Monday, April 02, 2012

Iraq snapshot

Monday, April 2, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, Tareq al-Hashemi is Qatar, Nouri's threatning to sink INTERPOL on him (no, it's not what INTERPOL does), the Iraqi government low balls the death toll for March (and some reporters assist in the low balling), the 'experts' go nutty (prolonged exposure to to gas baggery can be damaging), and more.
It's not a good day to be an 'expert.'  Marc Lynch (Foreign Policy) is often insightful.  This isn't one of those times.  We'll get to his larger points in a moment but first we'll note these supporting 'facts' Lynch supplies:
The real story of America's withdrawal from Iraq is how little impact it has really had on either Iraq or the region.  There are even signs that the withdrawal has helped to nudge Iraqis onto the right path, though not as quickly or directly as I might have hoped. This month's death toll was the lowest on record since the 2003 invasion, while Iraqi oil exports are at their highest level since 1980. Baghdad successfully hosted an Arab Summit meeting, which may have done little for Syria but did go further to bring Iraq back into the Arab fold than anything since 2003. 
Let's address this lowest toll first.  Ben Armbruster (Think Progress) is also running with that, opening with, "The AP reports that according to data released . . ."  No, they're not really reporting.  They're repeating.  They're not reporting.  Reporting isn't just repeating what someone said.  What the Iraq Ministry of Defense (no head to the ministry) and the Ministry of Interior (no head to the ministry) and the Ministry of Health released was 112 people died in March.  That's those classified as civilians or security.  And the Iraqi government said that 357 were injured.  That is a low figure.  Reuters stopped tracking the violence because . . . Well, ask them.  So I guess there's just no way to confirm or refute . . . Oh, wait, there's Iraq Body Count.  Their March total is 295.   Let's see, the independent Iraq Body Count or the two ministries Nouri controls (by refusing to appoint a Minister to head them) and the Ministry of Health, who do we believe? Any rational, sentient person would tell you you don't believe the struggling government sliding further towards authoritarianism. 
We can also go over AKE's totals.  March 5th, they reported 63 dead the previous week (41 wounded), March 12th they noted 70 killed (76 injured) the week prior and reminded that this did not include Iraqi youth who were or perceived to be either Emo or LGBT.   March 19th  they reported 26 dead (22 injured) the week before.  March 26th they reported 73 dead (270 injured) the week prior.  Today they report 29 people were killed the week prior (22 injured). 
Leaving out the first week of March, we're already at 198.  Repeating that's leaving out the first week of March (due to the fact that the first week of March also included four days of February).  AKE advertises it's Iraq Services:

AKE can fully support your business in Iraq.  We can provide transport, security and accomodation in a home-from-home environment in central Baghdad.  [. . .]  We can provide logistical support in and out of the country, giving you access to clients, partners, business opoerations and government ministries.  Visa faciliation is available (subject to status) and we can provide recommendations for drivers, fixers as well as local translators and other services.
Do you know how much AKE charges?  Do you know they couldn't get five cents if they weren't seen as much more than merely competent. 
So 112 is rejected by both IBC's count and AKE's count?  Maybe in the future, allegedly educated people could remember that governments have an interest in lying about how much violence takes place in their country.  That's true of the US, that's true of all countries.  And maybe in the future, when you 'report' a number, you could try confirming it and even contrasting it with counts from other outlets?
As for the nonsense about the Arab League Summit being a success for Iraq, we've addressed those false claims here and we addressed it yesterday at Third in "Editorial: Successful summit for Iraq?" which goes over one aspect after another demonstrating that you cannot grade it a success for Iraq.  And that was before Ahmed Hussein (Al Mada) was reporting that the number of Iraqis living at the poverty level or below is five and a half million persons. That's outrageous in any country but especially in Iraq which has somewhere between 25 to 30 million people (the population is an estimate, there has not been a census in decades). So basically, one-fifth of the country lives in poverty and yet Nouri wasted at least a billion dollars on the summit.
Back to Marc Lynch.  His argument is that Barack did no great harm to Iraq by withdrawing most of the troops.  And I would agree with that and agree that US troops feed into resentments.  Even more their presence postpones the sorting out -- violent or otherwise that Iraqis have to do.  But there's another problem besides being gullible about government figures.  Lynch writes:
This is not to say that there aren't reasons to worry about Iraq's future.  There are many.  It is troubling that Maliki has driven Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi into exile on terrorism charges and has rebuffed all efforts at meaningful cooperation with his political rivals. It is troubling that core constitutional issues such as the oil law and the limits of federalism remain unresolved. It is troubling that violence and terrorism continues to claim Iraqi lives and unsettle its politics.  It is troubling that the Iraqi Parliament appears inept and incompetent [. . .]
But what's striking is that these problems are the same ones which kept us all up nights in previous years. None of these trends is remotely new, and few have become palpably worse since the American departure.  Iraqis have been worried about the centralization of power in Maliki's office and his authoritarian tendencies for the last four years. 
Yes, those things are, to say the least, troubling.  As for it be striking that these are the same problems from the previous years and that Nouri's "authoritarian tendences" have been a concern "for the last four years," Marc Lynch, what do you think Iraqis could have done about that?
Gee, I guess March 7, 2010, they could have gone and voted for someone other than Nouri's political slate State of Law.  If they'd done that, they'd be rid of Nouri.
Oh, wait.  They did do that.  That's why despite the threats, despite the demonization of Iraqiya as "terrorists" and "Ba'athists" (the latter especially a serious charge in the Shi'ite majority Iraq), Iraqiya won more votes.  Who backed Nouri, Marc Lynch?
That's right, Barack Obama.  The White House backed Nouri.  The White House didn't give a damn about the vote, didn't give a dam about democracy, didn't give a damn about the will of the Iraqi people, didn't give a damn about the Iraqi Constitution.
So if you're going to note that the problems are similar or claim they're the same (they're not the same, they're far worse and today's events after Lynch's piece went up demonstrate that they're worse), then you better be willing to talk about why they're the same.  They're not the same because the Iraqi people didn't attempt to solve the problem.  They're not the same because the Iraqi people believed that their votes would matter.  The problems are similar because the White House overruled the voice of the Iraqi people.
At least Marc Lynch is consistent.  (And, again, often insightful.)  If Phyllis Bennis suffering from MPD?  Which personality is attempting to communicate with us today?  In a piece at Real News Network she attempts to cover various wars.  Here she is on Iraq:

Last week was the 9th anniversary of that war. And looking back, it's clearer than ever that the U.S. failed to achieve any of its goals. I don't mean the lying goals, the fake goals, of finding weapons of mass destruction or bringing democracy to Iraq. I mean the real goals, the ones that kept hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops and hundreds of thousands of Pentagon-paid mercenaries in Iraq for so many years:

  • Consolidating U.S. control over Iraqi oil -- nope, U.S. oil companies are just some among many of the myriad of foreign interests in Iraq's oil fields.
  • Leaving behind a pro-U.S. government in Baghdad -- hardly, Prime Minister Maliki is barely on speaking terms with anyone in Washington.
  • Permanent access to U.S. bases across Iraq -- not even close, every one of the several hundred bases was either closed down or turned over to the Iraqi government; even the giant 5,000-person embassy, biggest in the world, had to be scaled back when Iraq refused to guarantee immunity to enough U.S. troops to protect it.
  • Creating a government and military more accountable to the U.S. than to Iran -- oops, seems we got that one wrong too; despite continuing billions of dollars of our tax money to prop it up, Baghdad today is allied more closely to Iran than to the U.S.

So the U.S. lost in Iraq too. Iraq hasn't been "liberated" -- violence is rampant, the sectarian violence resulting from early U.S. policies after the 2003 invasion continues to escalate. And U.S.-paid contractors (paid by the State Dept this round, instead of the Pentagon, that's the technical difference) are still there. Thousands of them. What's not there, so far, is one dollar for reparations or compensation. That's the battle that lies ahead. The U.S. war in Iraq may be over, but our responsibilities are not.

Okay, help me out, was it not Phyllis insisting the Iraq War wasn't over after December 19th (the big withdrawal).  And now she's insisting it is?  Again, which personality is attempting to communicate with us?  January 23rd, she was at US News & World Reports and, in her opening sentence, telling readers, "Far from being 'too soon,' the U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq came more than eight years too late -- and still, the war isn't over."
How did the US troops in the region -- still in the region around Iraq -- depart, how did the CIA depart Iraq, how did Special Ops depart Iraq, how did all the contractors depart, the 700 US soldiers who are 'trainers,' the Marines guarding the embassy, how did all of those people leave between December 19th and today and we didn't even notice?  How did that happen?  To the personality now insisting that the war is over, let us speak to Phyllis.  We want to speak with Phyllis.
Nouri al-Maliki pretends he wants to speak with Tareq al-Hashemi.  Really he wants him imprisoned.  The Vice President is a member of Iraqiya, a Sunni and in his second term as vice president.  Iraqiya and State of Law are political rivals.  Nouri doesn't play well with others.  Iraqiya announced they were boycotting the government December 16th and did so on December 17th entry.  December 18th is al-Hashemi and Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq are attempting to fly to the KRG from Baghdad when they and their bodyguards are pulled off the flight by Nouri's forces.  For less than an hour, they are detained.  Then they're waived through and allowed to fly out.  December 19th, Nouri issues an arrest warrant for al-Hashemi -- after the Vice President is in the KRG.
At this late date, anyone who falsely states that Tareq al-Hashemi fled to the KRG after an arrest warrant was issued for him has problems far larger than chronology.
Yesterday, al-Hashemi went to Qatar.  In reporting that development, both . Aseel Kami (Reuters)  and Jack Healy and Duraid Adnan (New York Times) were unable to get the facts right.  In addition, while reporting on the trip to Qatar and the outrage by Nouri, they failed to bring in Qatar's message to Nouri last week.   Dropping back to Friday's snapshot:

There are 22 countries in the Arab League. Hamza Hendawi and Lara Jakes (AP) put the number of Arab League leaders who attended at 10 and they pointed out that Qatar, Saudi Arabi, Morocco and Jordan were among those who sent lower-level officials to the summit. Patrick Martin (Globe & Mail) explains that Sheik Hamad Bin Jassem Bin Jabr Al Thani (Prime Minister of Qatar) declared on television that Qatar's "low level of representation" was meant to send "a 'message' to Iraq' majority Shiites to stop what he called the marginalization of its minority Sunnis."
If Nouri is outraged and furious, it seems like you might want to note the above.  Because it makes clear that receiving al-Hashemi wasn't accidental and that all of Nouri's thundering really isn't going to make too much of an impression on Qatar. Only Jomana Karadsheh (CNN) managed to touch on that issue yesterday:
The vice president's trip comes several days after Qatar's foreign minister said his country had sent a low-ranking representative to last week's Arab League summit in Baghdad in order to send a message over "factionalism in Iraq," the state-run Qatar News Agency reported.
The US State Dept was not bothered by the news and had hoped/urged it for weeks now.  They feel the issues surrounding Tareq al-Hashemi prevent Iraq from focusing on other needed issues.  They also feel al-Hashemi can't get a fair trial.  They worry that he will return to Iraq as he has stated he intendes to do (not years from now, but when this current diplomatic tour is over). 
Nouri's blustered over al-Hashemi's departure making an idiot of himself to the global village as he and his spokespeople have insisted that al-Hashemi will be rounded up by "international authorities."  This morning,  Al Mada reported Nouri is stating he'll use INTERPOL. Al Sabaah quoted Nouri at a news conference claiming that being a founding member of the Arab League gives Iraq 'legal status' in this issue.  State of Law's Sa'ad al-Moutallebi echoed the use of INTERPOL when speaking to Press TV today:
The Minister of Interior, the Minister of Justice will launch a complaint and present documents and evidence to INTERPOL, the international police, to aid us and help in securing the arrest for the fugitive.

Poor State of Law -- all those members and not a functioning brain among them.  INTERPOL doesn't get involved in politics.  They have to remain neutral.  This isn't something you can sidestep, it's written into INTERPOL's charter.
By attempting to have Tareq al-Hashemi arrested while he was also attempting to have Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq stripped of his post -- both al-Hashemi and al-Mutlaq are members of Iraqiya -- Nouri helped drive home that the arrest warrant was political. 
Again, INTERPOL can't get involved in political.

"There has not been a judicial decision against me from any court, and the demand does not respect Article 93 of the constitution, which provides me with immunity," he said in the Qatari capital.
[. . .]
"Why do they demand that Qatar extradite me?... Officials in Kurdistan have responded to a similar request by telling them that I have immunity according to Article 93[.]"
Al Jazeera notes, "After arriving in Doha, Hashemi met Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani to discuss 'relations between the two brotherly countries and developments in the region', according to Qatari state news agency QNA. QNA added that he was to meet Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabr Al Thani, before visiting unnamed other countries and returning to Kurdistan."
Well, obviously the Qataris are involved in this matter. The Kurdish authority is involved. And there is a possibility of a Turkish involvement which is not confirmed yet.
There were some reports that there might've been a combination of a Turkish, Qatari and Kurdish cooperation in this matter, all working together in the matter of his escape.
This could develop into a very serious issue and could definitely effect an international relationship between Iraq and those countries.
And the attacks on the KRG come as the region puts a freeze on their oil.  April Yee (The National) reports, "The Kurdish oil ministry said companies are not being paid for their oil, which is exported through a shared Iraqi pipeline to Turkey. The same issue led Kurdistan to halt exports in October 2009; exports restarted in February last year only after a compromise between the Kurdistan Regional Government and the central government in Baghdad."  Jumana al-Tamimi (Gulf News) observes, "Baghdad also criticised Kurdistan for stopping its crude oil exports on Sunday after arguing the central government had withheld $1.5 billion owed to foreign oil companies working in the region."   And Hassan Hafidh and Ali Nabhan (Wall St. Journal) add, "Iraq's deputy prime minister for energy, Hussein al-Shahristani, lashed out at Iraq's Kurdistan authorities for halting crude oil exports, accusing them of separately allowing billions of dollars worth of oil-smuggling over its northern borders, mainly to Iran."  Nayla Razzouk and Kadhim Ajrash (Daily Star) note:
The Iraqi government incurred $6.65 billion in lost revenue over the past few years after the regional Kurdish government didn't supply it with the agreed amount of crude for export, said Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister for Energy Affairs Hussain al-Shahristani.
"Lost revenue this year will be even more than last year," he said at a news conference in Baghdad Monday.

In addition, Nouri's verbal attacks on Qatar and Saudi Arabia are stirring up trouble with Iraq's neighobrs.  Tariq al-Homayed (Arab News) notes the attacks and argues that Nouri cannot be trusted:
Likewise, the Al-Maliki government has remained in power as a result of Iranian pressure, despite Al-Maliki losing the elections and coming second behind Iyad Allawi, so how can he fear for the region now if Assad is overthrown by force?
How can Al-Maliki attack Saudi Arabia and Qatar following the Arab summit in Baghdad, after both countries attended the meeting, and especially given the positions of both countries in the days leading up to the event.
Meanwhile, ahead of the summit Al-Maliki had announced that his government could not defend Assad. So how, nearly three days after the Baghdad summit, can Al-Maliki turn on Saudi Arabia and Qatar today? Of course, this is clear deception, and evidence that Al-Maliki's government cannot be trusted. Had he attacked "these two countries" before the Baghdad summit, then matters would have turned out differently.
Most important of all, in addition to the fact that we cannot trust the Al-Maliki government, is that the Iraqi government is trying to secure a safe passageway for the transfer of Iranian weapons to the Assad regime, and this is what a witness -- a dissident Syrian official -- reported to the Friends of Syria conference in Istanbul.
All the above does not smooth things over ahead of the National Conference. Iraq is in the midst of a political stalemate. Political Stalemate I was when the government was faced with gridlock following the March 2010 elections. For eight months, Nouri refused to allow Ayad Allawi the right to try to form a government, refused to allow anyone to be named prime minister-designate. Per the Constitution, that should have been Allawi. Iraqiya, his political slate, came in first. He should have been given the chance to put together a coalition and then name a Cabinet. Were he unable to do so in 30 days, per the Constitution, someone else should be named prime minister-designate. With the backing of the White House, Nouri refused to budge.

After eight months, Political Stalemate I finally ended when Iraq's various political actors signed off on the US-brokered Erbil Agreement. Nouri would be prime minister, the agreement decreed, in exchange for that, he would have to make concessions including the creation of an independent, national security commission to be headed by Ayad Allawi and a vote on the disputed Kirkuk. Nouri was named prime minister-designate when the agreement resulted in the Parliament holding its first real session since the March 2010 vote. But most of Iraqiya walked out.

Why? Because Nouri was saying that the independent commission would have to wait until after he named his Cabinet and that they couldn't clear the various Iraqiya members of trumped up charges right away. He was already trashing the agreement he signed off on.

It would not get better. As December 2010 came to a close, he was moved from prime minister-designate to prime minister despite the fact that he had not named a Cabinet. There were posts unfilled and Iraqiya and other critics stated he would not fill three of the posts, the security posts (Minister of the Interior, Minister of Defense and Minister of National Security) because this was a power grab. By refusing to fill the spots, he controlled them. (Ministers are nominated by the prime minister-designate, they are confirmed by Parliament. Once confirmed, they can only be fired with the approval of Parliament.) Nonsense, said the US press, Nouri would be naming those posts in a matter of weeks.

It's April 2012. 16 months later. Who was right, who was wrong? Critics of Nouri were correct and the US press was wrong. Grossly wrong.

Once he was moved from prime minister-designate to prime minister, any pretense of following the Erbil Agreement was tossed aside. This is Political Stalemate II and Iraq's been in it for some time. Over the summer, the Kurds insisted that Nouri return to the Erbil Agreement. Iraqiya has echoed that call as had Moqtada al-Sadr and other elements of the National Alliance. This is Iraq's ongoing political crisis. Since December 21, 2011, Jalal Talabani and Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi have been calling for a national conference to address the crisis.
The Al Iraqiya List, which includes leaders like Eyad Alawi and Saleh Al Mutlaq, has been for the past two years a competitor to Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki's State of Law coalition, which is the influential bloc in Iraq. Al Iraqiya did not become part of the opposition despite the fact that it is an opposition party with an agenda that differs from that of the State of Law.
Al Iraqiya did not become part of the opposition despite the fact that it is an opposition party with an agenda that differs from that of the State of Law.
And although the State of Law coalition, which is headed by Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki, has worked hard to weaken and marginalise other political blocs — including its own allies in the National Alliance, and its close partners in the Kurdish Alliance — its stand regarding Al Iraqiya is somewhat different. The conflict between the State of Law and Al Iraqiya goes beyond the political framework of new structures.
The Al Iraqiya has been targeted systematically since the last elections in 2010, when it came first. It was deprived of its right to form the government at a tense time, riddled with sectarian alignments. Al Iraqiya was not allowed any kind of influence or power that had been agreed upon in the Arbil agreement, which ended the government-formation stalemate at the time.

The National Conference is said to take place this week; however, Dar Addustour notes the Thursday meet-up is not a done deal and that Ibrahim al-Jaafari has called a meeting on Tuesday night to review certain aspects of the conference. They also note that State of Law is insisting (lying) that all aspects of the Erbil Agreement have been implemented except the naming of heads of the security ministries (Interior, Defense and National Security). Of course Kirkuk has not been resolved. Nouri al-Maliki has never wanted to resolve the issue. He became prime minister in the spring of 2006. The Iraqi Constitution mandated (Article 140) that a census and referendum be held on Kirkuk no later than the end of 2007. Nouri ignored the Constitution. Nouri violated the Constitution. The Iraqi Communist Party has reposted an Alsumaria report on the United Nations Mission in Iraq calling for Article 140 to be implemented, calling for that yesterday. And, again, that was also part of the 2010 Erbil Agreement.
Lastly, Jonathan Fisher (WebProNews) covers new threats to the internet from around the world and he notes this on Iraq:
According to a translation from the Centre for Law and Democracy, Articles 3, 4, and 5 of Iraq's Informatics Crimes Law would impose a mandatory life sentence for anyone using a computer or the Internet to do any of the following:
      "compromise" the "unity" of the state;
      subscribe, participate, negotiate, promote, contract or deal with an enemy … in order to destabilize security and public order or expose the country to danger;
      damage, cause defects, or hinder [systems or networks] belonging to security military, or intelligence authorities with a deliberate intention to harm [state security].
      promote "ideas which are disruptive to public order";
      "implement terrorist operations under fake names or to facilitate communication with members or leaders of terrorist groups";
      "promote terrorist activites and ideologies or to publish information regarding the manufacturing, preparation and implementation of flammable or explosive devices, or any tools or materials used in the planning or execution of terrorist acts";
      facilitate or promote human trafficking "in any form";
      engage in "trafficking, promoting or facilitating the abuse of drugs".
The Act also includes provisions to punish network users who "create chaos in order to weaken the trust of the electronic system of the state," "provoke or promote armed disobedience," "disturb public order or harm the reputation of the country," or "intrude, annoy or call computer and information network users without authorization or hinders their use," the Electronic Freedom Foundation reports. Copyright infringement and hacking would also land users in big trouble under the Act, which proposes a 2- to 3-year prison term for either offense.