Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The continued political crisis, squabbling MPs, Moqtada wants to show Barack some shoes

Hayder al-Khoei (Guardian) takes on the Associated Press here. As with pretty much everything he writes, I disagree. But I'm happy to note media criticism. It would be a lot stronger media criticism if Hayder had the guts to name the reporters. (I know. It's not my job to do the job Hayder refused to.) Bob Somerby is always surprised that the press doesn't name names. It does so more now than it used to. I'm remembering the first person who took on the New York Post -- seriously took on the entire paper publicly -- after Rupert Murdoch bought it. The first person to widely and loudly criticize it for the loose grasp of 'facts.' That was Paul Newman. (The paper got 'creative' about a press conference for Fort Apache The Bronx.) And, as he noted back then (and in conversations he never stopped noting), the press wouldn't criticize Murdoch or the Post. They would say, "Paul Newman criticized a New York newspaper" and not name it. They'd protect each other and his point was that bad reporting needed to be called out and that by refusing to name the bad reporting the New York Times, Newsday, etc. were being lumped in with the Post because their silence was an endorsement.

So, again, I think Hayder's criticism is wrong but I think it's also weak because he doesn't name the reporters. The Associated Press has hundreds and hundreds of people working for it. His argument is that the AP is wrong about the state of Sunnis. He is wrong about the state of Sunnis. The AP was reporting on today and he wants to take it back to 2006 to say they're wrong. He can take it back to 2006. He can't, however, make up his own facts and not be called on it. Deborah Amos has already documented the period he wants to write about in her excellent book Eclipse of the Sunnis: Power, Exile, and Upheaval in the Middle East (now out in soft cover -- available at Amazon right now for $6.40). Equally true, the vast majority of external refugees have been Sunni and there are more Sunni internal refugees than Shi'ite. Feel free to disagree. Read his critique and form your own opinion.

Al Sabaah reports that MPs continue to miss sessions of Parliament (if their numbers are correct -- we're talking less than thirty -- this is actually an improvement in attendance). Dar Addustour notes that State of Law MP Mahmoud Hassan and Kurdish Alliance MP Bir Saz Shaaban got into a loud argument yesterday. Hardly surprising considering all the conflict between Nouri (head of State of Law) and the KRG.

The conflicts between the two include, most recently, the issue of oil contracts and more long-term the lack of an oil and gas law and the failure of Nouri to implement the agreed upon Erbil Agreement. Florian Neuhof (The National) notes:

Baghdad is irked by ExxonMobil's decision late last year to explore six blocks in the Kurdistan region, following the lead of Tony Hayward, the former BP chief executive who is heading the investment company Vallares, along with numerous smaller oil companies.
The central government has an informal policy of blacklisting oil companies active in the autonomous region from licensing rounds in the south of the country. But tough contracts and difficult conditions have made Kurdistan an attractive option for big operators over the rest of Iraq. The French oil major Total has hinted it may set up shop in the north.

Al Mada reports that officials in both the central-government in Baghdad and the KRG government are stating that to prevent ExxonMobil from operating in Iraq would be a blow to Iraq's oil industry. Moqtada al-Sadr has waded into the issue. Al Mada reports his online column this week responds to questions about the dispute and he states that the oil is not the centeral-government's oil or the KRG's oil but Iraqis' oil and belongs to all Iraqis. Asked of speaking with US President Barack Obama, al-Sadr states Barack needs to learn a lesson and floats that option that Barack, on a visit, could meet the same shoe treatment Bully Boy Bush did. He also states that Barack continues occupation and oppression of Muslims.

KRG President Massoud Barzani visited DC last week. We covered his speech Thursday and some responses to questions at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy event in two
"Iraq snapshot" (speech and response to questions about the state of Iraq) and "Iraq snapshot"(response to questions regarding Kirkuk). He also spoke at an event for Kurds in the US and Kani Xulam (Rudaw) covers that event:

There were other tidbits about little Kurdistan, but I am going to be picky for the purposes of this report. In America, he said, he was happy to meet with the likes of President Obama and conveyed to him our people’s unswerving commitment to the constitution of Iraq, which recognizes Kurdistan as a federal state. But, he added, there were unmistakable signs of trouble in the city on the Tigris. The source of that concern was Nouri Maliki. He was concentrating power in his hands, he was like five ministers at once, and now, again, Mr. Barzani raised his voice: “He also wants to be head of the Central Bank of Iraq.”

The Kurds aren't the only ones in disagreement with Nouri. John Glaser (Antiwar.com) writes of the ongoing political crisis:

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has demonstrated an increasingly authoritarian rule as he consolidates power over the country’s institutions and security forces. He has marginalized his political opponents through force and coercion, which has stoked sectarian tensions and even threatened a break-up of the nation. And Obama is supporting all of it.

Maliki, a Shiite, ordered the arrest of his Sunni Vice President Hashemi just as the last U.S. troops left Iraq. The U.S. ambassador to Iraq expressed approval in January of this quest to detain Iraq’s vice president on trumped up terrorism charges, despite a virtual consensus that it was a blatant attempt to eliminate a political rival.

Tareq al-Hashemi is Sunni, he's also a member of Iraqiya which won the most votes in the March 7, 2010 elections. Emre Peker (Bloomberg News) reports that Tareq al-Hashemi "arrived in Turkey last night". He's on a diplomatic tour and has already visited Qatar and Saudi Arabia. AFP adds, "During his visit to the kingdom, Saudi officials said that Al Hashemi might remain in the kingdom until his political foe, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, leaves office. But Hashemi's aides said he would not live in exile and would return to the autonomous Kurdish region in Iraq, where he has been sheltering since he was accused late last year of running a death squad." Today's Zaman notes, "Al-Hashemi's visit to Turkey was his first trip to Turkey since the allegations were leveled against him."

Iraqiya's led by Ayad Allawi who has penned a column for the Washington Times addressing Iraq's political crisis:

Of even greater concern is the increasing number of attempts to quash or take over institutions that are supposed to be independent, such as the elections, integrity and communication commissions and, most recently, the Central Bank. These, among other disturbing acts, are chilling reminders of the governance pattern established by dictatorship. More recently, Mr. al-Maliki stepped up his rhetoric against the government of the Kurdistan region. This was partly on the heels of Mr. al-Maliki’s unconstitutional moves to target Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi and Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq immediately after he returned from a trip to the United States. This, in turn, brought Iraqis to make wrongful inferences about Washington’s role in this series of events, in contradiction to the original vision of the United States to build a democratic state in Iraq with civil liberties, national reconciliation, an independent and fair judiciary, and pluralistic political and media systems.

Washington’s evident disengagement gave Mr. al-Maliki the confidence to move even closer to his objective of achieving absolute power by blatantly avoiding the implementation of the power-sharing Erbil Agreement sponsored by Masoud Barzani and the White House. Eventually, the political momentum behind the agreement dissolved, allowing the country to drift back into sectarianism and autocratic rule instead of moving forward with reconciliation and reconstruction. The resulting disastrous state of affairs is fanning increasing disillusionment among Iraqis about the role of the United States and its efforts to create a stable democracy in Iraq.

With no obvious effort by Washington as the patron of the Erbil Agreement to break the current deadlock, Iraq surely will plunge into violence among Iraq’s sects, ethnic groups and even political parties.

After losing the March 7, 2010 elections, Nouri refused to budge and the country entered Political Stalemate I, gridlock for over eight months as Nouri refused to honor the results and didn't have to because Barack Obama was backing Nouri -- over the results, over democracy, over the will of the Iraqi people. In November of 2010, the US-brokered Erbil Agreement was signed off on by all political blocs. It would allow Nouri a second term as prime minister and, for everyone conceeding to that, it would offer various benefits for the other political blocs. After starting his second term as prime minister, Nouri trashed the Erbil Agreement creating Political Stalemate II which has lasted for over a year now. Jasim al-Sabawi (Rudaw) reports:

The Erbil Agreement signed between the Kurdish government and Baghdad following Iraq’s general elections in 2010 has become the main cause of tension between the Kurdistan Region and the central government.

Kurdish officials backed Prime Minister Nuri Maliki to form a government on the condition that he would implement Article 140 with regards to the disputed territories, pass a new oil and gas law and consult with all parties on decision-making.
Two years on, the Kurds, as well as Iraq’s Sunni leaders, say Maliki has ignored the agreement and acts as an authoritarian ruler.
Political analyst Abdul Sultan believes that the Iraqiya bloc of former Prime Minister Ayad Alawi is paying the price for concessions it made to Maliki.
"The Iraqiya bloc offered many concessions in order to participate in the political process and it has been hurt by those concessions,” he says. “Now it is left with no cards to play."

Al Mada notes that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon states the political crisis needs to be addressed and regrets that the national conference was not held last Thursday as scheduled. (The National Conference is what Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi have been calling for since December 21st to address the ongoing political crisis.) Nouri has resisted the conference since it was suggested. In February, his refusal began to be based on the Arab League Summit which was scheduled for March 29th. He argued that the conference would have to wait until then. The weekend before the conference, Talabani pushed Nouri's hand by announcing that the conference would take place April 5th. Nouri quickly touted that in public statements. But then the conference was cancelled at the last minute, less than 24 hours before it was to be held.

On the summit, Mohammed Akef Jamal (Gulf News) offers this take:

The Baghdad summit did not receive much popular sympathy. In fact, it engendered a lot of hard feelings. The capital was transformed into a military base, and the freedom of people was restricted, which resulted in additional misery.
Much has been written about the Baghdad summit, and most articles were positive, indicating that Iraq had returned to its Arab environment.
However, the over-optimistic forgot that Iraq has been suffering from a lack of national identity and this can be seen clearly in the conduct of people, and in their increased sectarian and ethnic affiliations.
Those concerned about Iraq's future are not wary about Iraq's return to the Arab fold at this moment. Rather, they are very worried about Iraq maintaining its unity and territorial integrity. Only a united Iraq can play a positive role in its Arab environment.

Musical Tuesday. Today various new releases are out. Bonnie Raitt releases Slipstream, her first album in seven years (download the album for $7.99 at Amazon currently, that's a sale price, regular price will be over $14.00). Mike noted the release last night in "Bonnie Raitt." Bonnie was an established and talented artist admired by many before she finally found huge commercial success with Nick of Time in 1989. On the same day that classic was released, Carole King's City Streets was released -- by the same label which did not do a good job of working both albums. But today Bonnie and Carole both issue new releases again. While Bonnie's releasing her first album in seven years, Carole's releasing her first book ever, the autobiography A Natural Woman: A Memoir (on sale for $17.04 in hardcover at Amazon right now). Renee Montagne speaks with Carole King on today's Morning Edition (NPR -- link is audio and will be transcript later today). Kat noted the book in her reviews of the reissues of "Carole King's Touch the Sky" and "Carole King's Welcome Home" last month. (I've only read three chapters but I love it and hope to read more whenever time is created with a magic wand. Seriously, we will be covering it in some form at Third -- so I'll probably be flipping through the book furiously on the plane ride home Saturday morning.) This month, Kat's reviewed "M. Ward's A Wasteland Companion" which is released today and Renee Montagne also speaks with M. Ward on today's Morning Edition (link is audio -- transcript will be posted by this afternoon). We're not done with musical Tuesday. Before noon today, Kat's latest album review will be up. Not Bonnie Raitt. She'll post her Bonnie review this Sunday. This is a different album she's reviewing this morning. Again, it's musical Tuesday. (And for those who don't know -- Bonnie's hits include "Have A Heart," "Something To Talk About," "Thing Called Love," "I Can't Make You Love Me" and many more while Carole's hits as a singer-songwriter include "It's Too Late," "I Feel The Earth Move," "Only Love Is Real," "So Far Away" and more. Her hits as a songwriter are far too numerous to mention. )

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