The question was about Kirkuk and Hill wanted the committee to know that, just days ago, he had a special briefing: "I had the briefing. It turns out it is a very complex issue."
"It turns out it is a very complex issue." That statement is frightening. It's all the more frightening that Hill needed the briefing because, as he stated, he couldn't understand what the hold up re: Kirkuk was. It was just a land dispute! (Kirkuk is oil-rich, the Kurdistan Regional Government says it belongs to them and that Saddam diluted Kurdish power and control. The central government wants it as well.) Kirkuk is a great deal more than a land dispute. It goes to history, it goes to long-standing grievances, it goes to resources and it goes to control. That Hill couldn't grasp that as a casual observer is frightening. His remarks on Kirkuk were all over the place throughout the hearing and, had he not informed he'd been briefed on Kirkuk, one would assume he'd never given the matter more than ten seconds thought.
It's not a pressing issue, he insisted. The hydrocarbons law is the pressing issue. Not Kirkuk. Even when he thought it was a mere land dispute, he should have grasped how important Kirkuk is. At times, his answers indicated the US would decide what to do (bad move -- Iraqis need to make that decision because it's their land; the US doesn't need to be involved) and at other times he seemed to think the United Nations. Never once did he seem aware that maybe an regarding Iraqi land should be decided by Iraqis (either just within the province or throughout the country). His grasp of the United Nations work was also troubling because he seems to believe they have this huge team of workers on the ground and that they've always been working on the issue of Kirkuk. Reality, the UN got invovled in the Kirkuk issue last year only because it threatened to derail the provincial elections (and almost did). Hill seems completely ignorant of those realities. He thinks the KRG is the equivalent of Bosnia and Kosovo. He would tell Senator Russ Feingold that the issue of Kirkuk was "just old fashioned land dispute." Told him that today after also claiming that's what he used to think before his briefing days ago. Hill appeared to have no short term memory at all and no record of what he'd said to one senator before answering the other.
Despite having no concept of the issue, Tuesday April 21, 2009, Hill was confirmed by the Senate to the post of US Ambassador to Iraq -- a post in which he was infamous for doing nothing other than taking long afternoon naps. (James Jeffrey is the current US Ambassador to Iraq and -- as anyone would be -- he's a huge improvement over Hill.) While Hill dithered, the situation got much worse. Today Olga Belogolova (National Journal) advises, "In a recent book called Unfinished Business: An American Strategy for Iraq Moving Forward," six Iraq experts, including Brookings Institutions' Kenneth M. Pollack, warn that the fractured region could slip into an all-out civil war." UPI reports, "Last week it took the deployment of U.S. troops to prevent a confrontation after Kurdish soldiers from the north took positions on the outskirts of Kirkuk's Arab neighborhoods." Back when Hill was showing up at his confirmation hearing the then-top US commander in Iraq, Gen Ray Odierno, had already called Kirkuk the most pressing issue then facing Iraq.
"In the past, Crisis Group has argued that Kirkuk should gain special status as a stand-alone governorate, under neither Baghdad's nor Erbil's direct control, for an interim period, and with a power-sharing arrangement in which political represetnatives of the main ethnic and religious groups are represented fairly." That's from the International Crisis Group new report entitled [PDF format warning] "Iraq and the Kurds: Confronting Withdrawal Fears" which explains Kirkuk is the name of a city, of a province and of a "super-giant oil field."
The report notes how the Kurds stood on the sidelines during the bulk of the political stalemate of 2010, waiving their 19 demands: "Topping the list was implementation of the 2005 constitution which, as the Kurds see it, should result in the incorporation of Kirkuk and other disputed territories into the Kurdistan region -- thereby fulfilling a quest that has preoccupied them since 2003." Distrust of Nouri and his efforts to further strip power from other branches of the government is what motivated the Kurds to join others in supporting the creation of a National Council for Strategic Policy. (This was the group that was to have been chaired by Ayad Allawi. Though Nouri gave lip service to it, he demonstrated at Parliament's first session announcing a deal to end the stalemate that he wasn't serious by refusing to allow the issue of the council to be raised. He then ensured it remained buried which was Allawi walked away from it finally. This parentheticl is me, not a summary of the report.) The report quotes an adviser to Nouri stating, "Some of the prime minister's promises will be delivered in two to three weeks, some in two to three years, and some will take ten years. There are lots of [unimplemented] promises left over from 2006 [when the first Maliki government was formed]. We still didn't finish Article 140, and this will take perhaps ten more years."
Article 140 is the section of the Constitution which demands that the Kirkuk issue be resolved via a census and referendum. And Article 140 specifically states that the census and referendum will take place "by a date not to exceed the 31st of December 2007." Interesting that, in 2011, after being re-installed as prime minister, Nouri's thoughts are Article 140 can wait "ten more years."
The report notes:
Kirkuk -- with its mixed population and vast hydrocarbons wealth -- remains at the core of the conflict. Kurdish leaders have enunciated no vision for Kirkuk other than its incorporation into the Kurdistan region, while, in mirror image, most Arab leaders publicly insist on its staying under Baghdad's direct control. The Turkomans, a small ethnic minority in the country as a whole but a relatively large group in the disputed territories, tend to occupy a political middle ground, contending that Kirkuk should have the status of a single-governorate region not tied directly to either Baghdad or Erbil [captial of the KRG].
For Kurds, Kirkuk resonates deeply, an issue fuelled by a strong sense of historical injustice perpetrated by previous regimes, of discrimination, dispossesion, dislocation and death.
A big part of the problem is something that the International Crisis Group does not want to recognize. From the report:
To overcome past failures to work out such critical details, UNAMI [United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq], supported by the U.S., has proposed a process that could lead to a negotiated solution. The Kurds have objected, saying that the constitution requires a referendum. Both the U.S. and UNAMI are now on record as stating very clearly that a negotiated solution would have to be ratified by the local population in a referendum -- consistent with constitutional requirements, but not with the Kurds' preference for a referendum as soon as possible that would allow the population to choose whether it wants to adhere to the Kurdistan region rather than sign on to a consensus agreement negotiated by political leaders.
A constitution is a country's supreme law of the land. You can't ignore it and have any credibility on a contentious issue which will remain contentious well after it's resolved. If there is an existing law -- especially one written into the Constitution -- and it is not followed, there will be more than "sour grapes," there will be a strong reason to invalidate any agreement formed.
You can pass an amendment to the Constitution altering Article 140. But unless and until that is done, the Constitution maps out how the issue is supposed to be resolved and it needs to be mapped out that way or any 'conclusion' is invalidated and can easily be appealed in any functioning court of law. Saying that "all parties agreed to it" won't change that and a case can be made that (a) all parties didn't agree and (b) those agreeing were not willing partners since the law was being ignored.
The Constitution was written it needs to be followed or it needs to be amended. Anything else makes any decision reached far less than final and breeds contempt and ill will from generation to generation and that will glom onto the United States due to the fact that it has propped up Nouri and it has refused to follow the established rules (as outlined in the country's Constitution). Until that reality is absorbed, the International Crisis Group is not going to be a help to anyone (if it's even possible for it to be a help). UNAMI makes itself a joke as it encourages the Constitution to be ignored while at the same time doing p.r. bits to trumpet the rule of law. Aswat al-Iraq reports on one such p.r. bit, "As the international community moves forward with several rule of law initiatives in Iraq, the Rule of Law International Policy Committee (RIPC) held a meeting today at UNAMI Headquarters in Baghdad with the participation of representatives of 14 countries, the United Nations, the World Bank and EUJUST LEX Iraq, the European Union Integrated Rule of Law Mission for Iraq."
As the international community moves forward with several rule of law initiatives in Iraq, the Rule of Law International Policy Committee (RIPC) held a meeting today at UNAMI Headquarters in Baghdad with the participation of representatives of 14 countries, the United Nations, the World Bank and EUJUST LEX Iraq, the European Union Integrated Rule of Law Mission for Iraq.
Ambassadors, top officials and international rule of law experts continued their monthly dialogue on human rights, good governance and the rule of law in Iraq. They shared information in view of coordinating their work in the field of human rights and Rule of Law in Iraq with the aim of promoting the protection of human rights and judicial and legal reform in the country.
The meeting provided for a review of the work of its three working groups dealing with trafficking in persons and juvenile justice, international judicial cooperation and rule of law and judiciary reform/legislation and parliamentary oversight.
The Committee meeting also included three presentations on the Iraq Rule of Law Strategy of RIPC partners and the activities of the US-supported National Center for State Courts and USAID-funded Iraq Access to Justice Program.
The RIPC serves as a monthly rule of law forum chaired by various missions. The Committee is made up of Australia, Denmark, European Union, Egypt, Italy, Japan, France, Germany, Korea, Turkey, Sweden, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, United Nations and EUJUST LEX Iraq.
A meeting took place on Sunday 27 March in Baghdad, under UNAMI auspices, to explore the idea of setting up a mechanism for consultation that would bring together concerned parties, with the aim of addressing pending and pressing issues related to disputed internal territories.
The meeting discussed that such a mechanism could serve as an important instrument to enhance stability and peaceful resolution of conflict, and enable all stakeholders to discuss and seek common solutions to outstanding issues. Further meetings including representation at the local level in the coming period were encouraged.
"UNAMI welcomes this important meeting and stands ready to continue facilitating dialogue and promoting negotiated agreements between all parties, especially at these challenging times", said the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Iraq, Mr. Ad Melkert.
The meeting was facilitated by SRSG Ad Melkert and attended by Dr. Rowsch Shawis, Deputy Prime Minister, Mr. Hassan Al-Sunaid and Dr. Salman Al-Jumaili.
If the 'how' of resolving a dispute is written into the Constitution, you either support the rule of law or you don't. The meeting described above chips away at the rule of law and fosters a disrespect for the Constitution. The UN would argue they are trying to resolve a difficult issue. That's true. But their resolution is meaningless if it goes against the laws of Iraq.
The US government already screwed up the political process by strong arming the Kurds into supporting Nouri for prime minister and by strong arming Ayad Allawi into stepping aside and accepting the oops-never-did-get-created position of chair of the National Council for Strategic Policy. The effects from that decision will be felt longterm in Iraq. Already Nouri's done his power grab, is making noises about the Constitution not mattering, is attacking journalists and -- though no one wants to talk about it in the Western press -- has proposed a very alarming bill to the Parliament regarding how political parties will be recognized as 'real' political parties. All of that and he still doesn't have a functioning Cabinet.
Dar Addustour reports that Nouri al-Maliki gave Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi candidates names -- Ibrahim Mohammed Lami for Minister of the Interior, Khaled al-Obeidi for Minister of the Defense and Ali Youssef Abdul Nabi for Minster of Planning. It is over a year since Iraq held elections (March 7, 2010) and there Nouri still has no full Cabinet. Dar Addustour's report of Khaled al-Obeidi is a surprise since he supposedly was taken out of the running over the weekend by Ali al-Lami who used the corrupt Justice and Integrity Commission to blackball al-Obeidi. Al Rafidayn also reports al-Obeidi as a nominee and states that Nouri's office announced the three nominees yesterday. Al Mada notes al-Obeidi's nomination as well and controversy over it, however, they say Adnan al-Asadi has been nominated as Minister of Planning. Adnan al-Asadi is an MP with the National Alliance and has reportedly asked that his name be withdrawn. Ali Youssef Abdul Nabi is with the Sadrist bloc. Meanwhile Iraq's Sunni vice president, Tariq al-Hashimi, tells Al Mada that he and Shi'ite vice president Adel Abdul Mahdi remain the vice presidents of Iraq. Adel Abdul Mahdi has notified Iraqi President Jalal Talabani that he does not wish to be nominated for vice president in the new or 'new' government; however, he and al-Hsahimi agreed December 26th to stay on as vice presidents until new ones could be selected.
Al Mada has more on Nouri's threat yesterday to provide a no-confidence vote if other political parties don't follow his commands (democracy is a concept Nouri never grasped). They explain he was meeting with university professors and political analysts and that he has some plans for deputy minister nominations such as nominating Saleh al-Mutlaq which will upset Sadrists -- as Nouri noted to the group he met with. The article also reminds that Nouri's 100 days to clean up corruption is counting down. Corrptuion? Dar Addustour reports that insiders on the Integrity Commission report the three big cases are the purchase of military helicopters, the money wasted on bombing detecting 'wands' (which did not work and which Iraq paid more for than nay other buyer silly enough to purchase the items) and electricity contracts. Inas Tariq (Al Mada) reports on rumors that various political parties are threatening to use revelations to embarrass others unless they can all agree to bury bad news.
Turning to some of Iraq's reported violence today besides Tikrit, Reuters notes a Baghdad rocket attack left two people injured and Mustansiriya University's dean of the dentistry college died in a Baghdad car bombing. Aswat al-Iraq reports a Falluja home invasion resulted in the death of 1 police officer and his wife and three children left injured.
OLYMPIA -- Gov. Chris Gregoire has directed that flags at all Washington state agency buildings be lowered to half-staff Tuesday, March 29th, in memory of U.S. Army Corporal Brandon S. Hocking of Seattle. Hocking died March 21 of injuries sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated near his military vehicle in Iraq. Flags should remain at half-staff until close of business Tuesday, or first thing Wednesday morning, March 30th. Congress amended the U.S. Flag Code to give governors the authority to lower flags when a state resident in the military is killed in the line of duty. Other government entities, citizens and businesses are encouraged to join in this recognition.
The deadline for eligible service members, veterans and their beneficiaries to apply for Retroactive Stop Loss Special Pay (RSLSP) has been extended to April 8, 2011, allowing personnel more time to apply for the benefits they've earned under the program guidelines.
The deadline extension is included in the continuing resolution signed by President Obama Friday, providing funding for federal government operations through April 8, 2011.
Retroactive Stop Loss Special Pay was established to compensate for the hardships military members encountered when their service was involuntarily extended under Stop Loss Authority between Sept. 11, 2001, and Sept. 30, 2009. Eligible members or their beneficiaries may submit a claim to their respective military service in order to receive the benefit of $500 for each full or partial month served in a Stop Loss status.
When RSLSP began on Oct. 21, 2009, the services estimated 145,000 service members, veterans and beneficiaries were eligible for this benefit. Because the majority of those eligible had separated from the military, the services have engaged in extensive and persistent outreach efforts to reach them and remind them to apply. Outreach efforts including direct mail, engaging military and veteran service organizations, social networks and media outlets, will continue through April 8, 2011.
To apply for more information, or to gather more information on RSLSP, including submission requirements and service-specific links, go to http://www.defense.gov/stoploss.