Friday, July 15, 2011

Protests and Nouri insists Iraq needs US military help

It's Friday, there are protests going on in Iraq. Revolution of Iraq reports on the demonstrations noting that police cordoned off protesters in Falluja while, in Baghdad, police made a point to search mobile phones "to provoke protesters" and that two protesters were arrested.


Screen snap is from Revolution of Iraq's video of today's Baghdad protest filmed by Rami Hayali. Aswat al-Iraq reports, "Hundreds of Iraqis demonstrated today in Tahrir Square, including government official, to-be-deported flats owners, unemployed persons and NGO activists. NGO activist told Aswat al-Iraq said that the demonstrators demanded eradication of corruption, unemployment and provision of services."

Meanwhile Alsumaria TV reports, "In a statement to Al Iraqiya, Al Maliki noted that Iraq needs to keep a number of US trainers to train Iraqi Forces on newly purchased air, land and naval weapons. The extension of US Forces term in Iraq necessitates a new agreement that should be voted upon by two thirds of Parliament lawmakers, Al Maliki said noting that this is difficult to be attained." Nayla Razzouk (Bloomberg News) notes:

"Iraq needs the Americans for training on the sea, air and ground and sea weapons," he said in an interview with state- sponsored Iraqiya television. "This does not need the approval of parliament," he said.

Nouri is correct, he does not need the approval of Parliament -- we pointed that out in yesterday's snapshot. In part, he doesn't need it because he's made it precedent that he doesn't need it (by renewing the UN mandate at the end of 2006 without the approval of Parliament -- UN mandate that covered the occupation of Iraq -- and again at the end of 2007). Even if he was legally required to have their approval, Nouri's never concerned himself much with legality which is another reason the Iraqi peoples' voice in the 2010 elections should have been honored (which would have meant that loser Nouri not continue as prime minister). James Denselow (New Statesman) observes:

Yet the shockwaves of the revolutions are being felt in Iraq. Last week, CNN reported Iraqi forces beating and detaining at least seven protestors as hundreds of angry demonstrators gathered on Friday in central Baghdad. Since early February, tens of thousands of protesters have participated in demonstrations every Friday across Iraq. Maliki, like his embattled western neighbour Assad, has approached the demonstrations with his own variety of carrots and sticks. He cut his $350,000 salary in half, plans to reduce the government to 25 ministerial positions by merging the ministries that perform overlapping functions, and has sought to make a constitutional change to ensure a two-term limit to the office of prime minister. What is more, following the initial protests, the Iraqi government announced that they would be cancelling the planned purchase of 18 US-made F-16 fighter planes, instead allocating the money to improving food rationing for the poor.

The sticks meanwhile include standard acts of violence, as well as drafting legislation that Human Rights Watch believes criminalises free speech and Iraqis' right to demonstrate. The authorities have tried to bar street protests and confine them (unsuccessfully) to football stadiums. Meanwhile, several incidents of the security forces attacking and killing protestors have been reported, including a bloody encounter on the 25th of February where 12 people were killed and over 100 injured.

The US appears largely unconcerned by the spread of protests to Iraq, with its focus on ensuring its strategic posture in the country. This cedes space in the battle for legitimacy being waged, mostly through proxy, by the Iranians. The actions of Muqtada al-Sadr in the face of an extension of the US presence will be particularly scrutinised. His group controls 39 seats in the gridlocked 325-member parliament. Last April, Sadr issued a statement promising that "if the Americans don't leave Iraq on time, we will increase the resistance and restart the activities of the Mahdi Army". However it is hard to evaluate the cohesiveness of the once-feared Mahdi Army. The Asaib al-Haq and Promised Day Brigade splinter groups are evidence of Sadr's difficulty in maintaining political control. Indeed, in recent weeks, he appears to have backtracked somewhat from bombastic threats against the US, although what exactly he will do remains an unknown.

And Al Mada reports Iraq's First Lady, Moqtada al-Sadr, has issued another statement, this one directed to US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and declaring that "we" will turn Iraq into a graveyard for the US. "We"? Moqtada's going to be handling drone attacks from Iran? "We"? It's exactly his inability to stand up and do as he instructs that's eroded so much confidence in Moqtada among his one-time followers.

In 2008, Moqtada's stock was almost this low. Bush, Robert Gates and Condi Rice made a huge mistake in egging on Nouri (who didn't need all that much egging) to go after Sadr's militias. This allowed Moqtada to issue statements --as he always does -- but for the statements to have more meaning than they usually did. Suddenly, in the face of an attack by US and Iraqi forces, his rantings seemed heroic and his stature rose. If the US government wants to fight Moqtada for all eternity, they'll do something stupid like the Bush administration did. If they want to neutralize him, they'll treat him with derision and indifference. If they were really smart, they'd expose a few of the sweetheart deals Moqtada received under the previous admistration (Bush administration). His stock is lower than it's ever been and his credibility can be further undermined. But if they insist upon launching or encouraging Nouri to launch a wave of attacks against his militias, they will allow Moqtada to again become 'voice of the beseiged.'

And Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) has a story that may have you thinking, "I read this before, right?" That's because he's again documenting a serious and continuing problem -- one Nouri forever claims has been addressed but it hasn't. Ned Parker's work on this topic has been brave and exhaustive. It's really past time that some honors started coming his way for his work. Excerpt of the opening:

Elite units controlled by Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's military office are ignoring members of parliament and the government's own directive by operating a clandestine jail in Baghdad's Green Zone where prisoners routinely face torture to extract confessions, Iraqi officials say.
Iraqi legislators and security officials have been joined by the International Committee of the Red Cross in expressing concern about the facility, called Camp Honor. In a confidential letter to the prime minister, the Red Cross requested immediate access to the jail and added that there could be three more connected to it where detainees also are being mistreated.
Iraq's Justice Ministry ordered Camp Honor shut down in March after parliament's human rights committee toured the center and said it had uncovered evidence of torture. The Human Rights Ministry denied Wednesday that it was still in operation. But several Iraqi officials familiar with the site said that anywhere from 60 to 120 people have been held there since it was ordered closed.

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