Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Iraq snapshot

Wednesday, June 1, 2011.  Chaos and violence continue, Iraq tops a list yet again but it's not the one you want to be on unless you enjoy being a haven for journalist killers, Iraqiya says no movement until the Erbil Agreement is honored, talks on extending the US military presence in Iraq continue, Iraq War veteran Adam Kokesh plans a meet-up for this Saturday at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, and more.
Kate Wiltrout (Virginia Pilot) reports on today's send-off ceremony for members of Task Force 183, "The group is also part of the Viriginia National Guard's largest single-unit deployment since World War II. Its 825 soldiers come from seven unites across the state, including four in Hampton Roads." Erin Barnett (WSLS) adds, "The soldiers will spend 45 to 60 days at Camp Atterbury in Indiana, before leaving for Iraq. They are expected to be in Iraq for more than a year." Hugh Lessing (Daily Press) reports on those departing including Capt Brian Gallavan who states, "We have some of our soldiers where this is their third or fourth deployment.  I have two on their fifth deployment."
And it's a year long deployment.  But they're being told to be 'flexible.'  Why?  Because the US government's really not sure what's happening with the US military and Iraq just yet.  On Antiwar Radio. Scott Horton spoke with Jason Ditz about what may or may not happen with US troops in Iraq. Excerpt.
Scott Horton: We've been talking quite a bit about this. The empire has made no secret that they're determined to stay, they want so badly to stay, but there is no UN resolution authorizing the occupation.  There's only the Status Of Forces Agreement that Bush signed with Maliki in 2008 and now that says that every last one of our army troops have got to be out of the country -- and that goes for Air Force, Navy and Marines too -- at the end of this year, December 31, 2011. Our guys are trying to get Nouri al-Maliki to "invite us" to stay -- the way they've been able to successfully coherce the South Koreans and the Japanese into inviting us to stay in their countries.  And this Sadr guy doesn't seem to be going for it -- but then "seems" are iffy things.  And I read a couple of things that said that the Pentagon is betting that Sadr is bluffing and that the only way Sadr can make the United States leave is basically by what he's doing right now which is saying, 'Listen, you're going to have to start the war all over again and you don't want that.'  They stood by when the Americans rolled in from Kuwait to take out Saddam Hussein, they've been fighting for the Shi'ite factions -- the Iraqi National Alliance -- this whole time.  They're saying, 'You're going to have to start the war all over again against us.'  And the Pentagon is betting, trying at least, they're hoping that he's just bluffing.  And I wonder, from all the indications, what you're reading about the situation over there, whether you think Moqtada al-Sadr is really willing to turn the south of Iraq upside down in order to force the Americans out?
Jason Ditz: It looks like he might well be but Prime Minister Maliki, of course, came up with ruling out the occupation beyond the end of the year several times in public speeches and then recently he's backed off that entirely saying that 'Well, it's going to be up to the Iraqi Parliament to decide whether or not to extend the Status Of Forces Agreement --
Scott Horton: You know I wonder --
Jason Ditz: -- so --
Scott Horton: You know I wonder exactly how to spin that one or which spin on that is most likely, I guess.  Whether that's him beginning to give in to the Americans and really work for them and trying to invite us to stay or whether that's him just setting the stage for trying to say, 'Look, I tried to reason with them and they just won't go along' -- you know, as his excuse to us for not inviting us to stay?
Jason Ditz: Well either one is possible but the several times that he came out publicly and said absolutely not, the US pretty much pretended like they didn't hear.  It's like they put their fingers in their ears and said, 'La-la-la we can't hear you.'  And then they would ask again, a couple of days later.  And they even went so far in one of their public speeches -- I believe it was Secretary Gates -- expressing concern that the Iraqi government hadn't responded one way or another after several times of Maliki saying 'absolutely not.'
Scott Horton: Right. Yep, well, boy oh boy, I mean, it's not hard to imagine that over at the Pentagon, they figure that they stole Iraq fair and square, they get to keep but somebody should have told them who they were fighting for and how it wasn't working out so well.  I got to refer again to that book The Good Soldiers by [David] Finkel, the Washington Post reporter where he covers the surge in east Baghdad against the Sadrists in 2007 and 2008 and these guys had no idea that they were fighting for Moqtada al-Sadr against the rest of the country, that in the Sunni provinces that are guys are basically the reserve forces for Sadr's death squads, going in there and ethnically cleansing or religiously cleansing, whatever, the vast majority of Baghdad and consolidating all that power for the Iraqi National Alliance and their Iranian allies.  All they thought they were doing was going out on patrol, fighting those terrible Sadrists. They had no idea the war they were even in.
Jason Ditz: Oh and I think a lot of people still don't realize the type of war that we're in and a lot more people seem to figure that this war is over and has been over for awhile now.
Scott Horton: That's what Rachel Maddow says and apparently that's what makes things true.
That broadcast may need to be revisted January 1, 2012.  (Listen in full and you'll understand that remark.)  Jack A. Smith (Foreign Policy Journal) observes

The Obama Administration is anxious to retain military bases and thousands of troops in Iraq, which it is supposed to leave entirely at the end of this year, and in Afghanistan as well, when the U.S. is scheduled to depart at the end of 2014. President Obama is applying heavy pressure to Baghdad and Kabul to "request" the long-term presence of U.S. troops and "contractors" after the bulk of the occupation force withdraws.

Why keep troops in Iraq? The neoconservative Bush White House invaded Iraq, which was considered a pushover after 12 years of U.S.-British-UN killer sanctions, not only to control its oil, but as a prelude to bringing about regime change in neighboring Iran, thus providing Washington with total control of the immense resources of the Persian Gulf. The Iraqi guerrilla resistance destroyed the plan, for now.

Thus, the upshot of the war -- in addition to costing American taxpayers several trillion dollars over the next few decades in principal and interest -- is that Shi'ite Iran's main enemy, which was the Sunni regime of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad until 2003, has been replaced by the Shi'ite government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a politician who usually bends the knee to Washington but is quite friendly to Tehran, as are many Iraqi politicians. (The Shia are nearly 65% of the population; the Sunnis, nearly 35%.)

On May 16 Maliki declared that "Security, military and political cooperation between Iran and Iraq is essential, and we will certainly see the expansion of relations in these areas in the future."  Washington's big fear is that Maliki may eventually thumb his nose at Uncle Sam, and that in time, Iraq and Iran will draw much closer together -- a prospect deeply opposed by the U.S., Israel, and Saudi Arabia.

According to Stratfor, the private intelligence resource, on April 26: "[T]he U.S. has reportedly offered to leave as many as 20,000 troops in the country" after its "pullout" at the end of this year. In addition, a large but undetermined number of "contractors" -- often paramilitary hirelings -- are to remain.

Further, according to an Inter Press Service report May 9, the State Department "intends to double its staff in Iraq to nearly 16,000 and rely entirely on private contractors for security." So large a staff is almost unbelievable, but so is the immense size of the new U.S. embassy in Baghdad's Green Zone -- the largest such facility in the world.

Lara Jakes (AP) informs, "The Obama administration is ready to play ball on keeping thousands of U.S. troops in Iraq beyond this year. But for Iraq's government, in the words of one lawmaker, the issue is like playing with fire."  In iraq,  New Sabah calls it US Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey's "first public reaction" on the issue of US forces staying in Iraq beyond 2011 (and possibly it is for the Iraqi press). It? He's dimissed the review of the Mahdi militia from last week. He also called out Moqtada al-Sadr and his militia's claim that they can attack US forces insisting that the presence of US forces on Iraqi soil was a result of the "legitimate will of the Parliament." (He's referring to the 2008 Thanksgiving Day vote on the SOFA. And while he may have a point, a stronger point would be that the Iraqi people were promised a voice in the process -- without that promise, some believe Parliament wouldn't have passed the SOFA -- I disagree, but a number of people believe that -- and the promised referendum that they'd vote in never came to be.) And a new group joins the chorus of 'extend' that Kurdish officials have been chanting.  Dar Addustour reports that the Chaldean Syriac Assyrian Association has come out in favor of US forces remaining on the ground in Iraq beyond 2011 stating that their presence is necessary to provide safety for Iraq's religious and ethnic minorities. The organization also maintains that the continued presence of US forces would allow Iraqi forces the opportunities to refine their own performance. Nouri al-Maliki is expected to call a meeting shortly to discuss keeping US forces on the ground in Iraq beyond 2011.

Saturday Al Mada noted that as the end of the 100 days approaches (June 7th, "100 days" refers to the promise Nouri made that he would clean up government corruption and provide services within 100 days) Iraqi security forces seem to be taking a harder line with protesters. They cite as an example what took place Friday in Baghdad when youth activists protested in Tahrir Square and four were arrested. The paper notes that the forces used "special security measures" that were new to this arrest. Iraqi forces also used some actions that were the same as previous ones: closing the bridges and cutting off roads, etc. The Iraqi Democratic Youth Federation and the Union of Students in the Republic of Iraq issued a statement condemning the arrests, calling for the immediate release of the four protesters and denouncing the "return to repressive authoritarian" measures. Friday was "False Promises Friday." The Great Iraqi Revolution noted the four arrested: "THE 4 YOUNG ACTIVISTS WHO WERE ARRESTED TODAY BY QASSIM ATTA AND TAKEN TO A PLACE UNKNOWN - 27.5.2011 - THEIR NAMES ARE: JIHAD JALEEL, ALI ABDUL KHALIQ, MOUAYED AL TAYEB AND AHMED AL BAGHDADI. We pray God to have them released very soon."

They also noted of Friday's Baghdad protest -- or in response to it, a smear campaign is being launched on TV, "In the serial of attempting to bad mouth and blacken the Tahrir Square protestors and demonstrators, Qassim Atta and the Iraqiya air photos of one of the detained activists in the Protests and accuse him of several crimes, they then proceed to air a film of a crime whose perpetrators are known to all and sundry, and in the same film some hooded men are heard to accuse that the activist is the person who committed the crime!" And the assault on protesters continued Saturday. Aswat al-Iraq reported:

An eye witness said that a military force raided an NGO, known as Where is My Right, and arrested 11 persons, including its secretary general, in suspicion for their relationship with the organizers of Tahreer Square demonstrations.
"Four Hummer military vehicles and two 4-wheel drive cars surrounded the organization premises in Maidan Square, in the center of Baghdad, where they searched it and destroyed its computers," the source told Aswat al-Iraq.
On the other hand, an activist said on the Facebook page for the Tahreer Square demonstrations, that the organization is an NGO that participated in organizing the demonstrations.
The arrested persons were meeting to discuss how to release the four activists who were arrested last Friday.

All for calling for an end to corruption, calling for basic services, calling for the detainees to be freed, calling for the occupation of Iraq to end. Ned Parker and Salar Jaff (Los Angeles Times) cover these events and speak with activist Hanna Edwar:

The government's actions raise the specter of a security apparatus that tolerates little dissent by people not affiliated with religious parties or any of the major groups in government. It also speaks to the limits of American influence in a country where the U.S. still has nearly 50,000 troops and has served as the main architect of the country's new democracy and sponsor of those in power.
The government has been far from clear about the status of the four activists. First it said they were being held by military intelligence. Then it denied that, adding that there was no record of any protesters being arrested. Baghdad's military command issued a statement late Tuesday saying that the four had been picked up with fake IDs in the same neighborhood as the demonstrations — a charge the men's supporters called ludicrous. The men's families were told they would be taken to see them Wednesday at a military intelligence prison.
Edwar said the nine others detained Saturday were probably being held in the same place.
The detained activists' friends, mostly young people who met through Facebook, spent Sunday and Monday stealthily putting up posters about the four around university campuses.

Dar Addoustour reports that youth activists are gearing up for demonstrations on June 10th, three days after the end of the 100 days. David Ali (Al Mada) adds that the government continues to assert the protesters were not arrested for their political activities. Al Mada's Fakhri Karim surveys the scene to see what has taken place in the 100 days thus far and finds that the security situation has worsened (and notes the increase in assassinations), the political blocs in the government continue to be at loggerheads, protesters had noted that the security ministries had no heads (Ministry of Interior, Ministry of National Security and Ministry of Defense) and that remains the case, and calls any claims of tensions being eased to be a mirage and illusion.  In addition,  
Nahrain is reporting Iraqiya's Tareq al-Hashemi (the country's Sunni vice president) has declared that Iraqiya has suspended all discussions with State of Law and will not resume them until the Erbil Agreement is followed.  Aswat al-Iraq quotes from the statement Iraqiya issued, "Due to the delay of the negotiations that took place on Monday, May 30, 2011, the leaders of al-Iraqiya have studied the political situation and decided to suspend the attendance of its delegation in the said talks in the future, unless the State of Law Alliance responds to its legitimate demands, within the agreements concluded in response to Kurdistan President, Massoud Barzani's initiative,"
Reuters notes today's violence includes a Mussayab bombing which claimed 6 lives and left eleven people injured, a Baghdad sticky bombing that may or may not have been intended as an assassination attempt on a deputy minister for Abdul-Karim Abdullah who is the Ministry of Human Rights (two by-standers were injured in the bombing), another Baghdad bombing left seven people injured and a Jurf al-Sakhar attack on Sahwa which killed 1 Sahwa leader and left his bodyguard injured. Aswat al-Iraq reports that a US military convoy was attacked with a grenade in Qurna (no one was reported injured or dead), the Basra Operations Command (Iraqi outpost) was attacked with mortars today, and yesterday there was an attack outside Tikrit by "four armed men" who killed 3 brothers.

Still on violence, last week mini-thug Ali al-Lami was murdered. In 2010, Ahmed Chalibi's little fellow used the Justice and Accountability Commission to settle old scores. Al Sabaah reports that a raid was conducted in Taji and a suspect (an officer in the intelligence service during the Saddam Hussein era) was arrested. Xinhua adds that Baghdad Operations Command released a statement which included: "Iraqi security forces have arrested a terrorist who carried out the assassination of Ali al-Lami. The terrorist was affiliated with the intelligence service of the former Saddam Hussein's regime."

Hundreds of Iraq Christians, Iraqi Jews and other religious minorities have been killed while Nouri al-Maliki has been prime minister -- as have many journalists. Those deaths? Never solved to this day.

Apparently there just wasnt a 'desire' on the part of Nouri to find those killers (many of whom were in his party and/or working for him). But Ali al-Lami dies and all stops are pulled out to arrest a suspect.

Today the Committee to Protect Journalists released their Impunity Index: "CPJ's annual Impunity Index, first published in 2008, identifies countries where journalists are murdered regularly and governments fail to solve the crimes. For this latest index, CPJ examined journalist murders that occurred between January 1, 2001 through December 31, 2010, and that remain unsolved. Only the 13 nations with five or more unsolved cases are included on the index. Cases are considered unsolved when no convictions have been obtained." And guess who comes in first? That's right:

The scourge of impunity worsened in Iraq, a country with a rating far worse than anywhere else in the world. None of the 92 journalist murders recorded in Iraq in the past decade has been solved, and, after a brief decline in targeted killings, journalist murders spiked in 2010. Among the four murder victims in 2010 was Sardasht Osman, a contributor to several news outlets who had received numerous threats for coverage that accused Kurdistan Regional Government officials of corruption. The investigation of his murder is emblematic of the deeply entrenched culture of impunity in Iraq. Authorities took no discernible action in the case until they faced intense international pressure. Then, investigators produced a cursory, 430-word report that vaguely accused Osman of having links to an extremist group that led to his killing. The report, which cited no supporting evidence for its claims, was widely denounced for lacking credibility and transparency.

Impunity Index Rating: 2.921 unsolved journalist murders per 1 million inhabitants.
Last year: Ranked 1st with a rating of 2.794.

AFP notes, "Iraq remained worst in the world when it comes to punishing murders of reporters, the Committee to Protect Journalists said on Wednesday. The war-wracked country topped the list, published by the New York-based press watchdog to spotlight countries where media killings often go unpunished, for the fourth year running with an unsolved murder rate more than three times that of Somalia, which was next worst." Iraq has 'topped the charts' every year of the Impunity Index. Wladimir van Wilgenburg (Rudaw) notes:

In a report released on June 1, Iraq is ranked first on the 2011 impunity index of the Committee to Project Journalists (CPJ). CPJ criticizes the Kurdish government for its unsatisfactory handling of the murder case of Kurdish writer Sardasht Osman in 2010.
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has come in for fierce criticism by human rights and press organizations such as Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), CPJ and Human Rights Watch in the last few months for the way it dealt with demonstrations and the media.
On May 30, the KRG responded to the allegations and didn't deny violations by Kurdish security forces and ill-treatment of protestors.

So the message is that when the deaths matter to him, Nouri is interested in finding at the very least a suspect and the deaths of journalists and Iraq's religious minorities really don't matter to Nouri. Meanwhile Iran's Fars News Agency insists, "The United States and Saudi Arabia have sent their death squads to Iraq to assassinate the country's Shiite officers and scholars, Iraqi security sources revealed on Wednesday." While the idea of Special Ops being sent on such a mission wouldn't be shocking to me, it's a bit hard to take seriously a report that promises "security sources" -- plural -- in its opening sentence but spends the entire report citing one and only one source.  In addition, the actual article -- in Arabic -- is from Nahrain and it mentions one source and only one source for the allegations.  (It's an unnamed source.) On the topic of rumors, Nahrainnet reports that an unnamed "official source in the police of Najaf" is denying previous reports that Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is the target of a planned assassination.  Now about the Human Rights Watch issue brought up a second ago.  Last week  Human Rights Watch issued an alert on the KRG which included the following:
Kurdistan regional government officials and security forces are carrying out a growing assault on the freedom of journalists to work in Iraqi Kurdistan, Human Rights Watch said today. Regional officials should stop repressing journalists through libel suits, beatings, detentions, and death threats, Human Rights Watch said.

Kurdistan authorities have repeatedly tried to silence Livin Magazine, one of Iraqi Kurdistan's leading independent publications, and other media. The international community should end its silence and condemn these widening attacks, Human Rights Watch said.

"The Kurdistan Regional Government promised a new era of freedom for Iraqi Kurds, but it seems no more respectful of Kurdish rights to free speech than the government that preceded it," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "In a time when the Middle East is erupting in demands to end repression, the Kurdish authorities are trying to stifle and intimidate critical journalism."

On May 17, 2011, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) of regional president Massud Barzani brought a defamation lawsuit against the Livin editor-in-chief, Ahmed Mira, for publishing an article about an alleged plot by the KDP and its ruling alliance partner, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), to assassinate opposition leaders. According to court documents obtained by Human Rights Watch, the KDP is seeking total damages of one billion dinars (US$864,000) and an order to shut down the magazine by revoking its license.

The court documents say the party is suing Mira because the Livin article "not only has no basis in truth but is a threat to national security [and] a violation to the dignity and glory and the great achievements" of Iraqi Kurdistan.

Earlier in May, the Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani, the PUK leader, filed his own lawsuit over the same article. Mira told Human Rights Watch that, as a result, police detained him and a Livin reporter, Zhyar Mohammed, for five hours on May 5.

"Such libel suits by Kurdistan government officials are nothing more than a thinly-veiled effort to punish critics and create an atmosphere of fear and self-censorship," Whitson said. "The attacks by Barzani and his colleagues on independent journalists do more to undermine Kurdish 'dignity' and 'glory' than anything in the media reports."

A Livin reporter told Human Rights Watch that when he called Sheikh Jaffar Mustafa, Minister of Peshmerga (Kurdistan security forces), on April 24, Mustafa threatened Livin's editor, Mira, with death. The reporter had called Mustafa and taped the conversation because he wanted to get an official comment on an unrelated matter. The reporter said that Mustafa was upset over an unflattering article in the magazine that compared Mustafa to the Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak. Mira said he decided to report the threat to the regional government's prime minister rather than make it public or go to the police, which he believed would be ineffectual and put him at further risk.

AFP and NOW Lebanon note that the KRG's response to Human Rights Watch was a statement which included: "We will not deny that a few individuals from KRG security forces may have committed violations and might have subjected some protesters to ill treatment."  The response was in the form of a letter from Falah Mustafa Bakir who heads the Foreign Relations Dept:
I have been directed by the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Dr. Barham Salih, to write to you in response to Human Rights Watch's statement on April 21, 2011 in relation to the protests in Suleimaniyah between February and April of this year.

First and foremost, we reaffirm our gratitude and appreciation for the work conducted by HRW throughout the years in defense of Kurdish rights. While we take issue with some of the assertions in your statement, we consider your intervention consistent with your concern with the human rights of Kurds and others.

This has been a testing period in so many ways for our government and the Kurdistan Region's political process. We will not deny that a few individuals from KRG security forces may have committed violations and might have subjected some protesters to ill treatment. We can assure you, however, that these incidents have occurred despite KRG's clear directives for strict adherence to the law and the rights of the protesters. These violations can be attributed, at least in part, to lack of training and equipment needed for crowd control, which has also led to the death and injury of many police and security personnel. It is also important to recognize that the protests in the governorate of Suleimaniyah were not entirely peaceful. Many of the protest leaders incited violence, some even called for Jihad. Many of the demonstrators took part in violent actions that caused extensive damage to public and private property as well as hundreds of injuries and even the deaths of two security personnel.

The protests and opposition politics

The KRG, since its inception in 1991, has achieved much progress—despite many setbacks that have been manifested through internal strife. Nonetheless, after twenty years, there is still need for change and reforms. Our constituents legitimately aspire to better governance, combating corruption, and preventing the abuse of power. The initial wave of protests was undoubtedly a reflection of this desire for reform.

However, the facts show that much of the protests' organization and motivation, as well as the degeneration of the security situation, is a result of political opportunism whereby opposition political parties and leaders have attempted to achieve in the streets what they were unable to achieve at the ballot box. The violence accompanying some of the protests is not an expression of democracy—it is a direct challenge to democracy.

Here are some key facts to take into account when considering what is happening in the Kurdistan Region:
  • The current administration of the Kurdistan Regional Government came into office in July 2009 as the result of a competitive election in which the winning coalition received 59% of the vote.
  • More than 320 international observers from 35 countries and organizations, including the UN and EU, monitored the elections. They praised the high turnout of the elections and its competitive environment.
  • Opposition parties made significant gains in these elections, and for the first time in history, the Kurdistan Region's Parliament has a large opposition group in attendance.
  • The Gorran Party, the main opposition, first called for the KRG to resign more than three weeks before the first protest, and they promised to bring their people to the streets if the government was not dissolved.
  • The outbreak of violence on February 17th resulted when a group of protesters left the licensed protest area and attacked the offices of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in Suleimaniyah. A regrettable shooting incident took place. Of the 64 total wounded (reported by the Suleimaniyah Emergency Hospital), 11 were security personnel.
  • Some protesters have repeatedly insulted, taunted, and used violence in attempts to provoke security officers in order to gain sympathy for their cause.
  • In Halabja, two police officers were killed and many others were wounded during violent protests in which not a single protester was injured, illustrating the restraint shown by the police.
  • In addition to the two officers who were killed, almost 500 security personnel have been wounded by protestors throwing sticks, rocks, glass, and using knives, guns, and other weapons. Of the 99 persons reported injured during the events of April 17th and 18th, 66 were security personnel, and two of these were blinded by broken glass fired from slingshots.
  • Of those arrested, over 95% were released almost immediately. Due process is a fundamental right, and the government does not hold any persons for political reasons. Those who have been held are being detained with charges ranging from carrying a weapon without a license to assault with the intent to kill.
  • Almost 90% of the demonstrators were male, and 60% of them were under the age of 18.
  • Of the nearly one million residents of Suleimaniyah, the usual turnout of less than 1,500 protesters had a devastating impact on the economy in the Suleimaniyah area and on the Region as a whole. Local merchants, shops and service centers have suffered terrible financial losses, and the government has received countless calls for action to be taken to protect their welfare.

The KRG and reform

The government has recognized the need for reform since long before these protests began, and many significant reforms have already been passed. Among these are:
  • Before protests began in the region, the government was already taking steps to initiate many reforms. The current cabinet, which took office in October 2010, embarked on a series of reform initiatives aimed at limiting political party interference in governmental work and promoting new levels of transparency in public finances.
  • On November 23rd, 2010 President Barzani held a meeting with Prime Minister Salih and the Council of Ministers urging a wide ranging reform agenda to improve government services, the unification of Peshmerga forces, and measures to eliminate corruption.
  • President Barzani called parliament together on February 10th. In addition to the measures listed above, he asked each party to draw up a plan for introducing reforms on: improving government efficiency, creating more jobs, and making public access to services easier and more convenient.
  • In a public meeting on February 14th, the President reiterated his firm resolve to fight corruption and stressed that no one is above the law.
  • Establishing an independent Judicial Council to separate the judicial system from the influence of the Ministry of Justice.
  • Promoting the protection, rights, and participation of women in government through establishing the Higher Council of Women and a directorate to follow up on the government's actions to prevent violence against women, passing a law to prosecute perpetrators of honor killings as murderers, and passing a law requiring 30% of MPs to be women.
  • Passing a Press Law ensuring imprisonment is no longer possible as punishment for press-related matters.
  • Enacting a Code of Ethics and Conduct for greater accountability of government officials to ensure separation of public and private interests.
  • Establishing a continuing program of training and mentoring for KRG civil servants with the UK's National School of Government.
  • Starting a program with the UK's Westminster Foundation for Democracy to enhance the Kurdistan Parliament's training and capacity-building for MPs and parliamentary staff.
  • Bringing in the independent firm Price Waterhouse Coopers to advise the KRG on strategies for good governance and transparency.

Response to criticism
  • Since the protests began, the government has listened closely to the people's demands and has taken many steps to address the protesters' concerns in a responsible and democratic way.
  • Parliament has passed an extensive program to institute 17 points of reform (see attached translation – app 1).
  • A committee was formed by the Council of Ministers on February 23rd to investigate the events that took place in Suleimaniyah and elsewhere. This report, based on video footage, health reports, and interviews with civilian and government witnesses, has now been presented to the public.
    The substantial criticisms of government actions in this report are a testament to its credibility, and you can rest assured that we will do everything that we can to address the issues brought to light in this report (see attached translation of the report's findings summary – app 2).
  • The Prime Minister issued a statement to the protestors responding to their demands and establishing a committee to work on a mechanism for coordination (see the translation of the letter – app 3).
  • On February 27th, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) officially returned a list of party properties to government control (see attachment – app 4).
  • The Prime Minister and Ministers of Peshmerga Affairs and the Interior have all attended sessions of parliament to be questioned about events related to the protests.
  • The Ministry of Interior has sought training and equipment for non-lethal crowd management, and a directive was sent to all the security forces of the Kurdistan Region regarding appropriate procedures for detaining and processing prisoners (see attached directive – app 5).
  • On March 20th, President Barzani laid out a list of 20 reforms that he called on parliament and the other appropriate entities to enact in response to many of the legitimate demands of the protesters (see attached translation – app 6).
  • The government has scheduled provincial elections for September 10, 2011, and President Barzani has indicated a willingness to consider holding Parliamentary elections before their currently scheduled date in 2013.
  • The government has repeatedly asked for the assistance of the people to put an end to the violence and to address their concerns through constructive and peaceful dialogue, and in recent days the local security forces in Suleimaniyah have successfully cleared the protest area so that business and commerce may resume - their restraint during this action is evidenced by the fact that more than two thirds of the reported injured were security personnel.

Concluding thoughts

While this government acknowledges significant shortcoming and deficiencies in its performance, we ask that it be viewed with appreciation for the challenges that it faces and with honest consideration for the progress it has made. Since obtaining limited autonomy from Saddam Hussein's oppressive regime in 1991, this Region has quadrupled its number of schools, doubled the number of hospitals, completed more than 4,000 drinking-water projects, built more than 900 km of paved roads, made significant improvements in sewage and waste management, multiplied its average electricity output by more than 9 times, and has increased oil exports from zero to 150,000 bpd since 2007. The number of newspapers, magazines and broadcast media outlets has risen dramatically, and all of these improvements have been made in order to enhance the education, healthcare and the provision of services and infrastructure to the people of the Kurdistan Region. The KRG is proud to be a government that puts the security and the needs of its people above all else.

In addition to the reforms mentioned above, Amnesty International recognized the region for discontinuing the incarceration of political prisoners, for passing legislation to compensate detainees that have been held without charges, and for its improvements in human rights overall in its 2009 report. This region has also become a refuge for tens of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs), particularly those fleeing religious persecution, and the KRG provides them with food, housing, and financial assistance.

Progress and reform are not new to this government. A culture of positive change has been fostered since well before the protests began. The KRG welcomes the new opposition as a means of improving the efficiency of the democratic system, and it is open to constructive criticisms and cooperative efforts toward further progress. However, we call on the opposition to take its responsibility seriously. They should participate in the coalition government to help implement the many reforms that are still needed or win the right to lead the country through the ballot box. Their calls to dissolve a democratically elected coalition government are irresponsible, and ceding to this demand would set a dangerous precedent for the Kurdistan Region's emerging democracy.

We would like to thank you for taking the time to consider these thoughts. I hope that we have been successful in communicating a more complete picture of our region. For, as the Prime Minister has recently stated, "the lives and the safety of the people, as well as the stability of the region, are above all of the political positions that we hold."

That's the letter in full there's also this: "See also the appendices to the letter.  Click here for PDF files of the original signed letter to HRW and letter to Amnesty International."
Adam Kokesh:  As most of you are now aware I was body slammed, choked and arrested at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial this past weekend for silently making some vaguely rhythmical body movements well within my First Amendment rights.  But rest assured, citizen, my silent movements were put to a stop before they were able to terrorize the nation.  That said dissent and free expression is the very highest form of respect for the lifelong champion and Founding Father Thomas Jefferson.  Not to take the W line of  being 'with us or with the terrorist' but wasn't it the Taliban who was all hardline about illegal dancing? So about the whole body slamming and choking me thing?   You know what?  We'll let it go.  You guys aren't very good dancers. I get it. You're forgiven.  Okay.  Nice badge. Sorry about your penis. Compensating for something obviously.  But you know there's a lot of pent up anger there for a good reason.  Seriously, no hard feelings. I want to look at the bright side of this. You know I thought it was a really fitting tribute to the late Macho Man Randy Savage for me to be body slammed into the granite there but no more freebies.  You guys want to try to take me again?  We'll throw down.  Mano y mano. In fact, I'll take all of you at once and it still won't be a fair fight for you. But you better remember your dancing shoes because I'm fighting dance off style.  In one corner, we've got the First Amendment, you know that whole mess about no laws being made abridging free expression or press.  In the other corner, laws that abridge free expression and press.  You want to help make sure that I win this contest?  Be there. TJ's Memorial this upcoming Saturday.  That's right, Dance Party at TJ's June 4th, noon sharp.  Anniversary of Tineman Square by the way.  Now we don't all need to go getting cuffed or thrown in cages or maced or beaten with cubs or punched, so if you want to play it safe, party on the stairs.  If you're feeling really footloose, harness your Constitutional right and shimmy your way into the Memorial.  Just, like me, be ready for the consequences.
He also briefly discussed it on air with Stewart Rhodes.
Adam Kokesh:  How are we going to get accountability for this because, you know, Oath Keepers would not have done this.  Am I right?
Stewart Rhodes:  No.  Of course not. It's absurd.  Because, first of all, where's the law that says you can only move your feet in a certain manner as you cross the tile, cross the marble. I mean what is dancing away?  How do they define that?  So it's just ridiculous.  And where is the law is what I want to know? And then, how does that trump the First Amendment?
There's a student paper that just published an editorial on the Iraq War that's awful.  Kelly McEvers (NPR) does not do "columns" for NPR, for example.  A report that you link to, a report that aired on Weekend Edition Sunday, is not a "column."  That's (a).  Next, this Washington Post webpage ("Faces of the Fallen") does not say 6,013 US service members died in the Iraq War.  Your editorial says it does, but the page says 4,442 died in Operation Iraqi Freedom and 1,571 died in Operation Enduring Freedom for a total of 6,013.  "Operation Enduring Freedom" is the Afghanistan War.  (C) Moqtada al-Sadr has not "led a march in Iraq of tens of thousands . . ."  Moqtada al-Sadr was not in Iraq last week.  He could not physically lead the march from Iran. It's a student paper and we're going to be kind and not name it or toss in a link. We'll just note those are really serious mistakes for a college newpaper to have in its editorial.  But they are students.  So they're not responsible for the most ridiculous nonsense the country may see this month.  No that would be Tracy Baim promoting her bad book or 'book' on The Progressive Radio with Matt Rothschild. Time and again, she shows ignorance (at best) and flat out lies at worst.  I'm really tired of the little brats who don't know the history of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.  Tracy's decided to write a book including but feels she can be ignorant or lie about it.  But promoting the book appears to mean trashing Bill Clinton and Hillary as well.  Hillary doesn't have "a veneer" of support for LGBT rights.  That's not poor word choice, it's a bitchy remark and it's a lie.  And seconds later, liar Tracy has to back away from that claim (because it's a damn lie). It's cute to watch how Tracy addresses Barack putting homophobes on stage at campaign events (for more on that you can see Kevin Alexander Grey's "Obama's Big Gay and Black Problem.")  To Matthew's credit, in their print publication, The Progressive ran Kevin Alexander Grey's article -- this while The Nation, in print and online, actively ignored what was taking place on the campaign trail.  Asked about this issue by Matthew, Baim wants to laugh about the homophobe who claims he's an ex-gay (and ignores the other homephobes on stage at that event) before immediately adding "and several other missteps during the campaign, now the thing is Clinton wasn't pure on . . ."  That's how she deals with.  By never dealing with it and by immediately defocusing on Hillary.  (Who, for the record, did not stage a campaign event featuring known homophobes paraiding on stage.) Is her book about Hillary or is it about Barack? If it's about Barack, the alleged reporter (who seems to feel she was both a reporter and Barack emissary to the LGBT community during the 2008 campaign) needs to stop whoring and start addressing what the man she wrote a book about did, what he actually did.  She's a stupid moron, a petty con artist and dirty liar.  I have no use for these fools who will sit there and ignore reality or attempt to explain it away.  Stupid, stupid moron..  It only gets worse.  And please note, she needs to learn how to speak.  She makes a remark about Barack's former church that I can follow because I'm very familiar with that church.  But I doubt many others can since she's using "denomination" repeatedly including when she's speaking of the church and how it differs, yes, from the "denomination." (And on how it differs, she actually manages to use the term "denomination" correctly.  It's a damn shame she wasn't able to do so consistently.)