Friday, January 27, 2012

Political crisis continues, Barack downplays it

As violence continues today in Iraq with over 30 dead in an attack on a Baghdad funeral, the political crisis continues as well. The only hope was said to be the national conference that President Jalal Talabani and Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi have been calling for since the end of December. Last week, things appeared promising for a national conference at least being held. One planning meet-up had taken place and another was scheduled for Sunday January 22nd; however, last Sunday's meet-up (which was hoped to be the final planning session) was postponed due to Talabani having to fly to Germany for spinal surgery. Since then, Nouri and his State of Law have insisted that if anything take place, it not be called a "national conference" and that participants be limited to Nouri, Talabani, al-Nujaifi and the leader of blocs in Parliament. Al Rafidayn reports that Moqtada al-Sadr has declared he will not participate and that he can't be forced to. Whether this means no one from his bloc will participate or not isn't clear. Dar Addustour also covers al-Sadr's statements which he issued online in reply to a question from one of his followers. Al Mada quotes Nouri's spokesperson Ali al-Dabbagh talking down the national conference and stating that it will be a failure if it raises the issue of Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi. (Nouri wants him tried for treason; he wants Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq stripped of his post. al-Hashemi and al-Mutlaq are members of Iraqiya which bested State of Law in the March 2010 elections.) The report also notes that State of Law's push to replace Saleh al-Mutlaq with former Speaker of Parliament Mahmoud al-Mashhadani does not have the full support of the National Alliance (a Shi'ite coalition made up of many actors including the Sadr bloc and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq).

The political crisis has many roots but at the heart is the failure to follow the agreement that ended the eight month political stalemate which followed the March 2010 elections. Nouri refused to allow anyone else to be prime minister. During this time, Iraqiya should have been allowed to build a coalition but Nouri blocked it. During this time, Moqtada al-Sadr and others were vocal that they didn't want Nouri to be prime minister. But he had the backing of the White House so the will of the Iraqi voters and the Constitution didn't matter. To get the country moving forward, all political blocs except State of Law made major concessions in the US brokered Erbil Agreement of November 2010. It allowed Nouri to continue as prime minister. It was supposed to mean a number of other things but after Nouri was named prime minister-designate, he trashed the agreement and refused to honor it.

Some online sycophants of Nouri al-Maliki, worshipers of authoritarianism, insist that the agreement must be trashed, that it's "unconstitutional." The aspect that's against the Constitution, the only aspect, is the section that made Nouri prime minister. Not surprisingly, the self-styled 'analysts' never object to that or suggest that section was unconstitutional. Yet they expect to be taken seriously as analysts and honest brokers. Only in your all male circle jerk, boyz, only there.

Al Mada notes that a spokesperson for KRG Prime Minister Barham Salih that the Erbil Agreement must be part of the national conference and that it must be followed. The Kurdish blocs have been calling for that for months.

In other news of announcements, Al Mada notes that the Badr Brigade (Shi'ite militia) has declared that there are still people who need to be targeted in Iraq, foreigners and embassies, and has called on the Promised Day Brigade, the League of Righteous and the Hezbollah Brigades not to lay down their arms but to stand with the Badr Brigade agasint the foreign countries with embassies in Iraq. The Turkish Embassy in Baghdad was attacked last week. The United States has the largest embassy in Baghdad (it's a compound) as well as consulates throughout Iraq. Kuwait is specifically mentioned in the article. In addition, many other countries -- including France, England, Australia and Russia -- have embassies in Iraq and many foreign dignitaries visit.

In another sign of risks, Alsumaria reports that a US helicopter was forced to make "an emergency landing this morning" and that "another US helicopter landed and evacuated it.

On diplomacy, the White House received a visitor this week according to Al Mada but there's no release on it from the White House. Al Mada reports that Iraq's new envoy to the US, Ambassador Jaber Habib Jaber, spoke with Barack and that Barack was full of praise for Nouri and "convinced" that Iraq would resolve the political crisis.

The one the White House has consistently downplayed?

We'll try to include Hillary's remarks from yesterday's town hall in the snapshot today. It's among many things that were pulled out of yesterday's snapshot. If there's room (and time), we'll also note a Congressional hearing briefly. If not, oh well.

We'll close with this announcement from the KRG:

Washington, US ( - Over the span of three days, hundreds of Washington DC area residents experienced the sights, tastes and sounds of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq at the “Contemporary Kurdish Film showcase” hosted by the Austrian Culture Forum in conjunction with the Kurdistan Regional Government Representation to the United States.

Local residents watched four award-winning Kurdish short and feature films, which were screened in the atrium of the Austrian Embassy throughout the month of January. Guests were also invited to enjoy sweet and savoury delicacies and popular music from the Kurdistan Region.

“We are delighted to have partnered with the Austrian Embassy to showcase Kurdish films in the United States, we look forward to continued cultural and educational partnerships with our colleagues in the diplomatic community” said Najat Abdullah, the director for Culture and Community affairs at the KRG Representation in the US.

The series launched on January 11 with the debut of the critically acclaimed film “Kick-Off,” in which a soccer game is used to unite Kurdish, Arab and Turkish refugees during the era of Saddam Hussein. Fleeing the regime, refugees seek shelter in the stadium, but soon realise that only soccer can ease ethnic tensions.

The movies “Bekas” and “Bawke” described compelling journeys through the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. “Bekas” depicts two homeless children who dream of living with Superman in the United States, while “Bawke” displays the emotions of a father and son who struggle to leave a refugee camp for a better life. Both films earned numerous awards, including the 2011 Silver Medal for Foreign Student Film by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences for “Bekas.”

“Winterland” - winner of multiple film awards in Europe and the United States – was screened at the Austrian Embassy to an eager crowd. The film exposes Kurdish traditions through a comic twist in which a Kurdish man in Norway meets his arranged-marriage bride for the first time. Neither spouse lives up to the other’s expectations.

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