Wednesday, December 28, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, Rick Perry grandstands on Iraq and finds the ground beneath him shaky, more calls for new elections in Iraq, Camp Ashraf repeatedly targeted with rockets, 2 Americans held by Iraqis are released, and more.
Starting in the US with Rick Perry, who is running for the GOP's presidential nomination is whining about parades. Alicia M. Cohn (The Hill) reports Perry has "criticized President Obama for not arranging a parade to welcome U.S. soldiers returning from Iraq, accusing him of not properly thanking the military." There are a dozen and one reasons (including costs at a time when the federal government is supposed to be trimming everything -- see this Leo Shane III article on costs from Stars & Stripes) why a national parade is not needed. There is, of course, nothing preventing Rick Perry from hosting a parade in Texas where he is governor .
But, most importantly, Dustin Vincent.
Before Perry grandstands on the issue of Iraq, he might want to grasp that just because the bulk a lot of people stopped paying attention to the war doesn't mean everyone did. And, last month, we repeatedly called Rick Perry out (here and here for two examples) for his failure to note the passing of Dustin Vincent.
Perry is the governor of Texas but couldn't issue a statement, a proclamation on behalf of Dustin Vincent? He couldn't even order the state flags at half mast for Dustin Vincent?
And yet now he wants to question whether someone else cares about the returning?
As is usual, Perry needs to get his own house in order before attempting to criticize anyone else. When a Texan was killed while serving in Iraq last month, Rick Perry's GOP primary campaign was more important to him than either Dustin Vincent or performing the duties of the office he holds currently. November 4th, the Dept of Defense released the following:
The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation New Dawn. 1st Lt. Dustin D. Vincent, 25, of Mesquite, Texas, died Nov. 3, in Kirkuk province, Iraq, of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his unit with small arms fire. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 5th Field Artillery, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Fort Riley, Kan. For more information the media may contact the Fort Riley public affairs office by email at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at 785-240-6359/4928.
Governors across the country note their fallen with public proclamations and ordering state flags to be lowered. Rick Perry did nothing. And now wants to whine about what Barack did or didn't do?
Iraq? In what may rank as the most obvious statement of today (doesn't make it any less true), Brookings' Kenneth M. Pollack (Newsweek via Khaleej Times) observes, "At least the Nixon administration got something of a 'decent interval' before North Vietnam betrayed their strategy from Southeast Asia." Iraq has not gotten with the latest waves of Operation Happy Talk, no. But when has it ever? American politicians have repeatedly attempted to portray Iraq in some manner that reflected well on them -- apparently forgetting that Iraq is an independent country of millions of people and not a mirror on the wall. Barack's only the latest politician to become entranced with his own image. How bad are things right now? The editorial board of The Economist is insisting that the country needs "to enact a federal formula, already provided for by the constitution. The Kurds, enjoying an unprecedented measure of autonomy, have long been keen on this. Most of Iraq's Sunni Arabs have hitherto loathed the idea, seeing it as a conspiracy to do them down and to belittle a great nation. But they should now think again. Mr Maliki's best chane of making Iraq work is to go federal." This is an issue that's been debated at the Guardian with Ranj Alaaldin advocating for a federation and more recently, yesterday, Hayder al-Khoei rejecting. al-Khoei argues, "Federalism may have worked wonders for the Kurds, but their success cannot be taken as a blueprint for the rest of the country. The Kurds are an exception because they have had de facto autonomous rule since 1991. That was a consequence of the brutality of the Ba'ath regime. Today, Iraqi villages are not being gassed, mass graves are not being filled with hundreds of thousands of corpses, and entire towns and cities are not being cleansed by the central government." Meanwhile Michigan State University professor Mohammed Ayoob (CNN) maintains that "it is only Iran that can now prevent Iraq from sliding into the abyss of chaos and disintegration. This argument has a simple logic. Iran is the country with the greatest leverage with the Shia-dominated al-Maliki government." By contrast the Telegraph of London feels it is for the US to stop a return of civil war and referencing Nouri's trashing of the Erbil Agreement, "In the process, he has called into question the settlement between Iraq's competing groups that helped restore a measure of stability. [. . .] Left unspoken was America's implict role as guarantor of this settlement. Iraqis asked, sotto voice, how long it would last after US forces withdrew. The answer, we have learnt, is that its foundations were undermined within hours." The administration does not share the Telegraph's view that the its their role. At the State Dept today, spokesperson Mark C. Toner declared, "Well, look, overseeing and husbanding implies that we're somehow calling the shots. [. . .] And Iraq's a sovereign country. I think we're engaged with all the political parties on the ground. And, again, we're urging that they come together, that they talk through the current situation and issues, and reach a consensus that way."
Tarqi Alhomayed (Al Arabiya) feels there may be a bright spot in the crisis in that it's allowed Nouri to show his true nature, "This is because Nuri al-Maliki has moved away from the political game, and instead resorted to using force against his opponents, immediately following the withdrawal of U.S. troops. This represented a red flag to all those who are concerned about the future of Iraq. Al-Maliki is a man who has not mastered the political game, and it seems that he does not even believe in politics at all, or at least not as much as he believes in the power of force. Therefore, he has over-used what he terms 'the law,' and we now see him seeking to arrest Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, and fire his own deputy, Saleh al-Mutlaq, whilst he is also clashing with Iraqi Parliamentary Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi." In addition, rumors swirl that the Minister of Finance, Rafie al-Issawi, will be charged with something shortly. All three are members of Iraqiya, the political slate that came in first in the March 2010 elections.
And al-Issawi teams with Ayad Allawi (former prime minister and head of Iraqiya) and Osama al-Nujaifi (Speaker of Parliament) to pen "How to Save Iraq From Civil War" in today's New York Times:
We are leaders of Iraqiya, the political coalition that won the most seats in the 2010 election and represents more than a quarter of all Iraqis. We do not think of ourselves as Sunni or Shiite, but as Iraqis, with a constituency spanning the entire country. We are now being hounded and threatened by Mr. Maliki, who is attempting to drive us out of Iraqi political life and create an authoritarian one-party state. In the past few weeks, as the American military presence ended, another military force moved in to fill the void. Our homes and offices in Baghdad's Green Zone were surrounded by Mr. Maliki's security forces. He has laid siege to our party, and has done so with the blessing of a politicized judiciary and law enforcement system that have become virtual extensions of his personal office. He has accused Iraq's vice president, Tariq al-Hashimi, of terrorism; moved to fire Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq; and sought to investigate one of us, Rafe al-Essawi, for specious links to insurgents -- all immediately after Mr. Maliki returned to Iraq from Washington, wrongly giving Iraqis the impression that he'd been given carte blanche by the United States to do so.
If you're having trouble identifying the players, Dan Murphy (Christian Science Monitor) provides flash cards here.
Tony Karon (Global Post) observes, "Maliki, both by measures of votes in parliament and control of men under arms, is stronger than any other faction leader in Iraq right now, but he's not strong enough to rule Iraq on his own. Indeed, he has the job of prime minister only because Iran -- mindful of the importance of keeping a friendly government in Baghdad -- intervened to convince rival Shi'ite leaders, most important among them being Moqtada al-Sadr, to back another Maliki term. But other neighbors, particularly those at odds with Iran such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey, have other ideas. Both backed the Sunni-dominated Iraqiya bloc that challenged Maliki, and Saudi Arabia has been engaged in proxy conflicts with Iran across the region." Hamza Hendawi and Qassim Abdul-Zahra (AP) note Nouri "effectively runs the Defense and Interior ministries and has created a separate security force that answers to him alone. He bypassed parliament to install Shi'ite allies in key positions [. . .]"
And right there we need to clarify some issues that are wrong in reporting. (Not wrong with the AP article.) Al Jazeera maintains that Nouri al-Maliki has benched Saleh al-Mutlaq. Parliament told Nouri last week that they would review the matter in the new year and not until then. Nouri has no power on that. It is wrong to say that Nouri's done anything here other than ask that al-Mutlaq be stripped of his powers.
al-Mutlaq was nominated for his post and he was confirmed by Parliament. That's why Nouri can't just exile him. Nouri swore -- back in December 2010 -- that the security ministries would be filled -- that's the Minister of the Interior, the Minister of National Security and the Minister of Defense. They have not been filled. Nouri wants credit for calling someone 'acting' minister. An acting minister is not a real minister. He or she has not been nominated by Nouri and approved by the Parliament. So Nouri can call Howard Dean "acting Minister of Defense" tomorrow and then strip him of the title next week. That's because Parliament never confirmed it. If Parliament doesn't sign off, you're just Nouri's puppet. Parliament did vote to approve Saleh al-Mutlaq and that's why Nouri can't just discard him without their permission.
That's the first thing. The other thing that needs to be cleared up is the notion that Tareq al-Hashemi "fled" to the KRG. This pops up in reports after reports including, today, Al Jazeera where a man supposedly sympathetic to Iraqiya insists that al-Hashemi fled and therefore he's unsympathetic to him. "Fled" can be a descriptive word. It can also be a pejorative word. In this case, it is the wrong word.
AFP reports, "Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi and several of his bodyguards were escorted off a plane at Baghdad airport on Sunday because two of the guards were wanted on 'terrorism charges,' officials said, the latest step in a deepening political crisis." Also on the plane was Saleh al-Mutlaq, Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister whom Nouri has asked Parliament to strip the powers of. al-Mutlaq was also forced off the plane. On today's All Things Considered (NPR), Kelly McEvers offered this take:
Kelly McEvers: Here in Kuwait, just having crossed over the border, we have all these US commanders telling us that they're leaving Iraq in a better place, that it's a thriving democracy. Yet in Baghdad it looks like you have Prime Minister Maliki -- who is a Shi'ite and whose government is Shi'ite -- going after his rivals who are Sunnis. Just yesterday, charges were announced against the Vice President who is Sunni and troops surrounded his house. The Maliki government accuses him of being involved in a terrorist plot. But Maliki's detractors say this is sectarian revenge. So you know we've got these promises from US commanders that things are going really well but this kind of national reconciliation government looks like it's unraveling.
Those moves have added to a fear among the prime minister's critics that he is seeking to eliminate rivals and consolidate power.Iraqiyya warned it would pull out of the coalition government unless Mr Al Maliki agreed to seek a solution that respects "democracy and civil institutions". "Iraq is now in a very difficult position. This is a critical time," said Eytab Al Douri, an MP with the Iraqiyya bloc. "If solutions are not found quickly, Iraq will be heading towards sectarian and ethnic divisions, and a return to civil war."
---------------- [End of Dec. 18th excerpt] ----------------
CNN reported this afternoon that an arrest warrant had been issued for Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi by the Judicial Commitee with the charge of terrorism. Omar al-Saleh (Al Jazeera) terms it a "poltical crisis" and states, "The government says this has nothing to do with the US withdrawal, that this has nothing to do with the prime minister consolidating his grip on power. However, members of al-Iraqiya bloc, which Hashimis is a member of, say 'No, [Maliki] is trying to be a dictator." Sam Dagher (Wall St. Journal) observes, "The arrest warrant puts Mr. Maliki on a possible collision course with the Kurds, who run their own semiautonomous region in the north and participate in the central government but have longstanding disputes with Baghdad over oil and land; and with Sunni Arabs in provinces like Anbar, Diyala, Nineveh and Salahuddin who have pressed in recent weeks for more autonomy from Baghdad with the backing of the Kurds."
It is INCORRECT to say -- as many outlets are -- that Tareq al-Hashemi fled to the KRG. Tareq al-Hashemi had scheduled meetings. He departed from Baghdad on Sunday the 18th. Before he could, he and others were cleared from the plane by Nouri's forces. Had the arrest warrant been issued, Nouri's forces could have kept him from re-boarding. They didn't do that because there was no, at that time, valid arrest warrant. Monday the 19th, while al-Hashemi is finishing meetings in the KRG, the arrest warrant is issued.
To say that Tareq al-Hashemi fled to the KRG is a pejorative statement ("flee" having the connotation of "coward"). It is also an incorrect statement. Since the arrest warrant was issued, he has stayed in the KRG. You could say he's seeking shelter or refuge or even some form of asylum. But you cannot say he fled and be accurate. Repeating, it is not only incorrect, it is a charged term. He is being called a terrorist. It does matter how you present the facts, it does matter in the court of public opinion. The Council on Foreign Relations can get it right, why can't the press?
Hossam Acommok (Al Mada) reports that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Speaker Najaiji met in Sulaimaniya yesterday and compiled a list of four points of the political crisis. One of the points is that a national conference is needed to address the crisis and governance. The issue of Tareq al-Hashemi is another point and it is thought that the KRG judiciary could be impartial and it would be better to move the charges Nouri's lodged to the KRG judiciary and out of Baghdad. Dar Addustour notes that Parliament will hold a meeting next week to attempt to ease the crisis and that they will address the issue of Nouri's call to dismiss Saleh al-Mutlaq as Deputy Prime Minister. There are rumors that it will be suggested al-Mutlaq retain the office, remain in Iraq for a few weeks, then travel to Jordan claiming "illness" and remain in Jordan for the duration of the current Iraqi government. Prashant Rao (AFP) states that Kurdistan Regional President Massound Barzani has joined the call for elections stating that if the planned meet-up fails, early elections are the next avenue. Khalid al-Ansary and Dahlia Kholaif (Bloomberg News) report Iraiqya states it is on board with the planned meet-up. However, Aswat al-Iraq states that they are on board conditionally -- Iraqiya states Moqtada al-Sadr and Ammar al-Hakeem must be present at any meeting. Both men are part of the National Alliance. In addition, al-Hakim is the head of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq. Jim Loney and Ahmed Rasheed (Reuters) add:
But Allawi, in a separate statement, listed a series of demands before he would agree to any conference, including the release of "all detainees held on false charges" and the formation of a panel of top politicians to oversee and prevent interference in legal procedures.
Iraqiya has criticized a recent arrest campaign against hundreds of former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party over what some officials said was a plot to seize power after U.S. troops left.
Allawi also demanded the government implement an accord reached last year [the Erbil Agreement] before the coalition government was formed that would have given him leadership of a new national policy council. Allawi has accused Maliki of reneging on the pact.
Ned Parker's long covered Iraq for the Los Angeles Times and, in an interview with CFR's Bernard Gwertzman, offers many points worth sharing but we'll note this section because it includes Chapter VII which US news outlets usually forget.
[Bernard Gwertzman]: You've been living in Iraq on and off since the war began in 2003. What's the United States' influence there since the departure of the troops?
Ned Parker: America has influence. Evidently, it's less, given that [the] troops have left, but America still has much soft power from the sales of weapons to Iraq, the need of Iraqi counterterrorism forces to work with U.S. Special Forces. Then there's the issue of America helping Iraq with investment, getting foreign companies in, and the issue of ending Iraq's Chapter Seven status at the UN, which prevents Iraq from having its full sovereignty because Iraq continues to pay reparations to Kuwait. So there are many ways that the United States can help Iraq. In terms of influence, it's a question of how America uses it and how it leverages it. Even when America had U.S. forces in Iraq, particularly in the last three years, America has been very reluctant to use its influence or clout to the maximum.
Aswat al-Iraq reports, "The ratification of the Anti-Terrorism Law by the Iraqi Council of Ministers on Tuesday has stemmed from the government's keenness for the sovereignty of the law and the stability of the security in the country, the Official Spokesman of the Government, Ali al-Dabbagh said in a statement on Wednesday." Actually, it's a bill. Parliament makes laws. Dar Addustour notes that it's been referred to Parliament. Al Rafidayn reports that the UN has opened a mission in Basra.
Turning to some of today's reported violence, Aswat al-Iraq notes that Yacub Youif Lazim, the director of Kirkuk's Red Screscent was wounded in a sticky bombing last night. Reuters adds a Baghdad roadside bombing left nine people injured, a Hawija roadside bombing claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldier (and left another injured), 1 corpse was discovered in Mosul (the man was a kidnap victim), a Mosul roadside bombing injured one police woman, and a Balad Ruz roadside bombing left a woman and her son injured.
At the US State Dept today, there was confusion on the issue of Camp Ashraf. Had the residents been moved? Spokesperson Mark Toner didn't know but "we did see reports of a possible rocket attack on Camp Ashraf," he allowed. They've played intentionally dumb for months now on Camp Ashraf -- ignoring, in the process, a 2010 court order that they review the status of the residents. Sunday, the head of the Dept, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, issued the following statement:
Today, the United Nations and the Government of Iraq signed an important agreement on the temporary relocation and eventual resettlement of the more than 3,000 residents of Camp Ashraf in Iraq. We commend the Government of Iraq for its work with United Nations Special Representative Ambassador Martin Kobler, and welcome this important step toward a humane resolution to the ongoing situation at Ashraf. The UN effort has our full support. The signing of this Memorandum of Understanding represents significant progress on this issue and outlines steps necessary to achieve a peaceful and viable solution for the residents of Ashraf, including their temporary relocation to Camp Liberty, a former U.S. military base near the Baghdad International Airport. At this new location, the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) will be able to conduct refugee status determinations for the residents of Ashraf -- a necessary first step toward resettlement to third countries. We are encouraged by the Iraqi government's willingness to commit to this plan, and expect it to fulfill all its responsibilities, especially the elements of the MOU that provide for the safety and security of Ashraf's residents. We welcome the agreement by the Government of Iraq to allow the United Nations to station monitors at this new location around the clock and to observe the move from Ashraf to this new location. In addition, officials from U.S. Embassy Baghdad will visit regularly and frequently. We also welcome the Iraqi government's willingness to delay the final closure of Camp Ashraf to give this plan time for implementation. To be successful, this resettlement must also have the full support of the Camp's residents, and we urge them to work with the UN to implement this relocation. All those who want to see the people at Camp Ashraf safe and secure should work together to see that the agreed upon plan is carried out.
The agreement actually entered the news cycle on Wednesday and State Dept spokersperson Victoria Nuland had to spin because the administration was out of the loop -- a detail thata quickly became obvious leading one reporter to observe, "So you guys didn't know anything about it until today." Joby Warrick (Washington Post) reported that the deal "has not yet been accepted by the Iranian exiles, who have repeatedly insisted on a U.S. troop presence to guard against possible attacks by Iraqis." Today Roy Gutman (McClatchy Newspapers) reports that what appeared to be a stand-off may have passed today with the residents accepting the agreement and that 400 of the approximately 3,500 members were moved to what used to be Camp Liberty today. And the rumors of rocket attacks? AFP reports that Camp Ashraf was repeatedly attacked with "multiple rockets." At the State Dept press briefing today, a question was raised as to whether or not Camp Ashraf had any American citizens? Toner had no response. (There are Americans with family members there.) And it was pointed out, "And you've washed your hands of it. So why would you even know?"
But the US government granted protected status to the residents. It's not supposed to be able to wash its hands. It's supposed to be helping on this issue. When that status was granted, the US government then had a legal obligation. It's an obligation the government has not lived up to.
Meanwhile it's a member of the US Congress (and not the press) that broke the news of two Americans held by Iraqi forces who were released yesterday after being held for 18 days. AP noted this morning that US House Rep Peter King has announced the release of Alex Antiohos and Jonas March by the Ministry of the Defense. The limited details indicated that King's office lit a fire under the State Dept after his office was contacted by Antiohos' wife. His office has since released the following statement:
Washington, D.C. -- Today, U.S. Rep. Peter T. King, Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, welcomed news that his work has helped secure the release of three security contractors, including two U.S. citizens, who had been detained in Iraq since December 9. The three men, Army veteran Alex Antiohos of Long Island, New York, National Guardsman Jonas March of Savannah, Georgia, and Kevin Fisher of Fiji, all contractors for a security firm, were detained by Iraqi Army forces in Mahmudiyah, part of the infamous "Triangle of Death," and held until early today without being charged with any crime. Immediately after learning of the men's detention from Antiohos' wife Melissa last week, King pressed the State Department for help in securing their release. Last Wednesday, King wrote a letter to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, urging that the men be released. King's staff followed up by personally pressing Iraqi officials at the Iraqi Embassy in Washington for the release of the men. King said: "I am pleased that these three men have been released after having been detained for no reason. With the unfortunate and clearly deteriorating security situation in Iraq and with al-Qaeda in Iraq still very active, these men were in increasing danger with each passing day. "I appreciate the efforts of officials at the Department of State and U.S. Embassy Baghdad, as well as individuals at DoD and the White House who worked to secure the men's release. Representative Jack Kingston (R-GA) and Senators Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA), who represent Jonas March, were also very engaged and deserve great credit for this good news." Antiohos, March, and Fisher were reportedly detained while escorting a logistical convoy simply because the Iraqi Ministry of Defense officials did not like the "mission request authorization" paperwork that had been issued by the Iraqi Ministry of Interior. The men were never charged with any crime.
NLG condemns NDAA provisions on indefinite detention
Contact: David Gespass, President, 205-566-2530
After over a decade of the so-called "War on Terror," President Barack Obama is about to sign the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) into law. The NDAA permits the indefinite detention of anyone, including citizens of the United States, who "was part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces, under the law of war until the end of hostilities" -- an extremely problematic and vague definition. In addition, it permits the transfer of any detained individuals to any foreign country and trial of such persons before a military tribunal.
The National Lawyers Guild adds its voice to the many others who oppose this legislation. Our opposition is not based solely on the fact that this bill allows indefinite detention of US citizens and residents or that the presumed "battlefield" encompasses the entire globe. We oppose indefinite detention without trial because it is immoral and cruel and because it violates the U.S. Constitution and international law.
Our principled opposition is based on the:
1. United States Constitution's Article 1, Section 9, Clause 2 which enshrines the privilege to petition for habeas corpus;
2. United States Constitution's Article 3, Section 3 which provides those charged with treason heightened due process protections;
3. United States Constitution's Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizure;
4. United States Constitution's Fifth Amendment prohibition of deprivations of liberty without due process;
5. United States Constitution's Sixth Amendment right to a speedy and public trial, to knowledge of the charges, to the assistance of counsel and to confront witnesses;
6. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the United States has signed, and which holds that "no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile" (Article 9); those who are arrested are entitled to a fair and public hearing by an impartial tribunal (Article 10), and all those charged with a penal offence are presumed innocent, and have the right to a public trial and all of the guarantees necessary for a defense (Article 11); and
7. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the United States has ratified, and which provides in article 9 (1): "Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention. No one shall be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedure as are established by law."
The laws of war do not override these rights. International humanitarian law, set forth in the Geneva Conventions, applies to all battlefield hostilities, including illegal wars. The current "war on terror" is an undeclared war without end, waged everywhere on Earth. Indefinite detention for the duration of such a "war" is an immoral act of extreme injustice that makes a mockery of the idea that prisoners of war may be held only until the end of hostilities.
The National Lawyers Guild opposed expansion of executive power by George W. Bush, who oversaw Guantánamo and other "black sites" where prisoners often endured cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and torture at the hands of their captors without access to lawyers or courts to challenge either the fact or the conditions of their confinement. We oppose equally the current president's claim to such executive power and his apparent desire to expand it.
The absolute power that the NDAA affords the Executive Branch and the military is dangerous, allowing the Executive Branch to designate whomever it chooses to be subjected to its draconian provisions.
If President Obama were committed to Constitution and international legal norms, he would veto this bill. Instead, he seems more concerned about consolidating the power of the Executive Branch at the cost of our legal and human rights. As "terrorism" and "radical Islam" have come to replace "Communism" in the federal government's lexicon of fear, the United States continues its spiral toward a new era of McCarthyism. The NDAA is one more step down that road.