Thursday, March 29, 2012

Iraq snapshot

Thursday, March 29, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, the Arab League Summit is held in Baghdad, Nouri is a flop, many are no-shows, the Iraqi people ponder the excessive costs (apparently over a half-billion dollars), Senator Patty Murray calls for a cost-of-living increase for veterans, and more.
The Arab League Summit was held today in Baghdad.  It didn't change a thing because Nouri never learned how to charm.  So instead of starting with it, let's start with the ongoing political crisis in Iraq.  Nouri al-Maliki created Political Stalemate I after the March 2010 elections when, for over eight months, he refused to allow the government to move forward because he refused to honor the votes or the Constitution (and with White House backing, he was able to get away with that).  His State of Law political slate came in second to Iraqiya (led by Ayad Allawi) in the elections.  In November of 2010, to end the political stalemate, the various political actors agreed to the US-brokered Erbil Agreement.  Nouri agreed because it would allow him to continue as prime minister.  But the things in the agreement that got Iraqiya, the Kurds and others to sign off on?  Nouri trashed all of that.  Immediately, what was supposed to take place was that the Parliament would name Jalal Talabani president (for a second term) and Talabani would name Nouri prime minister-designate while Nouri get his people to drop the false charges and smears against Iraqiya members and Nouri would name Ayad Allawi as head of a new national security committee (an independent committee).  Nouri got what he wanted and then had excuses for everything else in the agreement, it would take time, now wasn't good, blah, blah, blah.  His apologists (in Iraq as well as in the US) would later begin to insist that the Erbil Agreement was unconstitutional.  If that were true (it's not -- it may be extra-constitutional -- and if you don't know the difference between the terms, don't gas bag on the topic), that would mean the entire agreement was illegal and that would mean Nouri was an illegitimate prime minister because Nouri remains prime minister for a second term not by the outlined process in the Constitution and not by the voting results of 2010.  He gets his second term solely because of the Erbil Agreement.
Nouri is best seen as the pouty child who refuses to get off the floor of the grocery store until he's told he can't get a piece of candy. He is  more than willing to wait and wait forever.  This is imporant to understanding both him and how Iraq has 'worked' and will continue to.  Nouri has got to be challenged.  And if you're going to blink, there's no point in taking a stand.  He is a willful child who needs clear boundaries and knows that there will be consequences.  If you take a stand and back down, you're encouraging him.
Jasim Alsabawi (Rudaw) notes attacks on Barzani from various members of Nouri's circle. The article also includes advice beyond stupid but I'm biting my tongue because Ava and I already told Jim we'd cover the same stupidity (but from American politician) at Third this weekend. Alsumaria TV notes that the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq is calling for a dialogue and blah blah. Now they're concerned. Massoud Barzani wasn't covering new terrain. He was responding to what's been going on for months and it is a false narrative to act as if Barzani's now 'started' something. This is the political crisis. It's cute the way so many are eager to be Nouri's lackeys and play dumb when anyone Nouri's tried to oppress or eliminate bothers to respond publicly.
The piece Ava and I were going to write was "The Great Compromiser Olympia Snowe (Ava and C.I.)" and the similar point?  In US politics, the "center" is not the center.  The "center" is based not on the people but on the politicians and, since 1970, the right wing in the US has stayed firm in their beliefs.  Good for them.  The left has repeatedly compromised and the result is that the "center" has moved ever rightward.  And Iraq?  From the Rudaw article:

Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Ayad Alawi's Iraqiya bloc threatened to walk out of parliament in opposition to PM Maliki's dominance. But Sultan believes these threats only prove the Iraqiya bloc's failure in its politics.

"I think that Iraqiya bloc lacks unity in the political discourse in dealing with crisis," he said. "It withdrew its ministers from the government after the issue of al-Hashimi, and later sent them back. Now it wants to withdraw them again. What will they get from all this?"

Grasp that, over the summer, the Kurds began calling for a return to the Erbil Agreement.  Iraqiya joined them in that call.  When Iraqiya walked, it was over the Erbil Agreement -- no warrant had been sworn out for Tareq al-Hashemi, that's not the political crisis.  The crisis is the failure to follow the Erbil Agreement.  But Iraqiya walks out.  They were wrong to end their boycott.  They were wrong because with a bully child like Nouri, you have to set boundaries and make clear that there are consquences or the spoiled baby will continue to refuse to share his toys and play nice.
But why did Iraqiya end the boycott?  Due to pressure.  Internally, which was minimal, and externally, which was international. And they were told by the White House, among others, that they would look mature and, come on, do the right thing for the good of Iraq.
That little pep talk is exactly why the US is so screwed up politically.  Democrats fell for it over and over (some wanted to fall).  Republicans stuck to their beliefs.  But Dems were seduced -- and still are -- by the thought that they'd look mature and grown up.  That's still used today in the efforts to gut Social Security.  Dems are told they'll look so mature and it's not, "Hey, Republican law maker, you're acting crazy and we're not funding your project."  (I'm not calling all Republicans crazy.  I'm also not trying to insult them.  I'm a Democrat and I'm more than happy to call out my own party for its failures.)
By the same token all Allawi and company got was a brief moment of "Oh, they were mature and ended their boycott." They're threatening a new one.  They don't need to go on it if they're not going to stick it out.  And if they go on it, they better know the US government will be pressuring them, that they will hear appeals of, "Come on, Ayad, you and me, we know you're more mature, you're a real leader, do the right thing and end your boycott."  The answer has to be: NO.  If it's not "no," don't start a boycott.  You either are willng to see it through or you're not.  If you go on a boycott and then cave before demands are met, Nouri's not going to take you seriously.  He's going to know you'll cave every time.
Baby, you could never look me in the eye
Yeah you buckle with the weight of the words
Stop draggin' my . . .
Stop draggin' my . . .
Stop draggin' my heart around.
-- "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around," written by Tom Petty and Mike Campbell, performed by Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, first appears on Stevie's Bella Donna
Each time you cave, each time you buckle with Nouri, you give him more power and more control. Nouri al-Maliki has refused to follow the Erbil Agreement.
Is he criticized by the international press for it? 
Very rarely.  That's what starts the political crisis and Nouri's apologists show up and treat a crisis like it just started weeks ago.  Like the false "center" in American politics, there's a fale "starting point" for the current political crisis in Iraq.  It didn't start in December or January.  It goes back to the signed document that allowed him to be prime minister for a second term.  He took the concessions that other political parties made.  He just refused to follow through on the concessions he agreed to.  That is what started the political crisis and it goes back to 2010.
There are various actions that have made the political crisis flare (and the press briefly take notice).  When he demanded Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi be charged with terrorism (al-Hashemi is a member of Iraqiya), that caused the world to pay some attention to the political crisis.  Al Mada reports today that Ayad Allawi has called for Iraq to fight the "emerging dictatorship" in Iraq today. Iraqiya spokesperson Maysoon al-Damalouji read the statement which called out a return to a culture of suppression and denounced the raid on the Communist Party. The Iraqi Communist Party should have been in the news yesterday and should be in the news today. It's not. From yesterday's snapshot:

We'll close by noting the disturbing news of the day and news that wasn't picked up and front paged but should have been. Nouri al-Maliki is now going after Iraq's Communist Party. Al Mada reports that Nouri's security forces stormed the political party's headquarters and arrested 12 people who were arrested and questioned about protests. Ali Hussein (Al Mada) notes the Communist Party has a long history of fighting for Iraq, not against it. Hussein reports that Nouri's tanks have been sent to surround the homes of Communist Party members in Baghdad. Those who paid attention in December will remember that Nouri ordered tanks to circle the homes of Iraqiya members right before he demanded that Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq be stripped of his posts and ordered the arrest of Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi on charges of terrorism. Both al-Mutlaq and al-Hashemi are members of Iraqiya as well as Sunnis. Ali Hussein notes that Nouri also ordered tanks to circle the homes of Communist Party members last year.

The Iraq Communist Party Tweeted yesterday, "Iraqi Communist Party condemns raid of its newspaper headquarters by security forces." They state that the raid took place late in the evening Monday and that their headquarters were ransacked by federal police who entered claiming that they were doing a sweep of the area for the Arab League Summit. An old weapon ("piece of junk") was on the roof and they used this as a pretext to arrest 12 of the people who were held overnight and only released after they signed documents -- documents they were forced to sign while blindfolded. While they were held, the federal police returned to the now empty headquarters and ransacked the place. The Community Party condemns the attack and notes that the 78th anniversary of the Iraq Communist Party is approaching.
The only English language outlet to report on the attack is People's World which notes of Iraq's Communist Party:
The party, which has a long history of fighting for a secular Iraq, in which the rights of all groups would be respected, has expressed its outrage and has openly condemned the raid. 
The party asks that those responsibile for the attack be brought to justice, and said, in a statement, that "the police will not stop Tareeq Al-Shaab from defending the rights of the Iraqi people and workers, nor will it stop those people from fighting for a free, democratic Iraq."
This is not the first time the Iraqi Communist Party has been targeted by the U.S.-backed government that replaced the old dictatorship.  In 2007, Najim Abed Jassem, the party workers' trade union leader and member of the executive committee of the Mechanics Union, was abducted and tortured by militias in Baghdad, and subsequently murdered.
That the raid took place ahead of the Arab League Summit is disturbing, that it took place in Baghdad with the international press ignoring it is very telling.
Also telling was the turnout for today's Arab League Summit.  Hamza Hendawi and Lara Jakes (AP) report, "Sunni Muslim rulers largely shunned an Arab League summit hosted by Shiite-led Iraq on Thursday, illustrating how powerfully the sectarian split and the rivalry with Iran define Middle Eastern politics in the era of the Arab Spring."  It was not all that, to put it mildly.  A friend who covered the summit deemed it, "Not so much a who's who as a who's that?" Who attended?  Among others, the Oman Observer reports Talabani "received the credentials of Shaikh Mussalam bin Bakheet bin Zaidan al Bar'ami, Sultanate's Ambassador to Jordan, as the Sultanate's non-resident ambassador to Iraq" yesterday. Today Al Sabaah reports Awn Shawkat al-Khasawneh, prime minister of Jordan arrived, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman and the Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah
The Washington Post's Liz Sly Tweeted that Emir got a special personal greeting:
LizSly Iraqi PM Maliki kisses Emir of Kuwait on cheek as he steps off plane in Baghdad. Reconciliation at last. #ALIraq
One of the biggest names of all the attendees was present representing the United Nations.   Kitabat noted that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon arrived this morning. The Kuwait Times quotes the Secretary-General stating, "The relationship between Iraq and Kuwait has always been very sensitive, and there are many pending issues that have not yet been resolved. I urge Iraq to fulfil its longstanding obligations to Kuwait…especially in regards with the missing people, Kuwaiti property, compensation." Alsumaria TV adds that Ban Ki-moon stressed that Iraq paying off its debts to Kuwait will allow it to exist Chapter VII. Al Sabaah notes that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani met with Ban Ki-Moon today. In addition, Al Mada reports that the President met with Ikililou Dhoinine who is the President of Comoros (and was the first leader to arrive in Baghdad for the summit).
Who were the notable no-shows?  Hamza Hendawi and Lara Jakes (AP) report that the no-shows included rulers from "Saudi Arabia, Qatar and most other Gulf countries, as well as Morocco and Jordan -- all of them headed by Sunni monarchs who deeply distrust the close ties between Baghdad's Shiite-dominated government and their top regional rival, Iran." The Belfast Telegraph notes, "The only ruler from the Gulf to attend was the Emir of Kuwait, Sheik Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah."
AFP's Prashant Rao Tweets:
CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq Tweeted about the problems with phone service:
Mohammed Tawfeeq
mtawfeeqCNN 4 the second day, most #Baghdad neighbourhoods left with no cell phone coverage part of security measures 4 #ALIraq summit.2day is last day.

Some outlets got confused and started calling yesterday the summit.  No.  The Arab League holds the summit.  Yesterday there was a meeting among foreign ministers from various countries.  Nouri addressed that group.  Al Rafidayn covers the speech which included Nouri noting terrorism in Iraq (sadly, he wasn't confessing to his own terrorism) and declaring that all Arab nations will face it -- especially those in which the security is fragile -- so he was calling for an Arab cooperative to fight terrorism in the region. His speech is said to have bored (said by a friend covering the event and a friend at a wire service). That's not surprising. On your first day of a conference, you really aren't looking to be bummed out. You're looking to be uplifted.

Nouri's heavy-handed and rules through fear. He thought he could apply the same scare tactics in dealing with foreign ministers of other countries -- none of those present face the level of violence Iraq does. So not only was the topic a 'downer' but they really didn't see the need to be lectured to on the topic of violence from the person over the most violent country in the region. Nouri's so out of touch that he honestly believes other leaders in the region would be impressed with him. His calling for cooperation on positive projects and issues would have surprised them and would have impressed them. Instead, he's the crazy troll under the bridge and he's got no one to blame but himself (and his advisors who thought his speech would go over well).
Today, Dr. Nabil El Araby, the Arab League Secretary-General, opened the summit with an address where he thanked Iraq and the Iraqi people for their warm welcome and congratulated Iraqi President Jalal Talabani for hosting and presiding over the 23rd Arab League Summit and congratulated the government on their preparation work for the summit.  He also thanked the officials from Libya for their hard work on the 22nd summit.  He discussed how he assumed his office last July and how his vision for the Arab League was one of reform and development. It was a positive speech, emphasizing the accomplishments within the Arab world and fostering a sense of common purpose, a sense of higher purpose.  It was the perfect speech to kick off a summit.  (PDF format warning --  Click here for the speech in full.) And it is exactly the sort of speech Nouri al-Maliki should hav given on Wednesday but couldn't because he knows only one note: ominous in B flat.
Others gave speeches as well.  Hannah Allam (McClatchy Newspapers) Tweeted on one:
Hannah Allam
HannahAllam Saudi envoy, 2-min speech, said the most pressing issue was need for economic reform. #ALIraq
And Hannah Allam noted some people didn't speak:
Hannah Allam
HannahAllam @samdagher Yes, saw her, too. And one other. But don't think we've heard a single woman's voice this whole mtg, no? Obviously wldnt today.
Hannah Allam
HannahAllam Very, very, very few women in that huge hall of Arab leaders. #ALIraq
What did those who spoke discuss?  A number of issues.  First they passed a Declaration of Baghdad defining Arab attitudes on regional issues including Syria and the Palestinians (they were noted -- not at length, but for those who thought they'd be completely skipped over, the Palestinians were noted -- and I'm referring to those residing in the occupied territories, not to the Palestinian refugess in Iraq).  They touched on the need for non-proliferation (no nukes) and endorsed the concept of political, economic and social reform so that all Arab citizens are awarded the dignity they deserve.
The summit began and ended today.  Hannah Allam and Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) offer, "Arab leaders who gathered Thursday in Baghdad broke no new ground on Syria or other regional crises, but their summit was still hailed as a success -- for returning Iraq to the Arab fold after years of isolating war and occupation."  Nothing was accomplished but that a summit was held is a success?  Earlier this week, Hannah Allam argued, "Pulling off the summit with a decent turnout and no violence would represent a breakthrough for a country that, for years after Saddam Hussein's fall, still had no real clout in the Arab League and was practically begging its reulctant neighbords to send envoys to wartime Baghdad." When you start from that low benchmark, it's not difficult to hail something as a success.  But, as Gulf News pointed out, "In addition, the idea that fortified areas such as the Green Zone can exist is also not the solution.  As a matter of fact, the very existence of such isolated and protected enclaves proves that there is much to be done to ensure stability and peace."
And when all of that has to be done for a basic summit, it's not a testament to power or to safety.  It really just serves to underscore exactly how bad things remain in Iraq. 
AFP's W.G. Dunlop notes the morning began with an explosion:
wgdunlop Blast near #Iran embassy in cent #Baghdad as #Arab summit opens #ALIraq; police official says it was mortar round #Iraq
CNN's Arwa Damon Tweeted on the reactions of Baghdad dwellers to the summit:
arwaCNN "We wasted lot of $$, it was inconvenient...but i guess its good 4 politics, maybe something will come of it" #baghdad resident on #ALiraq
arwaCNN "Shame on #iraq government, they have been preparing plan 2 secure arab leaders leaving iraqis w/no protection" #baghdad resident on #ALiraq
arwaCNN "Is this the time for this? spending all this money? when people R living in misery & poverty & with no power?" #iraq resident on #ALiraq
Those attitudes are fairly common ones in Iraq.  "Had this money gone to the people in need for housing or other needs, it would have at least raised the living standard of people from the lower class to at least the middle class," declared Iraqi Abul Assal in Kelly McEvers report for All Things Considered (NPR).
Meanwhile, the Washington Post's Liz Sly ponders the future:
Liz Sly
LizSly Momentous events followed past Arab summits in Baghdad. Iranian revolution after 1978, Gulf war in 90. What will happen in aprox June-Aug?
So that was the summit.  It was suppose to be held in Baghdad in March of 2011.  They had to postpone it to May of 2011.  They had to postpone it.  Please note, money was spent sprucing up Baghdad on both of those attempts.  So when outlets report that a half billion dollars got spent on this summit, grasp that the cost was even higher due to the cost of the two previous attempts. 
On Iraq, I'm ignoring something I was asked to highlight except to note two things.  If you're someone supposedly against the Iraq War and you're noting civilian deaths, the Lancet study established over a million Iraqis were killed by 2006.  Any number less than that is unacceptable if you're supposedly against the war.  Secondly, don't write about Iraqi refugees if you don't know what you're talking about.  Meaning?  A total of external refugees numbering less than two million isn't accurate.  The Iraq War created many external refugees.  First came the "brain drain" whose numbers weren't really counted because they left prior to the start of the refugee crisis.  (The "brain drain" was the term for Iraq's professional class such as medical personnel.)  When Iraq becomes the largest refugee crisis in the Middle East since 1948, we're dealing with millions.  Because these people are no longer in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, etc -- as many aren't -- doesn't mean you erase them.  They were refugees who happened to be among the lucky ones that the United Nations was able to place with a country.  The Myth of the Great Return was a myth.  The millions of refugeeds during the refugee crisis did not return to Iraq.  (Even now with the violence in Syria, the number that have returned is a small percentage when compared to all the Iraqi refugees that sought asylum in Syria.)  I hope each and every Iraqi that wants to resettle is able to but even if they are, they were still forced out of their homes, that's how they became refugees.  A tiny number -- a shameful number -- will be allowed to become American citizens.  I hope they're happy in their adopted country and that they flourish, that doesn't change the fact that violence turned them into refugees.  Those people still need to be included in the numbers.
A friend's mad that I won't highlight a piece that undercounts the Iraqi dead and undercounts the refugees -- the article has many other problems as well.  (My friend didn't write it.) No offense to anyone, but I'm tired of 'online living' and would gladly close shop tomorrow.  But as long as I'm investing my time covering Iraq here, I'm not including your lies or you minimizing.  There's no point in it.  I'm not using my time, putting my life on hold, to raise 'semi-awareness.'  So I don't need your 'semi-truths' which are better known as "lies."  I've made a million and one mistakes here.  I've owned them  (I'm also sure I've made mistakes that I didn't catch and that weren't pointed out.)  There are some that are so stupid, I laugh my ass off at how stupid I was -- and how stupid I was in public. This site has a great community behind it.  Other than that, the only thing it has is my integrity and I'm not willing to sell that out to make someone happy by including a bad article that 'meant well.'  For the million and one mistakes I've made, they've never been intentional errors, I've never made one knowingly.  And I'm not about to start now.  I take Iraq and what was done to the country (in our name -- if you're a citizen of the US or another country that went to war with Iraq -- I'm a US citizen) very seriously. I'm saddened that so many don't.  I believe in science, I know about samples, I took research & methodolgy in graduate school and had to do many poli sci models.  I understand how they work and the model in the Lancet study is the same model that the UN uses.  The Lancet study was sound science. 
Moving over to the US, Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  Her office notes
VETERANS: Murray Pushes for Cost-of-Living Adjustment Increase for Veterans
(Washington, D.C.) -- Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee joined with Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) in sponsoring his legislation to increase veterans' compensation through a Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA).  The COLA increase would affect several important benefits, including veterans' disability compensation and dependency and indemnity compensation for surviving spouses and children.  It is projected that over 3.6 million veterans and survivors will receive compensation benefits in Fiscal Year 2013.
"Last year's passage of the COLA bill I sponsored provided a much needed cost-of-living increase for the first time since 2009," said Chairman Murray.  "Particularly in this difficult economy, our veterans deserve a boost in their benefits to help make ends meet. We have an obligation to the men and women who have sacrificed so much to serve our country and who now deserve nothing less than the full support of a grateful nation.  A COLA increase will help bring us one step closer to fulfilling our nation's promise to care for our brave veterans and their families."
Tester's Veterans' Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2012 directs the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to increase the rates of veterans' compensation to keep pace with a rise in the cost-of-living, should an adjustment be prompted by an increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI).  The bill specifies that the increase would affect veterans' disability compensation, dependency and indemnity compensation for surviving spouses and children, and certain related benefits.
The COLA increase for veterans will match the annual increase provided to Social Security recipients.  The COLA is designed to offset inflation and other factors that lead to the rising cost of living over time.  The COLA rate is based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index.
A bipartisan group of Senators signed on to co-sponsor the bill including the Committee's Ranking Member Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) as well as Senator John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV), Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Senator Jim Webb (D-VA), Senator Mark Begich (D-AK), Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS), Senator Scott Brown (R-MA), Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS), and Senator John Boozman (R-AR).
We're short on rooom so I'm not going to try to squeeze something in but tomorrow we will be noting some remarks on sexual assault.  I'm noting that here right now to make sure that I make room for it tomorrow.  I had planned for it to be in this snapshot but we're out of time and out of space.