Friday, December 23, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, Christmas gets cancelled in Iraq, the Baghdad meet-up gets the axe, Nouri continues to bluster as the political crisis gets deeper, and more.
Stealing from Mike to name an idiot of the week: Uma Purushothaman. who writes (Daily Pionner), "One of the ways in which the US has left Iraq a better place is that it has nudged the country towards democracy. The country has had elections and now has an inclusive, elected government." Sorry, Uma, stupidity does not pay (unless you anchor a US commercial, broadcast TV newscast). Iraq held parliamentary elections March 7, 2010. But it does not have an inclusive, elected government. Nouri al-Maliki's slate came in second in those elections, he refused to surrender the post of prime minister, the US backed him in that and he retained the office despite the will of the people, the election results and the country's Constitution. Sorry, Uma, stupidity isn't pretty. And for those late to the party on that, we'll ape Mike and quote this from the Independent of London editorial: "The deal Washington did between the Shia, Sunni and Kurdish sections of the Iraqi population was always uneasy. The danger of its fragmenting, now that the nine-year US and Shia have each been quick to blame the other. Either way, it is clear that there are strong forces in the country who have been waiting for this moment to make their move to achieve supremacy." Or you can refer to Ruth, "Because the White House screwed over Iraqiya before. That is who the reporters mean by 'Sunni Muslim minority,' by the way. And, no, Iraqiya is not 'Sunni.' It is a mixture of Sunni and Shia and others as well. They are a non-sectarian slate and are headed by (Shi'ite) Ayad Allawi. Iraqiya came in first in the March 2010 elections so Mr. Allawi should have been given first crack at forming a government as prime minister designate. If he had been successful at forming a government within 30 days, then he would have moved from prime minister designate to prime minister." And your first hint that there's no democracy in Iraq, or foundation for it, people don't elect exiles, they elect their own. But, as Marcia has pointed out, the US-created government in Iraq is one of exiles (including Nouri).
Yesterday, Baghdad was slammed with bombings. All week long, ABC, CBS and NBC have chosen to ignore Iraq in the nightly news casts. This despite the fact that Nouri al-Maliki, prime minister and thug, has sworn out an arrest warrant on Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi. This despite the fact that al-Hashemi went to the KRG to meet with officials there and now remains there for his own protection. This despite the fact that Nouri is also attempting to strip Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq of his office (and immunity). This despite both men are members of Iraqiya -- the political slate which won more votes than did Nouri's State of Law -- and both men are Sunni. When they finally addressed Iraq last night, all three chose not to inform their viewers of anything that Nouri's done and focus on the bombings only. What commercial broadcast TV wouldn't do, public radio did. On the second hour of today's Diane Rehm Show (NPR), Diane and her guests Susan Glasser (Foreign Policy), Abderrahim Foukara (Al Jazeera) and David E. Sanger (New York Times) discussed Iraq. Excerpt.
Susan Glasser: If you look at the political instability racking Iraq --
Diane Rehm: Exactly.
Susan Glasser: -- literally hours and days after the last American troop left and you can see what the scenario is going to look like potentially in Afghanistan, in a place where the threats could be even more directly to US interests.
Diane Rehm: Do we know who's responsible for the worst day of violence that Iraq has seen in more than a year? Do we know who committed those acts.
Susan Glasser: Well you know you immediately, as in Syria, saw claims from the government that this was al Qaeda related. And remember, this is in the context -- as David pointed out -- of the widening sort of sectarian violence that has been and will be the context for the political fight that's playing out over who controls Iraq. Remember that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki who has now gone after Iraq's sitting vice president who is a Sunni, you have the rise of this Shi'ite majority in Iraq and I think that is the context of the political struggle taking place.
Diane Rehm: So how fragile is Iraq's government right now?
Abderrahim Foukara: It seems to me extremely fragile. It seems to be a self-fulfilling prophecy that when the US was there, people were saying the-the situation currently is what it is because US presence -- because of US presence. Now that you don't have that US presence, a lot of people are going back and saying US presence was actually the cement that was keeping superficially somewhat Iraq together. Now that the US is out, it seems that you have to hark back to what happened the time of the surge when the Sunnis in Anbar Province -- who were actually by the way have been the most vocal in celebrating the departure of US troops. You had the Arab "Awakenings" [Sahwa] there, you had the Arab tribes there, working with the US government at that time to fight al Qaeda. And everybody at that time was saying, 'Okay, the surge has worked. But it has also given various parties in Iraq time to actually reassemble their strength and once the US is out, you are going to see a surge of the violence including the sectarian violence. So right now, Iraq looks --
Diane Rehm and Abderrahim Foukara (together): -- very fragile.
Diane Rehm: And do you see that fragility really turning back into what could be described as civil war?
Susan Glasser: You know I think that has to be a real possibility. As we're talking, I'm thinking about this conversation merging Iraq and Afghanistan, I can't help think of what happened in Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989 and what you had was first a political crisis and many thought that [Mohammed] Najibullah, who was the Soviet-installed ruler of Afghanistan, wouldn't last out the year. He managed to but at the cost of literally a sort of cycle of violence that the country has not gotten out of yet and of course ultimately with his body being dragged through the streets. And you know, these scenarios are very real.
[. . .]
Abderrahim Foukara: Just wanting to go back to Iraq and the possibility of specter of civil war. Yes, that's one possible scenario. The other possible scenario -- and remember that when Saddam [Hussein, former president of Iraq] was in power, one of the main pieces of rationale that he gave for being the tough guy, dictator that he was is that Iraq could only work if it had a tough guy leading it. And I think the other scenario that we could be looking at now is Maliki turning into that tough guy to hold Iraq together which would be goodbye to any talk or any hope of a democratic Iraq even in -- even in the long future. And I think Maliki has so far shown all the signs that he wants to be another Saddam of a kind. Whether he will actually be forced to go all the way there, we don't know. But he's showing signs of that.
Susan Glasser: Well, you know, in fact, that's exactly what the political opposition to him is calling him already: The Shi'ite Saddam. We had an interview this week with Vice President Hashemi who is now seeking refuge in Kurdistan in order not to be arrested by -- by supposedly his partner in the government and that's exactly what he said. He said not only is Maliki turning into Saddam but he was making the case, and it shows you how inflammatory the rhetoric has become, he said, "Well actually Maliki's worse than Saddam," you know, in this interview with us because Saddam brought this stability. But I have to say, take this with a grain of salt, right? This is what every tough guy says in order to justify his dictatorship. Remember, I'm thinking about Russia and what is it that Vladmir Putin said a dozen years ago when he came to power? He said, 'Well, it's time for us to restore stability, we need to have a strong hand again to govern Russia. It's the only way to keep the state intact..'
How bad are things in Iraq right now? Reidar Visser (Iraq and Gulf Analysis) notes a rumor, "The reported appearance of CIA director David Patraeus at a meeting of Iraqiyya yesterday seems somewhat extraordinary. If true, it could be indicative of how Washington sees the situation in Iraq after the withdrawal. Critics will claim that after two years dominated by Joe Biden diplomacy, it is perhaps somewhat late in the day to begin sending competent special envoys to Iraq." The rumor may have truth to it, it may be completely false. But its very existence, it merely being uttered goes to just how out of control things are in Iraq.
Sirens wailed, smoke billowed and blood pooled on the pavement. The scenes of devastation were all too familiar after more than a dozen explosions ripped through the Iraqi capital Thursday, killing at least 60 people and injuring nearly 200, just days after the last U.S. troops left the country. [. . .] By nightfall, fear gripped the city and some residents were already talking about the need to arm themselves again.
CARBERRY: Ahmed Mahdi is a 22-year-old who's selling chickpeas from a cart outside the cafe. He says the explosions were the result of the political crisis that erupted last weekend just as the last American convoy was packing to leave. Word came out of an arrest warrant against the Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi. The government of Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has accused Hashemi of running assassination squads that have killed political and military officials.
MAHDI: (Foreign language spoken)
CARBERRY: Ahmed Mahdi believes that supporters of the embattled Sunni politicians carried out the bombings. Sectarianism has been on the rise and there's fear that things may be reaching critical mass.
Aswat al-Iraq reports, "Civil Society Forum (CSF) shouldered Iraqi politicians and the three presidencies the responsibility of the bloody explosion which hit Baghdad yesterday. CFS regarded these explosions as a reflection of the failure of Iraqi politicans, following US forces withdrawal."
Hashemi has vehemently denied the charges against him, arguing that they are politically motivated and yet another effort by Maliki to consolidate power. When asked if Maliki has become a Saddam-like figure since assuming power in 2006, as fellow Iraqiya leaders Saleh al-Mutlak and Iyad Allawi have suggested, Hashemi noted that "many of Saddam's behaviors are now being exercised by Maliki unfortunately." But he added that Saddam rebuilt Iraq in six months after the invasion of Kuwait and the Gulf War in the early 1990s. In contrast, under Maliki's leadership, Hashemi pointed out, the consulting firm Mercer ranked Baghdad the worst city in the world in terms of quality of life.
That isn't saying Nouri is worse than Saddam. There is nothing in the interview that meets that claim and Susan Glasser must have been confused. However, those saying he is worse have many reasons to say so. Though Diane Rehm laughed at the thought of Nouri as worse than Hussein, it's not off-base. When Saddam Hussein had US support (as Nouri does), Saddam wasn't repeatedly exposed as a torturer publicly. What Saddam early on had to do in secret, Nouri's done as the world watches. That's only one way that Nouri is worse than Saddam. Many groups can claim a better life under Saddam (and have, check the public record) than under Nouri. Those include Iraqi Jews which can now be counted on only two hands, Palestinians in Iraq, women in Iraq, and many more groups. Back to the interview of Tareq al-Hashemi:
"Now everything is in his hands: the ministry of defense, the ministry of the interior, intelligence, national security," Hashemi claimed. He wants his case transferred to Kurdistan because he doesn't think Iraq's judicial system is independent. Instead of judiciary authorities responding to his appeal, the vice president notes, Maliki himself shot down the request during his press conference yesterday, calling instead for Kurdish officials to hand over Hashemi. "The judicial system is really in his pocket," Hashemi argued.
When asked if Maliki is also in Iran's pocket, Hashemi responded that the prime minister "is very close to Iran" and that Iraqiya's Allawi -- not Maliki -- would be prime minister now if not for the "interference of Iran." When Iraqi leaders agreed to a power-sharing deal last year, Hashemi said, "Iran actively supported Maliki, and we discovered in due course that the United States also supported Maliki. Whether this was a coincidence or deliberate or behind-the-scenes coordination I don't know. But this is what happened."
Hashemi says he had a brief telephone conversation with U.S. ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey when the American diplomat cut short his holiday vacation and rushed back to Baghdad to help resolve the current standoff. "I asked him to do his best and try to reach some sort of compromises and try to accommodate this crisis," Hashemi explained. "He promised me to do his utmost and talk to Maliki." Hashemi says Ambassador Jeffrey also suggested that he would come and meet with the vice president in person, though this has yet to happen.
So that's Jeffrey, US Vice President Joe Biden, CIA Director David Petraeus and General Ray Odierno that have all been attempting to aid in solving the crisis. Geoff Dyer and Borou Daragahi (Financial Times of London) note that while these people are attempting contact, it is the huge number of employees of the US State Dept's Iraq branch (militarized) that the White House is pinning their hopes on. Aswat al-Iraq reports, "Ahrar bloc MP described the statements of US vice-president Joe Biden on Hashimi's case as 'an avowed intervention in Iraqi internal affairs'." The Wheeling Intelligencer editorializes that the US government better have a plan for Americans who will remain in Iraq, "But as we have pointed out, many Americans remain in harm's way there. About 16,000 diplomats, contractors and security personnel remain in Iraq. At some point, anti-American terrorists probably will target them."
Rebecca Santana (AP) interviews al-Hashemi today and quotes him stating, "Definitely, he [Nouri] is going to concentrate on the Sunni community because they are the society, the community of Tariq al-Hashemi so they are going to suffer. He is trying to escalate the tension, making life very, very difficult for our provinces, to our people. [. . .] He doesn't believe in compromises. He doesn't believe in peaceful solutions to the problems. He's going to use the Iraqi army and the security for more repression."
Ghazwan Hassan (Reuters) reports that protests took place in Baiji, Ramadi, Samarra and Qaim today against Nouri al-Maliki and his targeting of Sunnis while Aswat al-Iraq notes 500 people gathered in Baghdad's Tahir Square "calling to hadn over vice-president Tarqi al-Hashimi to justice." No reports of attacks, of course, because when Nouri sends his employees to Tahrir Square, they aren't treated the way real protesters are. Real protesters are beaten up by the police, kidnapped, tortured. Nouri's employees are encouraged to protest and are rewarded for it. Meanwhile Alsumaria TV reports Nouri is calling for the US to turn over tools of destruction to him quickly citing yesterday's bmbings as one reason. Another reason would be his ability to target enemies more quickly and deadly with such tools.
The Kurds, mostly Sunni Muslims who are ethnically distinct from the Arabs who dominate the rest of Iraq, find themselves once more in the position of exploiting sectarian divisions among Arabs. The Kurds also have a stake in the political conflict. They seek to maintain, and expand, their virtual state-within-a-state in northern Iraq, which they have built largely beyond the central government's control. Both sides have long been at loggerheads over a law that would govern how oil revenues are to be shared in the country. U.S. officials have pressed Iraqi leaders to overcome their differences. On Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden called Iraqi President Jalal Talabani to offer support for his efforts to foster dialogue, the White House said.
Al Rafidayn reports that the scheduled meet-up of the political blocs in Baghdad today to address these issues was cancelled.
In other news, Alsumaria TV reports, "Iraqi Archbishop of Chaldeans in Kirkuk and Sulaymaniah Louis Sako announced, on Wednesday, that Christians in Kirkuk decided to mark the season of Christmas in church masses and cancel Christmas celebrations due to Iraq's crisis and the continuous targeting of Christians." Peter Wilson (The Australian) reports:
Human Rights Watch estimates that more than 70 per cent of Iraq's Christians have fled their homes since the 2003 invasion. Statistics are unreliable but the Christian population is believed to have crashed from about 1.4 million to less than 500,000, with many of those who are still in the country having sought refuge in Christian-heavy parts of Kurdistan in northern Iraq. Mr [Ra'ad] Emmanuel [head of the Iraqi Christian Endowment] said the southern city of Basra had been virtually abandoned by Christians and there had been repeated church bombings, kidnaps and assassinations in Baghdad. Early this week, several Christian teenagers wandered quietly inside the gutted church of Our Lady of Salvation in central Baghdad, shaking their heads at the hundreds of bullet holes left by a massacre in November last year.
Aid to the Church in Need quotes the Archbishop of Kirkuk, Louis Sako, stating, "Midnight Christmas Mass has been cancelled in Baghdad, Mosul and Kirkuk as a consequence of the never-ending assassinations of Christians and the attack against Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cathedral on 31st October, which killed 57 people." Yesterday's Baghdad bombings are also impacting the way people feel in terms of safety. Marwan Ibrahim (AFP) notes the claims that Iraq could take care of its internal security now ring hollow to some Iraqi Christians and quotes Slvan Youhanna Matti -- whose sons have already sought shelter in Belgium, Lebanon and Sweden -- stating, "I am only staying in Kirkuk temporarily -- I am waiting to leave at any second. Christians who are leaving Baghdad for Kirkuk or Kurdistan consider those places just temporary stops before they leave for good. The future is unknown, and sectarian and religious conflict hurts our confidence in the situation, especially after the US departure."
Barack declared 'progress' and praised thug Nouri. This is progress?
Someone needs to ask Barack Obama exactly how Iraqi Christians not being able to publicly observe their faith's holiest day qualifies as progress?
Obama, who followed Bush in the White House, had one chance to pull out of Iraq the day after he took over the presidency. At that time, he was very popular and he could have moved boldly to end the wars. Instead, he chose a losing policy. The war toll for American servicemembers includes 4,700 dead and tens of thousands wounded. The American people have been passive to fact that thousands of men and women who have gone half way around the world to fight Iraqis - none of whom were involved in the 9-11 attacks. Hussein was anathema to the United States and Israel, who targeted him as public enemy number one. Following Israel's footsteps, we have now turned our attention to Iran and its plans to become a nuclear power. The financial cost of the war is estimated to be somewhere between $800 billion and $1 trillion. We are leaving Iraq not with a bang but a whimper.