Thursday, December 22, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, Baghdad is slammed with bombings, the White House talks Iraq 'progress,' and more.
Bagdad is slammed with bombings and Jay Carney has achieved a rare feat -- making people miss the White House spokesperson stylings of Robert Gibbs. "Attempts such as this," Carney said at the White House today of the bombings, "to derail Iraq's continued progress will fail."
SRSG Martin Kobler: Iraqi leaders should overcome the current standstill in the appointment of the security ministries and resolve other issues involving the government formation process. Some of the pressing details of yesterday remain the same today. They are covered in greater detail in the report of the Secretary-General and include wealth distribution and power sharing, delivery and access to basic services, strained relations between communities that have lived together in Iraq for centuries as well as unresolved issues between Iraq and Kuwait.
Someone needs to ask Jay Carney: What progress?
AFP explores women's status in Iraq and notes how it has fallen from a high for the region to a nightmare (my term) today. Excerpt:
Safia al-Souhail, an MP who ran in March 2010 elections on Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's State of Law slate but has since defected and is now an independent, said US forces made some progress, but did not do enough in the immediate aftermath of the invasion. "They were always giving excuses that our society would not accept it," she said. "Our society is still wondering why the Americans did not support women leaders who were recognised by the Iraqi people." She lamented that Maliki had completed a recent official visit to Washington without a single woman in his delegation, describing it as a "shame on Iraq". Indeed, only one woman sits in Maliki's national unity cabinet, Ibtihal al-Zaidi, the minister of state for women's affairs.
But no one in the press wanted to note that, did they? No one in the US press, all giddy like school girls in the audience of The Ed Sullivan Show as the Beatles take the stage, wanted to point out that reality or how it signified the decling status of women in Iraq. With very few exceptions, they wanted to treat thug Nouri as if he were Nelson Mandela instead of Augusto Pinochet reborn.
That's laughable. It's especially laughable that the State Dept finally wants to weigh in on women's rights nearly nine years after the Iraq War started. And the key to women's rights, the State Dept appears to believe, is in how the Iraqi police are trained. Couldn't care about women's rights when the Iraqi Constitution was being written or when Iraqi women were in the streets protesting the attempts to strip them of their legal rights. But now, when they want to spend billions and billions of US tax payer dollars for years and years to train the Iraqi police, the US State Dept insists that this program is needed and it's needed to advance the rights of women.
Christians around the world prepare to celebrate one of their holy days but in Iraq, Catholic News Service reports, "Chaldean Catholic officials have canceled traditional Christmas Eve midnight Masses because of security risks. Chaldean Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk in northern Iraq told the agency Aid to the Church in Need that Christians will spend Christmas in 'great fear' because of the risk of new attacks."
Robert Koehler (Newsday) observes, "The war is over, sort of, but the Big Lie marches on: that democracy is flowering in Iraq, that America is stronger and more secure than ever, that doing what's right is the prime motivator of all our military action."
Baghdad is slammed with bombings today leaving many dead and injured?
Early today Ziad Tarek, spokesperson for the Ministry of Health, was telling Alsumaria TV, "Baghdad hospitals received this morning bodies of 49 dead and 167 wounded, following explosions that occurred in different regions of Baghdad." Prashant Rao (AFP)explains in this France 24 video, "All over the city, both majority Sunni and majority Shia areas have been targeted in mostly bomb attacks [. . .] basically all over Baghdad, we've seen multiple attacks." Charlie D'Agata (The Early Show, CBS News) reports, "The first explosion rang out just after dawn. Then came another. And another. Iraqi officials counted at least 14 blasts throughout Baghdad during the morning rush hour. The targets were indiscriminate. Roadside bombs and car bombs struck everything from neighborhood markets to police stations. A suicide bomber in an ambulance killed 18 people alone."
Richard Spencer (Telegraph of London) notes, "The worst single incident this morning was a suicide attack near a government office in which a stolen ambulance packed with explosives was detonated by its driver, sending debris into the air and into the grounds of a nearby kindergarten. Police said at least 18 people were killed in that bombing alone." Al Rafidayn reports that one Ali Abu Nailah, Iraqi Central Bank Consultant, is thought to have been targeted with a bombing on his convoy just outside of Baghdad (Nailah survived without injury but one of his bodyguards was injured). Sam Dagher and Ali Nabhan (Wall St. Journal) note, "The latest spasm of violence came one day after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki warned his coalition partners that any moves to bring down the government would unravel the political system and lead to a situation where the majority Shiites decide the shape of the government on their own." Qassim Abdul-Zahra (AP) offers, "The bombings may be linked more to the U.S. withdrawal than the political crisis, but all together the developments heighten fears of a new round of sectarian bloodshed like the one a few years ago that pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war." Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports, "The explosions occurred in a variety of locations around the Iraqi capital, some Shiite and others Sunni, giving no clear indication who was behind it. The casualties were believed to be almost entirely civilians." Dan Morse and Aziz Alwan (Washington Post) count 17 bombings, 65 dead and 207 injured while Kareem Raheem (Reuters) notes the death toll has risen to 72.
In other violence, Reuters notes 1 bodyguard shot dead in Baquba, 1 corpse discovered in Mosul, a Mosul sticky bombing injured one police officer, a Mosul roadside bombing injured one woman, an attack on a Mosul checkpoint left a police officer injured, a Baquba home invasion resulted in 5 deaths (parents and three children), 1 corpse discovered in Kirkuk, a Jurf al-Sakhar roadside bombing left three people injured and an attack on a Mussayab checkpoint left two Sahwa dead.
The dead in Baghdad were still being counted when Nouri al-Maliki attempted to make political hay out of the tragedy. Xiong Tong (Xinhua) reports, "Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said that Thursday's series of bomb attacks in Baghdad were politically motivated, pledging that the attacks will not pass without punishment." US Senator John McCain was already booked on The Early Show (CBS News) to talk about the payroll tax and the GOP's presidential nominee race. We'll note this from the opening of the segment.
Senator John McCain: Thank you, good to be with you and before we go on we are paying a very heavy price in Baghdad because of our failure to have a residual force there. It's unraveling. I'm deeply disturbed about events but not surprised.
Chris Wragge: Well that's what I wanted to ask you about -- we'll talk about the payroll tax in just a second but that was the first question I was going to pose to you this morning. When you heard about these cooridnated attacks in and around Baghdad was this a kind of I-told-you-so moment, did you feel in your estimation?
Senator John McCain: I'm afraid so. I'd hoped not. But it was pretty obvious that if we did not have a residual force there that things could unravel very quickly. All of us knew that. The president campaigned saying he would bring around the end of the war. They've already got propaganda out there called "Promises Kept." And he made some very interesting comments about we're leaving behind a stable Iraq which we know is obviously not true. We needed the residual force there. It's not there. Now things are unraveling tragically.
Chris Wragge: How big a mistake do you see this for the president?
Senator John McCain: Well I don't know about the president but I know the Iraqi people may be subject to the news reports that you just quoted this morning and it's tragic for them. And of course, as you mentioned on the lead-in, we did 4,474 young Americans died there. It's really sad the way that they have -- As General [John] Keane said, "We won the war and we're losing the peace."
I know McCain and I know and like Senator Lindsey Graham. The two of them issued a joint-statement on Iraq yesterday:
We are alarmed by recent developments in Iraq, most recently the warrant issued today by the Maliki government for the arrest of Sunni Vice President Tariq al Hashimi. This is a clear sign that the fragile political accommodation made possible by the surge of 2007, which ended large-scale sectarian violence in Iraq, is now unraveling. This crisis has been precipitated in large measure by the failure and unwillingness of the Obama Administration to reach an agreement with the Iraqi government for a residual presence of U.S. forces in Iraq, thereby depriving Iraq of the stabilizing influence of the U.S. military and diminishing the ability of the United States to support Iraq.
If Iraq slides back into sectarian violence, the consequences will be catastrophic for the Iraqi people and U.S. interests in the Middle East, and a clear victory for al Qaeda and Iran. A deterioration of the kind we are now witnessing in Iraq was not unforseen, and now the U.S. government must do whatever it can to help Iraq stabilize the situation. We call upon the Obama Administration and the Iraqi government to reopen negotiations with the goal of maintaining an effective residual U.S. military presence in Iraq before the situation deteriorates further.
I was asked if we could include that and I said yes because I had no idea the two had issued a statement and issued it yesterday. I would have thought it would have received some serious press attention. It didn't and I'm comfortable including it here. That is not my opinion, it is not this community's opinion. We believe the illegal war was wrong from the start and nothing good was ever going to come from it. And we've backed that up repeatedly over the years so it's not a threat to us to include a differening opinion. I do agree with Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham that the administration blew it.
I say they blew it by refusing to immediately end the Iraq War. Had they done that, it wouldn't be Barack's war. He could say, "I campaigned on ending the war and I was elected so that's what the American people wanted. As a result, as I promised on the campaign trail, all US troops will be out of Iraq within ten months." He could and should have said that after he was sworn in. (And the withdrawal could have been done in less than 10 months but 10 months was the least amount of time he gave on the campaign trail.) Had he done that, it was Bush's war.
But he didn't do that. He continued the war. (And unlike McCain and Graham, I believe the Iraq War continues.) And he made promises. To Nouri al-Maliki. He made sure Nouri got what he wanted. Iraq's LGBT community was being targeted, tortured and murdered and the White House never said a word. Iraqi Christians and other religious minorities were forgotten by the White House. Resolving the Kirkuk issue was forgotten by the White House. When Nouri al-Maliki wanted something, he got it and that continues to this day. Let's again note Trudy Rubin (Philadelphia Inquirer via San Jose Mercury News) on the multitude of mistakes by the Bush and Barack administrations in her latest column but we'll zoom in on her commentary about 2010:
The White House followed a hands-off policy on Iraqi politics, allowing Maliki to slip back into sectarianism and the eager embrace of Iran's ayatollahs.
When Maliki cracked down on Sunni candidates before March 2010 elections, a visiting Vice President Joe Biden gave him a pass. When a Sunni coalition called Iraqiya edged out Maliki's party and he used Iraq's politicized courts to nullify some Sunni seats, U.S. officials didn't push back.
When Maliki failed to honor a power-sharing deal the United States had brokered between his party and Iraqiya, we failed to press him.
That was a huge mistake. There was never a reason to back Nouri. The White House disgraced the country by backing Nouri whom they knew ran secret prisons, whom they knew used torture.
McCain and Graham may be right and I may be wrong. It wouldn't be the first time. But I have thought out my position (as they have their position) and I can defend what I'm saying (as they can defend what they're saying). I'm comfortable including their take on this and I'm bothered that their take wasn't included by the press yesterday. I'm bothered that the same servile press that bowed to the will of one White House occupant (Bush) now goes out of their way to scrape and bow and carry water for President Barack Obama. (If you're late to the party, that's worded that way because I don't use the P-word with Bush. A direct quote from someone else? We don't alter it. But I made it through eight years never calling the Supreme Court appointed Bush the p-word and intend to make it to my grave. He was an occupant of the White House nothing more.)
I see a press that refuses to explore what's taking place in Iraq and who benefits?
An Oval Office occupant (President Obama, in this case) just like an Oval Office occupant (Bully Boy Bush) did at an earlier time. But not the public in the US or in Iraq.
As somone against the Iraq War before it started, I did not appreciate the press shutting out voices raising objections because they only cared about toeing the White House line. I don't have the need to shut anyone else out of the public debate. My position is the popular one now and that's because of a number of things including time has provided the evidence needed to call the war a disaster. But nothing's going to change public opinion more (turn back towards support for the war) than shutting out opposition views. John McCain and Lindsey Graham know what they're talking about.
They come to different conclusions than I do (and, again, they may be right and I may be wrong). And as long as these issues can be publicly debated, the American people can have a strong sense of where they stand. But when one side gets shut out of the conversation, you're creating a future backlash.
Now maybe that's what the press (owners) want because what's the United States without perpetual war? But it's not what I want (more wars is not what I want) and I also don't want to think of John McCain as a stronger supporter of free speech than those of us on the left. Meaning? He is pro-war and pro-Iraq War but he still called out Clear Channel's decision to ban the Dixie Chicks over statements against the war and he wondered where you draw the line the next time you decide to censor? Today, it appears you draw the line to prevent those with views different than the White House from being heard. Again, it feels lot like 2003 press wise and that is not a good thing.
Again, Nouri al-Maliki, prime minister and thug of the continued occupation, took to the TV airwaves to proclaim the bombings political and to promise punishment. Little Saddam never misses a photo op in which he can expose his iron fist. Dar Addustour notes that Parliament's Finance Committee states the political crisis is negatively impacting the exchange rate of Iraq's currency. Apparently that doesn't worry Nouri even though Iraq's seen record inflation. For recap we'll note this from yesterday's NewsHour (PBS -- link is video, text and audio) so we're all on the same page (and to note that one network newscast is covering the crisis):
HARI SREENIVASAN: Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki demanded that Kurdish authorities hand over Iraq's vice president today. Tariq al-Hashemi is the highest-ranking Sunni figure in Iraq. He fled to the Kurdish north this week to escape an arrest warrant. The Shiite-dominated government charges he ran terror squads that targeted government officials. At a news conference in Baghdad today, Maliki rejected Hashemi's claim that the charges are politically motivated.
NOURI AL-MALIKI, Iraqi prime minister (through translator): I will not permit myself, others, or the relatives of martyrs to politicize this issue. There is only one path that will lead to the objective, and that is the path of the judiciary, nothing else. He should appear before court, either to be exonerated or to be convicted. The cause of al-Hashemi should not enter into political bargaining.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Later, a spokesman for the president of the Kurdish region rejected the demand. The political fight came as U.S. troops have finished their withdrawal from Iraq. Last night, Vice President Biden called Maliki and urged him to resolve the crisis.
Tony Karon (Time magazin) adds, "Vice President Joe Biden has been on the phone to Baghdad and Erbil this week, frantically trying to coax Iraq's main political players back from the brink of a new sectarian confrontation less than a week after the last U.S. troops departed. But Iraq's political leaders paid little heed to Washington's advice and entreaties when the U.S. had 140,000 troops there; they're even less likely to comply now. Biden reportedly sought to persuade Maliki to back away from a warrant issued by his government for the arrest of Iraq's most senior Sunni politician, Vice President Tareq al-Hashimi, on allegations that he was involved in a bomb plot for which members of his security detail have been detained. But Iraq's Sunni leadership sees the warrant as part of Maliki's authoritarian crackdown against his opponents, with senior Sunni leaders systematically targeted for arrest by the Shi'ite-led government in recent months." Al Rafidayn quotes State of Law MP Omaima Younis stating that they welcome all input, including the US input, as long as it does not have to do with the charges Nouri has brought because that will be seen as an attempt to interfere with Iraq's judiciary.
It's not just Joe Biden that's been engaging in dialogue on behalf of the US. CIA Director David Petraeus has already made a trip to Iraq this week and now it's the man who followed Petraeus as top US commander in Iraq. AFP's Prashant Rao Tweets:
State of Law is Nouri's political slate. It came in second in the March 7, 2010 parliamentary elections, Iraqiya came in first and is headed by Ayad Allawi. Al Mada reports that Allawi declares that they are not Nouri's employees and that just because Nouri calls a meeting does not mean they have to attend. (Just as Moqtada al-Sadr calling in November for Nouri to appear before Parliament and answer questions about US forces has not meant that Nouri has appeared.) Allawi states that several polical bloc leaders -- including Allawi -- attended a meeting called by KRG President Massoud Barzani. In that meeting, it was called for the Erbil Agreement to be implemented and for the government go be the partnership it is supposed to be. But Nouri cannot call Parliament for this meeting or that because MPs are not employees of the authoritarian Nouri al-Maliki.
The bombings and the political situation were raised in today's US State Dept press briefing. Mark Toner took questions.
QUESTION: The Iraq bombing?
MR. TONER: Iraq bombing. Sorry. Well, we did see the -- as you saw, the attacks across Baghdad this morning -- desperate attempts by terrorist groups to undermine Iraq at this vulnerable juncture in the Iraqi political process. And these events, we believe, highlight just how critical it is that Iraq's leaders act quickly to resolve their differences and move forward as a united and inclusive government in accordance with the Iraqi constitutions and laws. So --
QUESTION: Do you regard this violence as linked in any way to the sectarian strife, or at least political discord that has erupted since the government issued the arrest warrant for Mr. Hashimi?
MR. TONER: I think we see it as linked clearly to this vulnerable period after U.S. forces have withdrawn, and the government is finding its feet and moving forward.
It's impossible to say in terms of coordination and planning -- and this appeared to have been a coordinated attack -- how many weeks or months this may have been planned in advance. But clearly it was timed for this point in time.
QUESTION: What I'm trying to get at --
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- and forgive me if I wasn't clear, but I think that what is interesting is to try to understand if you think that some faction within the Iraqi polity is trying to use violence now because they are angry at what has happened in the last week, particularly the targeting of Mr. Hashimi.
MR. TONER: Right. And I don't -- again, just -- forgive me if I wasn't being clear. The coordinated nature of this attack appears, to us at least at first blush, to have been something that was coordinated over a period of time and not necessarily tied to the events of the past week.
QUESTION: This week. Got it.
MR. TONER: That said, this is a vulnerable point or juncture in Iraq's history, so there's going to be groups that are trying to take advantage of it. But we don't know; there's been no claim of responsibility that I'm aware of, so we don't know at this point.
QUESTION: Vice President Hashimi, today, told Washington Times, that, quote, Iran definitely involved in move to arrest him. Do you have any evidence to support that?
MR. TONER: We do not. We continue to call on any legal or judicial process that goes forward with respects to Vice President Hashimi to be done in full accordance with the rule of law and full transparency. And we do note that Prime Minister Maliki did speak about the need to observe rule of law in judicial proceedings, and also that he's called for a meeting of the various political blocs. That's exactly what we want to see happen. We want to see all of the political blocs get together in an effort to -- through dialogue to resolve their difference.
Mr. al-Hashemi, who is staying in the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, has vehemently denied the charges, but he told The Times that he believes he could never receive a fair trial from the Iraqi judiciary.
"All Iraqis are very much aware about the nature of our judicial system," he said. "It is not transparent, it is not neutral, it is not independent. It's become a puppet of the government and certainly al-Maliki."
Mr. al-Hashemi said he is willing to face trial before "a neutral and more transparent and more professional, independent court, which I think is available here" in the Kurdish region.