Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, December 27, 2011.  Chaos and violence continue, Iraq's political crisis continues, did someone "close" to Nouri murder a journalist, Barack may not be the new Jimmy Carter (but he may be a new version of another recent one-term president), and more.
How bad are things in Iraq right now?  The editorial board of the Hindu Times insists, "It has also exposed the hollowness of Washington's claim that Iraqi democracy is now stable enough to justify the December 18 removal of the remaining U.S. combat troops."
Alsumaria TV reports that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has pronounced calls to dissolve Parliament as "untruthful and delusive."  Calls to dissolve the Parliament? Yes, things got even wilder over the weekend.  Mustafa Habib (Al Mada) observed Saturday that Nouri al-Maliki's targeting Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi with terrorism charges and calling for Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq to be stripped of his office have many noticing that both are members of Iraqiya (which came in first in the March 2010 elections; Nouri's State of Law came in second) and, therefore, political opponents of Nouri and that, while the political crisis has revealed a diminished role for the US, it has underscored that the Kurds remain the heart of the country's political process. Dar Addustour reported that Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi announced the postponement of the scheduled meeting last Friday of the political blocs while Nouri's spokesperson floated the notion that there are other charges waiting in the wings. Reportedly this includes charging the Minister of Finance, Rafie al-Issawi, with terrorism, specifically with killings in Falluja back in 2006. Like Tareq al-Hashemi and Saleh al-Mutlaq, Rafie al-Issawi is a member of Iraqiya.  al-Hashemi was meeting with Kurdish officials in the KRG when Nouri made his charges and al-Hashemi has remained in the KRG since the charges were made.
And opinions flew right and left. Dar Addustour zeroed in on Hoshyar Zebari, Foreign Minister, issued a statement declaring the matter should have been resolved by the political blocs but has instead played out in the press. Zebari is Kurdish and a member of the PDK political party -- KRG President Massoud Barzani is the head of the PDK.  Al Mada added that Kurdistan Regional President Massoud Barzani and US Ambassador James Jeffrey spoke Friday and were calling for a meeting among the political blocs.   Rudaw has quoted the KRG President's chief of staff Fuad Hussein stating, "There's no way we would hand over Hashimi to Baghdad. He is our guest."  Al Mada noted that State of Law was whining about the Friday meet-up, about having one and including Iraqiya because Iraqiya is boycotting Parliament and so Nouri's political slate does not feel that Iraqiya should be included in the dialogue.   Aswat al-Iraq noted, "Iraqiya bloc leader Iyad Alawi described recent events in Iraq as 'liquidation of differences', warning an explosive era waiting Iraq in the coming days, according to an interview with Arabia TV late yesterday (Friday)."  And throughout the weekend, as  Aswat al-Iraq reported, Iraqiya floated that Parliament to withdraw trust from Nouri.  On the topic of Iraqiya, the game Nouri's decided to play can play both ways.  Journalist Hadi al-Mahdi was assassinated September 8th. Earlier in the year, he had a run in with Nouri's goons.  February 26th,  Stephanie McCrummen (Washington Post) reported:

Four journalists who had been released described being rounded up well after they had left a protest at Baghdad's Tahrir Square. They said they were handcuffed, blindfolded, beaten and threatened with execution by soldiers from an army intelligence unit.
"It was like they were dealing with a bunch of al-Qaeda operatives, not a group of journalists," said Hussam al-Ssairi, a journalist and poet, who was among a group and described seeing hundreds of protesters in black hoods at the detention facility. "Yesterday was like a test, like a picture of the new democracy in Iraq."

NPR's Kelly McEvers interviewed Hadi for Morning Edition after he had been released and she noted he had been "beaten in the leg, eyes, and head." He explained that he was accused of attempting to "topple" Nouri al-Maliki's government -- accused by the soldiers under Nouri al-Maliki, the soldiers who beat him.  Excerpt:
Hadi al-Mahdi: I replied, I told the guy who was investigating me, I'm pretty sure that your brother is unemployed and the street in your area is unpaved and you know that this political regime is a very corrupt one.
Kelly McEvers: Mahdi was later put in a room with what he says were about 200 detainees, some of them journalists and intellectuals, many of them young protesters.
Hadi al-Mahdi: I started hearing voices of other people.  So, for instance, one guy was crying, another was saying, "Where's my brother?" And a third one was saying, "For the sake of God, help me."
Kelly McEvers: Mahdi was shown lists of names and asked to reveal people's addresses.  He was forced to sign documents while blindfolded.  Eventually he was released.  Mahdi says the experience was worse than the times he was detained under Saddam Hussein.  He says the regime that's taken Sadam's place is no improvement on the past. This, he says, should serve as a cautionary tale for other Arab countries trying to oust dictators. 
Hadi al-Mahdi: They toppled the regime, but they brought the worst -- they brought a bunch of thieves, thugs, killers and corrupt people, stealers.
And then Hadi ended up killed in his own home and many felt Nouri was responsible.  Al Mada reports that Maysson al-Damalouji, Iraqiya spokesperson, held a press conference in which she stated that they have files showing the involvement of someone close to Nouri in the assassination. Dar Addustour adds that the official minutes of the investigation into Hadi's assassination features witnesses stating they had been sent threatening letters from a close associate of Nouri's but that the investigation did not follow up on that.
That covers many of the political blocs weighing in over the weekend but not all.  In the midst of the political crisis, radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr strode in striking a pose of leadership (genuine or not, I'll leave for others to decide).  It started, as Sinan Salaheddin and Qassim Abdul-Zahra (AP) reported, with Moqtada proposing a "14-point 'peace code'."
No one in Iraqi or US media seemed to interested in going over the 14 points (or any of them actually) but they became less important as Moqtada and his bloc made more proposals.  Monday  Suadad al-Salhy (Reuters) reported cleric Moqtada al-Sadr declared  that new elections are needed. Dan Morse (Washington Post) adds that Moqtada wants elections "within six months" That's not all Sadr's calling for. Aswat al-Iraq notes:

The Leader of the Shiite Trend, Muqtada al-Sadr, has called Sunday for the trial of Iraq's Vice-President, Tareq al-Hashimy, under the auspices of the Parliament, warning at the same time from the single-party power on the political process in the country.
Answering a question by one of his followers in Baghdad, about the fate of Tareq al-Hashimy, Sadr said: "The issue of Hashimy's trial should take place under
the auspices of the Parliament and the people," adding that "even the sacking of politicians from their posts must take place in a legal manner."
"The issue of confessions against Vice-President, Tareq al-Hashimy and the raising of this issue at the current period may harm the country, its unity and security, including the downfall of the current political process and the security situation, along with harming the political process as well," Sadr said.

What's going on? Moqtada only supported Nouri for prime minister when Tehran told him to. Early on, he'd declared he'd abide by the wishes of his followers and they voted in their own poll in the spring of 2010. They rejected Nouri. Dropping back to the April 7, 2010 snapshot for the results of the referendum Moqtada called:

Moqtada al-Sadr's bloc won 40 seats in the Parliament. Kadhim Ajrash and Caroline Alexander (Bloomberg News) report that Ibrahim al-Jaafari "won 24 percent of the 428,000 ballots cast in the internal referendum, ahead of al-Sadr's second cousin, Jafar Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, who obtained 23 percent, Sadrist spokesman Salah al-Ubaidi said today in the southern city of Najaf." Al Jazeera notes that Nouri al-Maliki received 10% of the vote and Ayad Allawi 9%. The US military invaded Iraq in March 2003 (and still hasn't left).

Following the results, Moqtada kept his anti-Nouri stance for months. Has he broken with Nouri?  Earlier, he was among those calling for the Erbil Agreement to be followed.  After coming in second in the March 2010 elections, Iraq went into eight or so months of Political Stalemate I in which Nouri refused to allow the Constitution to be followed because he was not willing to give up the post of prime minister.  Iraq's current crisis didn't just emerge this month, they have deep roots.  Today AP observes, "In the week since the last American troops left Iraq, Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered an arrest warrant for the country's highest-ranking Sunni official, threatened to exclude the rival sect's main political party from his governmt and warned that 'rivers of blood' would flow if Sunnis seek an autonomous region."  Going back to the roots of the current problems . . .
Political Stalemate I ended in November of 2010 with the Erbil Agreement hammered out in Erbil between the major political blocs (and the US) whereby every one was supposed to make concessions. The Kurds would get to keep Jalal Talabani as president. They thought they would get three vice presidents. Iraqiya won the elections in March 2010 and the political bloc was headed by Ayad Allawi. Nouri wasn't stepping down and the White House was backing Nouri. For Nouri to remain prime minister, Allawi was promised he would head a new, independent council over security issues. He was also promised that the Iraqiya candidates demonized as Ba'athists and forced out of the 2010 elections by Nouri's friends would have their names cleared.

On November 11th, the new Parliament held their first real session. They voted Osama al-Nujaifi Speaker of Parliament (he was from Iraqiya and that was part of the Erbil Agreement), Jalal was named president and Nouri was named prime minister designate (but we were all informed in the following days that this was 'unofficial' -- once named prime minister-designate, you have 30 days, per the Constitution, to put together a Cabinet and get the Parliament to sign off on each member). But what of the security council? What of clearing the names of the falsely accused?

That would come, State of Law insisted, in time.

Allawi and a number of Iraqiya members walked out. They should have refused to participate from that day forward. Instead, they foolishly believed promises (from both State of Law and the White House). Nobember 25th, Jalal 'officially' named Nouri prime minister-designate.

Nouri had created Political Stalemate I by refusing to surrender the prime minister post. He'd done that for eight months. In that time, he should have had some ideas about a Cabinet. But Nouri's problem was he over-promised to get support. So when it was time to name a Cabinet, suddenly the Cabinet had more ministers and deputy ministers than it had previously (from 37 in 2006 to 42 in 2010). And he still couldn't keep his promises to everyone.

December 21, 2010, the Constitution was tossed by the wayside and Nouri was allowed to move from prime minister-designate to prime minister because he'd assembled a kind of Cabinet. He named 31 out of 42 ministers and people pretended that was good enough. He had failed to meet the Constitutional mandate of naming a Cabinet but everyone looked the other way.

He refused to name the security posts: National Security, Interior and Defense. His defenders (including the White House) swore those posts would be named in a matter of weeks. His detractors saw the refusal as part of a pattern of power grabs on Nouri's part and stated he wouldn't fill the posts. This is the start of Political Stalemate II.
He may now feel it is time for him to become prime minister -- allegedly, for backing Nouri in 2010, Tehran promised to back him (Moqtada) the next go round. Printing ballots and other issues would take at least six weeks. While most would be scrambling during such a short period, Moqtada's group wouldn't be. They demonstrated that when they had millions vote -- they allowed non Sadrists to vote as well if they wanted -- on whether or not Moqtada should back Nouri. They were able to print ballots, count ballots and release a total in an orderly fashion that really drove home the foot dragging of Nouri and company. To have a strong say in Parliament, they'd also have to expand outside of their traditional areas (focusing just on the areas they dominate population wise would result in no more than 40 seats (there are 325 seats in the Parliament).

Wolf Blitzer (anchor of CNN's Situation Room) sees Iraq going the way of Yugoslavia, "But with U.S. troops now out of the country, I suspect we could be on the verge of seeing Iraq spiral into civil war. We already have seen a series of terrorist attacks in recent days. My fear is that this will only get worse. The Sunnis clearly don't trust the Shiites, especially Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Some of his recent actions, including an arrest warrant for the Sunni vice president, have fueled this fear of a civil war." AFP, however, speaks with the UN Secretary-General's special envoy to Iraq, Martin Kobler, who insists that despite "significant security problems," he does "not expect the outbreak of civil war."
Whether he expects it or not, violence is garnering attention.  Last night Nightline (ABC) featured a report from Iraq.
Martha Raddatz: They could be scenes from the height of the US war in Iraq, at least a dozen explosions tearing across Baghdad in the last few days, car bombs and improvised explosive devices targeting schools, markets and today the Interior Ministry leaving more than 60 dead and hundreds wounded. And in halls of power, a different kind of crisis. The Shi'ite dominated government issuing an arrest warrant for the Sunni Vice President accusing him of ordering attacks on government on government officials and police officers.
Thursday's Baghdad bombings resulted in over 70 dead and over 200 injured.  The attack on the Ministry of the Interior was Monday and  Reuters noted it was a Baghdad suicide car bombing which claimed 7 lives and left thirty-four people injured.  Today Reuters notes a Hawija car bombing claiming 2 lives (two more injured) and a Mussayab roadside bombing injuring one Iraqi soldier.
The violence has not helped the economy.  Iraq is seeing even more inflation and there is concern about the dinar (Iraq's unit of currency).  In other financial news, Roy Gutman (McClatchy Newspapers) explains, "To understand the economic shambles that is Iraq, look no further than the banking sector.  There are no electronic funds transfers for payroll or bills and almost no checking accounts or credit cards.  ATMs are few and far between.  There are no home improvement loands and few mortgages.  For most Iraqis, banks serve only as a safety deposit bank."
As Iraq goes into chaos, Barack Obama has to worry.  The comparison to Jimmy Carter was apt.  (And, again, Elaine made it back in 2007 before anyone.  Good call on her part.) It would be even more so if a hostage situation emerged in Iraq (something many believe is possible).  But what it really looks like right now, we're on US domestic politics, is Barack's not Jimmy Carter.
He's George H.W. Bush.   Gallup and all the other meaningless polls gave Bush -- er, Barack a bump in their just released polls.  Just like at the end of the Gulf War.  Bush couldn't connect with average Americans (patrician, just like Barack) and didn't appear to understand their concerns (ibid) and was stiff (ditto).  Now his 'achievement' crumbles.  Now Barack finds out that Iraq's really the angry john that's going to slap him in the face with its penis.
Why they were ever stupid enough to believe that they could manage what no one else could is a question for the history books.  But they truly thought they could turn Iraqi into election fodder.
And certainly the media has, yet again, been in the tank for Barry O.  As the Iraqi political crisis deepend all last week, ABC World News, the CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News never said "boo" -- not one word about it, not one word about the arrest warrant Nouri put out on the country's vice president.  Not one damn word.    (If you're late to the party on that NEWS BLACKOUT, refer to "TV: News on the 'news'" and "ABC, CBS and NBC placed on academic probation" and "How do you spell 'lie'? ABC, CBS and NBC.")
And as Americans were kept -- intentionally kept by broadcast commercial news -- from the realities of Iraq, it was feel-good, pump those polls and that approval rating.  But as someone who saw the Iraq rise and fall of George H.W. Bush, the 'messaging' seems really familiar and so does the outcome. And what may be most scary is that even the saddest simpleton, watching the last years play out, should have known the chances that Iraq was going to roll over and fetch for you just because you were the president of the United States, those chances were always going to be zero.  Because, though still occupied, Iraqis are independent people and they will not be harnessed to serve some foreign country.  Their leaders may betray them (as leaders of all countries can do), but the Iraqi people themselves are fiercely independent and will never be a serene backdrop for the ambitions of any foreigner.  Again, that should have been obvious to even the most simple minded observer of the last few years.
Besides, it is Bush's fault, the bitter-ender Obamaphiles say, because he saddled Obama with the 2008 framework agreement that  set the 2012 troop exit deadline.  Of course, to cling to this view requires ignoring that both sides, U.S. and Iraqi, viewed the 2008 agreement as an interim step, one that would be renegotiated after the Iraqi elections to allow for a longer-term U.S. presence.  More problematically, it requires ignoring the lengthy but ultimately failed negotiations by Obama-appointed representatives to accomplish just such an extension.
So the Obama spin involves a remarkable double twist.  Anything favorable that happens in Iraq is due to Obama's courageous decision to end U.S. involvement.  Anything unfavorable that happens cannot be blamed on Obama because he had no choice but to do what he did.  I have encountered Obama supporters who flip back and forth between these two lines multiple times in one conversation.

The only way Barack didn't own Iraq -- and all the tragedy that could end up following -- was to immediately begin withdrawing brigades from Iraq upon being sworn in and to have them all out before the end of 2009.  That is what he misled voters into believing was his plan, was his promise.  By refusing to do that, by attempting to negotiate a US presence beyond 2011 and by keeping the forces there under Bush's agreement, he bought the Iraq War.  And don't forget that negotiations are ongoing on the US troops in Iraq issue.  And the current climate really lights a fire under the administration -- especially to get a quick fix on damage control -- to push through some form of an agreement for troops on the ground.  If they're going to make a deal they need to announce it quickly -- and they know that -- because the Republicans like John McCain look psychic right now to many paying attention.  (The senator is not psychic.  Nor is he right but Barack chose to play the game on McCain's court and now he has to put up a defense to hold back McCain.)

Turning to radio, on this week's Law and Disorder Radio -- a weekly hour long program that airs Monday mornings at 9:00 a.m. EST on WBAI and around the country throughout the week, hosted by attorneys Heidi Boghosian, Michael S. Smith and Michael Ratner (Center for Constitutional Rights) -- topics explored include Bradley Manning's Article 32 hearing, Mumia, and Lynne Stewart.

Lynne Stewart is an attorney, grandmother and political prisoner in the United States. There is no law on the books that Lynne broke but she is in prison. Her 'crime'? Allegedly breaking an order -- not a law -- by issuing a press release for a client in the 90s. The Clinton administration reviewed the actions and saw there was no point in prosecuting. Lynne's the people's lawyer, a radical who stands up for the oppressed. You just knew Bully Boy Bush was going to dig back in during his administration and they did. A hearing took place in NYC where they attempted to scare the jury with false 9-11 linkage. Lynne was sentenced to twenty-eight months. The government -- by this time the Barack administration (July 2010), not the Bush administration -- wasn't pleased and had a higher court order the judge to resentence Lynne. She was sentenced to ten years. The 72-year-old political prisoner has now been in prison for two years -- with many medical conditions. Among other things, Lynne has suffered from breast cancer. Excerpt from the broadcast:

Michael Ratner: We had Lynn in the seat you're sitting in, I don't know, when was it, two years ago?

Ralph Poynter: She has served two years in November.

Michael Ratner: Oh my gosh.

Ralph Poynter: And she is looking forward to her attorney Herald Fahringer presenting to the court once again testing the law in February, that will be February 29th at Federal Court and we are planning a Occupy the Courtroom -- and Occupy the Park the night before, the 28th through the 29th, the date of her -- not her appearance, the day that there will be a hearing of her case. And she says you take each struggle as it comes. And she has a way of being funny, her spirits are good. She said to me, "Little did I ever think that I would be putting my hopes in the hands of Clarence Thomas." And I say, "Lynne, that is funny, but not in your circumstance."

Heidi Boghosian: Right. Ralph, tell us exactly what the lawyer will be asking for.

Ralph Poynter: He will be talking about the sentencing. The change from the 28 months to the 120 months. Nothing changed [there was no new hearing on new charges, the jury had already rendered their verdict years prior] and the laws that Judge [John G.] Koeltl used to extend his rationale for extending it was as ridiculous, you might say, as the Weapons of Mass Destruction but they got over with that, so they might get over with these two ridiculous cases that he used. One where they didn't know about a sex offender putting on video of a 10-year-old that he was offending sexually and another one where the government, when the sentence was given, did not know that the person being sentenced had stolen far more money, federal money, than they had imagined. So they used that as an example of being able to extend sentences.

Heidi Boghosian: So you're saying those examples don't work at all?

Ralph Poynter: They don't work whatsoever.

We'll be noting more from the segment this week. More information on Lynne can be found at Justice For Lynne StewartCindy Sheehan (Cindy Sheehan's Soapbox) is calling for people to write Lynne letters of support (Ralph tells Heidi and Michael that all the letters mean so much to Lynne).  And Cindy interviewed Ralph on her radio show here.