Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, January 17, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, Iraqiya talks withdrawing support for the current government, Nouri gears up to air a second series of 'confessions' about Tareq al-Hashemi on TV, the Turkish government is not please with Nouri's attacks on their leadership, and more.
If you see someone shot dead in front of you on a city block and you turn that into "Person falls," you're stupid, you're useless and you should probably limit your social contacts because you have nothing to offer to anyone.  Meet Reuters and AFP.  They're wire services, supposely reporting news.  But you wouldn't know that when they fail to cover what happens accurately. 
Nouri al-Maliki has yet again claimed power he doesn't have.  That's the story unless you're being willfully stupid.  If you're being willfully stupid -- like Reuters and AFP -- you instead 'report' that the Cabinet has decided to bar three Iraqiya ministers.
There is no such power in the Constitution.  If you want to get rid of minister, you have to go through Parliament.  There is no power to put a minister on suspension or to block them or to penalize them.  They are a minister or they are not one.
Saddam Hussein wouldn't have risen to power if the press had done their watchdog role.  But they don't do it.  And they waste everyone's time with nonsense and garbage while at the same time allowing Nouri to break the laws.  Again. 
Nouri's position allows him to nominate people to head ministries and they become ministers if Parliament then agrees with the nomination and votes in favor of it.  Then they are ministers and remain ministers unless/until (a) they die while serving, (b) they choose to resign or (c) the prime minister asks Parliament to remove them and Parliament agrees to.  That process was not followed.  Nouri has yet again refused to follow the law.
The Minister of Finance Rafie al-Esawi, the Minister of Science and Technology Abdul Karim Ali Yasin al-Samarrai and  the Minister of Education Dr. Mohammed Ali Mohammed Tamim Jubouri.  Reuters identifies al-Esawi but fails to identify the other two.  Were the posts barred?  No, the people were.  So your job, pay attention, requires that you name the three.  Those are the three (if Reuters identified the offices correctly -- big if judging by their other work today).  [Reuters is capable of much stronger reporting -- see this piece on the drone war by former New York Times correspondent David Rohde.]
When Nouri breaks the law and/or circumvents the Constitution, if the press doesn't call him out, a message is sent.  And it's the same little pieces of encouragement that helped create Saddam Hussein.  That's not to let the US government off the hook (Saddam Hussein was a US ally for years) but it is noting that the press has tremendous power -- or rather the potential for tremendous power -- which is repeatedly fails to use.   There's a reason for the current crawl across al-Samarrai's website but the press can't tell you that because the press can't even tell you his name.
We explained how this works (or doesn't) January 4th:
Today Nouri manages to break the Constitution again. Khalid Al Ansary and Nayla Razzouk (Bloomberg News) report that he placed "all eight government ministers from the Sunni Muslim-backed al-Iraqiya alliance on leave" according to his spokesperon Ali al-Musawi. Where in the country's constitution does that power exist?
Oh, right, it doesn't. Those eight ministers were confirmed in their posts by Parliament (in other words they're not 'acting' anything, they are the ministers, per the Constitution). His only power after a minister is confirmed by Parliament? Outlined in Article 75:
The Prime Minister is the direct executive authority responsible for the general policy of the State and the commander in chief of the armed forces. He directs the Council of Ministers, and presides over its meetings and has the right to dismiss the Ministers on the consent of the Council of Representatives.
He is not allowed to strip a minister of their post without the consent of Parliament. Iraqiya has been boycotting the Cabinet and Parliament -- this started last month over the failure of Nouri to live up to the Erbil Agreement that ended the eight month political stalemate following the March 2010 elections. If Nouri now wants the ministers dismissed -- for any reason -- he needs to go to Parliament.
He has no right to put them on "leave." There is nothing in the Constitution that gives him this right. Per the Constitution, a Minister can only be stripped of their post (which would include their duties) if the Parliament agrees to it. The Parliament still hasn't set a date on hearing Nouri's demand from last month (December 17th) that Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq be stripped of his post. They certainly haven't agreed to strip eight ministers of their post.

Since then, Al Mada has quoted Nouri's advisor Adel Berwari admitting that Nouri doesn't have the power to replace ministers.  Nor does he have the power to suspend or bar them.  If Baghdad had a functioning and independent court, the smartest thing for any of the three would be to file charges against Nouri on this issue and a real court would rule that "barring" a minister is the same as "firing" one, that the Constitution outlines how you remove a minister and that the process has not been followed.  Martin Chulov (Guardian) offers this analysis of the political crisis:

The move by the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, in mid-December against the country's Sunni vice-president, Tariq al-Hashemi, was always going to be provocative. Maliki, who in a recent interview said his primary identity was Shia, insists Hashemi was directing hit squads. He said he had known about the vice-president's "terror activities" for years, but had waited for the right time to go after him. The moment he chose could not have been more potent – the US army had hardly shut the gate into Kuwait behind them. The remaining strongman in town was marking his patch. The rest of Iraq would have to live with it.
Maliki would surely have expected a backlash. He has never been popular with the country's disenfranchised Sunnis and has had a workable, though strained, relationship with the increasingly disengaged Kurds. Yet he doesn't seem to have factored in the strength of the resentment -- and its capacity to seriously undermine the power base he seems intent on building for himself.
Iraq now finds itself at a juncture that in many ways is more dangerous and instructive than the darkest days of 2006, when all remnants of state control crumbled as sectarian war took hold. Back then there was no expectation the state could lead Iraq to a better place. Six years on, and with violence much lower, Iraqis have even less faith in the state, despite it being much better placed -- at face value -- to provide for its citizens.
A political crisis is a serious issue and it does matter whether or not the law is followed.  Reporters do no one any favors by refusing to note when someone attempts a power-grab. 
AP doesn't give a number of ministers 'suspended' but their report indicates it was more than three and they quote Iraqiya spokesperson Maysoun Damluji stating, "It's an escalation by al-Maliki to push Iraqiya away."
Nouri kicked off the political crisis last month by demanding that Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq be stripped of his post and that al-Hashemi be charged with terrorism. Both al-Mutlaq and al-Hashemi are members of Iraqiya, Nouri's political rivals and the political slate that came in first place in the March 2010 elections.  Gavriel Queenann (Israel National News) reports that Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq is calling for Nouri to step down and quotes him stating, "The longer Al Maliki stays in power, the higher the possibility of a divided Iraq."
Al Mannarah's Talk interviews Iraqi Vice President Tareqq al-Hashemi and the first question is, if you're innocent why did you flee arrest? al-Hashemi explains he did not run away (he went to the KRG for meetings, after he was in the KRG, the arrest warrant was issued, he's remained in the KRG since). On holding a trial in Baghdad, he states he doesn't trust the Baghdad judiciary. He is asked why the call for transferring the hearing to Erbil switched to Kirkuk and he explains that Baghdad and Kirkuk are part of the same legal system while the KRG is an independent judiciary (apparently meaning, Kirkuk would just require a transfer of locations; whereas Erbil couldn't execute a trial based on charges from Baghdad). But if Baghdad and Kirkuk are under the same umbrella, why not the same concerns about Kirkuk that he has regarding Baghdad? He replies that Kirkuk (and the judiciary in Kirkuk) has its own security operations and is not dependent upon Nouri for security. He states he doesn't trust the government, meaning Nouri al-Maliki, and that Nouri cannot tolerate opposition voices, Nouri can't stomach criticism of his failed administration. He notes the human rights violations that take place in Iraq under Nouri's leadership. He does not call Nouri a dictator when asked, saying that they would have to agree on the definition first.
Aswat al-Iraq notes that some of al-Hashemi's bodyguards are supposed to testify (on TV) against him. If that happens, Nouri will again be in violation of the Constitution. Though US outlets ignored it, Nouri tried to lie and claim that he never wanted Tareq charged with terrorism and that he (Nouri) was at the mercy of the Iraqi courts. As he made the rounds with that lie, Nouri was confronted with a number of issues including the airing of 'confessions' and how that did not jibe with the Constiutiton's presumption of innocence clause. Nouri played dumb. Is he now going to try to pretend yet again that he had no idea confessions were airing?  This Alsumaria TV report on the same rumors (televised confessions) is of interest solely for establishing a timeline.  (As we have repeatedly noted, there was no arrest warrant issued when Tareq al-Hashemi went to the KRG.  This has the warrant issued on December 19th -- same as past timelines -- but adds that the first 'confessions' were made on the 19th -- that's new to the story -- and it was based upon these confessions that an arrest warrant was issued that day.  Alsumaria TV's source is Baghdad Operations Command Brig Gen Qassim Atta.)  Among other questions this should raise is why these 'unforced' confessions backed up claims being made by Nouri and others before the 'confessions' were made?  Why was Tareq al-Hashemi's home surrounded by tanks starting December 16th?

Not content with starting a political crisis in Iraq, Nouri apparently wants to spread it throughout the region.  As noted Friday, step one was unleashing the crazy on Turkey.  Saturday  Al Mada noted that Nouri was declaring that the remarks of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan would cause a catastrophe. Hyperbole's always been a part of Nouri's make up. Kitabat also noted Nouri's attack on Erdogan and how he accuses Erdogan's call for Iraq to resolve the political crisis as Turkey interfering in Iraq's domestic affairs. You've heard of a pep squad? Well Nouri has a thug squad. And Al Mada reported various State of Law MPs, on Saturday, joined Nouri in attacking Edrogan and the country of Turkey.  Today's Zaman observed Sunday, "Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's harsh criticism of Turkey for what he considered interference in the domestic realm of Iraq is sure to draw the ire of Turkey, as observers have already labeled Maliki's reaction 'a regrettable move' that will undermine his capacity to cooperate with neighbors that are hoping for stability in Iraq."  Today Joe Parkinson and Sam Dagher (Wall St. Journal) offer that "analysts say the rapid deterioration of relations between Ankara and Baghdad also reflects the wider conflicting interests of Sunni Turkey and Shiite Iran in the wake of the U.S. drawdown from Iraq and of the Arab Spring, now lapping at the borders of both Iraq and Turkey, in Syria."   But do analysts point out why Nouri should real it in?
Forget the destrucitve nature his attacks cause within the region, he should at least be interested in the fact that the US sold Turkey drones that were intended to be used for spying on northern Iraq.  That's not a secret.  It was reported in December, widely reported.  Is it really in your interest to launch an attack on leaders of a country that have the equipment to spy on you?  In addition, Turkey's been bombing northern Iraq for years.  It is really in Nouri or Iraq's interest to try to tick off the leadership in Turkey right now?
When Nouri pulls out the crazy, he apparently doesn't think too well. Monday Iraq's Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued the following:

Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Muhammad Jawad al Dorki Summoned the Turkish Ambassador in Baghdad, Younis Demirar .
Mr. al Dorki transferred the Iraqi government's concern of the recent statements made by the Turks officials related to the internal affairs of Iraq which would impact negatively on relations between the two countries, and requested him to convey that to his government and the need to avoid anything that might disturb the good bilateral relations.
For his part, the Turkish Ambassador stressed that the Turks officials' statements were in good intention, adding that he will inform his government in Ankara with the Iraqi side position.
The two sides confirmed their countries' keenness to sustain their relationship .
The meeting was attended by Dr. Walid Sheltagh, Head of the Neighboring Countries Department .

Reuters noted, "Iraqi officials did not specify what Turkish remarks they were angry about, but the complaint appeared to stem from comments earlier this month by Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who said a Sunni-Shi'ite conflict in Iraq, if unleashed, could engulf the entire Islamic world." Yes, it seems Nouri is determined to expand the political crisis beyond Iraq. Aswat al-Iraq added Iraqiya MP Hamid al-Mutlaq states that "Nouri al-Maliki [has] the responsibility for security deterioration in his capacity as Commander in Chief of the armed forces and the first responsible authority for the security ministries."
Today Sevil Kucukkosum (Hurriyet Daily News) notes the reactions of some Turkish officials including this:

In a separate reaction, Omer Celik, deputy leader of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), slammed al-Maliki through his Twitter account.
Describing al-Maliki as the leader of an organization rather than a state and his statements as imprudent, Celik said, "Words targeting Turkey are not compatible with the responsibility of the 'Iraqi Prime Minister.' He is fulfilling 'other responsibilities.'"
Accusing al-Maliki of aiming to run a Shiite-dominated country, Celik warned that Iraq might be a satellite country in the future under his rule.
"From now on Iraq has a serious al-Maliki problem. Turkey has no problem with Iraq and fully supports Iraq's unity," Celik said.

And Daniel Dombey (Financial Times of London) quotes an unnamed Turkish official stating, "What they [Iraq] need is a sense of national unity rather than political factionalism. . . . The Iraqis will have to work together on this but of course those who are in a position of power have a greater responsibility."   Idrees Mohammed (Middle East Online) notes:

The rift rises between Iraq and Turkey as Iraq summons Turkish ambassador to call on his government to consider the "necessity of avoiding anything that might disturb" the ties. The move comes amid the already chilly atmosphere between Ankara and Baghdad due to the former's attitude to the latter's Shiite-led government's action to arrest Iraq's Vice President. Turkish Prime Minister warned his Iraqi counterpart over the action, warning that his action will hurt the country's democracy and urging him to reduce the tension. His calls were harshly slammed by Iraqi Prime Minister who expressed surprise of Turkey's "interference" in his country's internal affairs, declaring his determination not to "allow that absolutely."
Iraq passes through a dangerous period as the "big mosaic rock" between Shiite and Sunni ultimately exploded, causing an unprecedented political turmoil and uproar in "new Iraq." The Kurds found themselves automatically involved in the game which as well attracted several countries including the United States, Turkey and Iran primarily. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Syria are reckoned sides to the turmoil. Unless a compromise is reached, the domestic, regional and even international risks are high.

In Iraq, Aswat al-Iraq reports that MP Khalid al-Alwani states that Iraqiya is prepared to call for a withdrawal of confidence in Nouri al-Maliki if a national conference fails to solve the current crisis and issues.
Such an action should take place for a number of reasons.  Politically, there's Nouri's failure to honor the Erbil Agreement (other than honoring that it made him prime minister-designate).  There's also the security issues.  First and foremost, over a year after he became prime minister, he's still been unable/unwilling to name a Minister of Defense, a Minister of Interior or a Minister of National Security.  Those are the three security posts.  Iraq's seeing horrific violence of late and some of that may be a result of having no one to head those ministries for over a full year.  Security also includes inadequate planning.  From Friday's snapshot:
And Press TV reports this morning that 35,000 security forces are now being deployed to protect the pilgrims. The question is, since Arbaeen ends tomorrow, and since the pilgrims have been attacked since last weekend, why, only now, are these 35,000 being deployed?  Sam Dagher and Ali A. Nabhan (Wall St. Journal) report, "Iraq's Shiite-led government took unprecedented security measures Friday to protect Shiite Muslim pilgrims observing the high point of a religious occasion from attacks by extremists. Meanwhile, car bombs targeted officials in the polarized and volatile northern city of Kirkuk."
Why only then?  A question that became more pertinent Saturday when southern Iraq was slammed with a major bombing on the last day of Arbaeen. Anne Barker (Australia's ABC News) reported it was a suicide bomber, in a police uniform, who detonated in Basra, taking his own life and over fifty others with over one hundred people left injured. The Telegraph of London noted, "The attack happened on the last of the 40 days of Arbain, when hundreds of thousands of Shi'ite pilgrims from Iraq and abroad visit the Iraqi city of Kerbala, as well as other holy sites. Saturday's blast occurred near the town of Zubeir as pilgrims marched toward the Shi'ite Imam Ali shrine on the outskirts of the town, said Ayad al-Emarah, a spokesman for the governor of Basra province." Alsumaria TV explained, "Al Khotwa Mosque, situated near Al Basra city on the eastern entrance of Al Zubair District center, was the second mosque built following Al Masjid Al Nabawi in the city of Medina, and the first one to be built outside KSA. Imam Ali Bin Abi Taleb prayed, during Al Jamal battle in 36 AH, at Al Khotwa mosque which bears a significant importance for Shiites who mass up by thousands in the mosque on religious occasions."
Michael S. Schmidt and Duraid  (New York Times) reported 64 dead from the attack.
And the violence continues.  Today Reuters reports 1 person was shot dead in front of his Tuz Khurmato home, a Mosul bombing which claimed the lives of 3 police officers (three more were injured), a Baquba sticky bombing which claimed the life of 1 Sahwa, a Falluja roadside bombing which left two Iraqi soldiers injured and an attack on a Rutba police checkpoint which left 5 police officers dead.
Another reason Nouri should be challenged is his inability to stick to the budget he proposes.  Abbas Zaidi (Al Mada) reports that, in 2011, the government spent $7 billion more than they budgeted for -- in Iraq this is illegal.
In the United States, Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and her Committee has just announced their winter hearings schedule:
Committee on Veterans' Affairs
United States Senate
112th Congress, Second Session
Hearing Schedule
Update: January 17, 2012
Wednesday, February 8th, 2012     10 am    SR-418
Hearing: The Fiscaly Year 2012 Budget for Veterans' Programs
Tuesday, February 28th, 2012          2:30 pm 345 Cannon HOB
Joint Hearing: Legislative Presentation of the Disabled American Veterans (DAV)
Wednesday, February 29th, 2012    10 am    SR-418
Hearing: Ending Homelessness Among Veternas: VA's Progress on its 5 Year Plan
Wednesday, March 7th, 2012          10 am   SDG-50
Joint Hearing: Legislative Presentation of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW)
Wednesday, March 21st, 2012         10 am  SDG-50
Joint Hearing: Legislative Presentation of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, IAVA, Non Commissioned Officers Association, American Ex-Prisoners of War, VietnamVeterans of America, Wounded Warrior Project, National Association of State Directors of Veternas Affairs, and the Retired Enlisted Association
Thursday, March 22nd, 2012       10 am       345 Cannon HOB
Joint Hearing: Legislative Presenation of the Paralyzed Veterans of America, Air Force Sergeants Association, Blinded Veterans Association, AMVETS, Gold Star Wives, Fleet Reserve Association, Miltiary Officers Association of America and the Jewish War Veterans. 
Matthew T. Lawrence
Chief Clerk/System Administrator
Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs