Friday, April 6, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, Home Depot gets sued by the US Justice Dept over the firing of a National Guard member, KRG President Massoud Barzani visits the US and discusses Article 140 (and more), now Nouri doesn't want Tareq al-Hashemi to return to Iraq, Ammar al-Hakim calls out Nouri's raid on the Communist Party last week, and more.
Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi is currently on a diplomatic tour of the surrounding region having already visited Qatar and currently Saudia Arabia. Raman Brosk (AKnews) reports that State of Law is arguing that al-Hashemi should not be allowed to re-enter Iraq and Iraqiya's spokesperson Maisoun al-Damlouji is responding, "This is not acceptable at all. Hashemi is the vice president of the Republic and he will return to the region." In December, after most US troops left, Nouri al-Maliki upped the political crisis by insisting that Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq be stripped of his post and that Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi be arrested on charges of 'terrorism.' Both al-Mutlaq and al-Hashemi are members of Iraqiya (both are also Sunni) which is the political slate that won the most votes in the March 7, 2010 elections. Nouri's State of Law slate came in second to Iraqiya. The two slates are political rivals. As an Iraqi correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers observed at Inside Iraq this week:
In a press conference Maliki said that he had a criminal file on Hashimi that he had been sitting on for three years, and was now ready to prosecute him. For the objective observer, the timing of this announcement was telling. [. . .] Confessions of Hashimi's security personnel were aired on state television and an arrest warrent for Hashim himself was issued and also made public on state TV -- All this publicity on Maliki's side in order to burn the bridges and make any political deal impossible in this country where government is glued together with political deals.
A day after al-Hashemi went to the KRG, Nouri issued the arrest warrant. Tareq al-Hashemi has remained in the KRG as a guest of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and KRG President Massoud Barzani. Sunday he left for a diplomatic tour of some of the neighboring Iraq countries. He has visited Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
While Iraq hoped the high-profile Arab League summit in Baghdad last week would mark a step forward in relations with its neighbours, observers say many regional states used the event to snub the government. Although officials declared the event a success, only ten leaders from the 22 Arab League member states turned up. Apart from Kuwait, no Gulf state was represented at a high level. Saudi Arabia and Oman merely sent their Cairo-based Arab League ambassadors.
As demonstrated by actions this week (see Liz Sly's Washington Post report from yesterday) the Arab League Summit changed nothing of importance for Iraq. This despite all the money spent on it. And several countries were able to use the summit to send a message. That message was received loud and clear by Nouri who responded by attacking Qatar and Saudi Arabia over the weekend -- before al-Hashemi arrived there. And the attacks continue. Today Alsumaria reports that Nouri's State of Law again elevated the rhetoric against Saudi Arabia and Qatar today as Abbas al-Bayati declared that the press for both countries was carrying out their governments' attack on Iraq's government.
AFP reports that a spokesperson for Tareq al-Hashemi declared today -- as al-Hashemi has all week -- that he will return to Iraq after he's concluded his diplomatic mission and "that for Hasemi to remain abroad was 'the wish of his enemies,' in a clear reference to Maliki." There is something very comical about Nouri's attitude as the week ends.
It started with him and his spokespeople blustering and bellowing about how Qatar would hand al-Hashemi over to Baghdad (they didn't) and how INTERPOL would show up if needed to remove al-Hashemi from Qatar and bring him to Baghdad. That was never going to happen as we explained on Sunday and Monday -- it is written into INTERPOL's charter that it does not take part in political arrests and that is so that INTERPOL will be seen as impartial. So he demanded Qatar hand the vice president over and then demanded the same of Saudi Arabia, insisted INTERPOL would return him and now Nouri's position is that Tareq al-Hashemi should not be allowed to re-enter the country?
In addition to the laughs prompted by Nouri's flip-flops, grasp that Nouri's court is supposed to try al-Hashemi May 3rd. And Nouri's position is that al-Hashemi can't come back into Iraq?
In Iraq, the political crisis continues and intensifies.
The March 7, 2010 elections were followed by over 8 months of gridlock known as Political Stalemate I. Nouri al-Maliki did not want to abide by the Constitution or the will of the Iraqi people expressed at the ballot box. He did not want to stop being prime minister. In 2014 (or 2015 the way Nouri drags his feet), this may be an issue again because although when Iraqis took to the streets in large number protesting against corruption in his government and more (February 25, 2011), he swore he would not run for a third term, his spokespeople and attorney have repeatedly told the press that Nouri is not bound by that and may decide to run again.
With the White House backing him for a second term, Nouri knew he didn't have to compromise and could just stomp his feet in the hopes of getting his way.
In an attempt to soothe the stubborn child, the political blocs agreed to end the stalemate by signing off on the US-brokered Erbil Agreement. That was November 2010. By the end of December 2010, it was obvious that the only thing Nouri really intended to honor from that agreement was that he would get a second term as prime minister. For months, the other political blocs waited and waited for the agreement to be implemented. It never way. Over the summer last year, the Kurds made it clear that the country needed to return to the Erbil Agreement. Iraqiya quickly joined that call, then Moqtada al-Sadr and then others.
Many Iraqis -- Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds alike -- fear that the U.S. withdrawal has given Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, a conservative Shiite Islamist, free rein to consolidate power and turn himself into an intractable strongman. Those worries were only compounded when the White House last month named Brett McGurk the new U.S. ambassador to Baghdad. As adviser to the past three envoys, McGurk had garnered a reputation among Iraqi political elites as a die-hard Maliki booster who turns a blind eye to the prime minister's emerging dictatorial streak. "They basically sent someone from Maliki's office," one Sunni politician grumbled privately about the Obama administration's choice.
In December of last year, when Nouri went publicly nuts (deploying tanks to circle the homes of political rivals, for example), Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani began calling (December 21st) for a national conference to address the crisis. That was supposed to have taken place yesterday; however, it was called off at the last minute. Al Mada notes that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani is calling for a new date to be set for a national conference to resolve the ongoing crisis in Iraq and that State of Law, as evidenced by the statemetns of Hussein Shahristani, is pleased that the conference was cancelled.
In what Nouri hopes is an isolated move, Al Mada reports State of Law MP Jawad Albzona has withdrawn from Nouri's coalition and stated that he would prefer to be independent which, he believes, will allow him to better represent Iraqis by distancing himself from political squabbles and moving towards the needs of the citizens of Iraq. He is the second State of Law MP to announce a departure since 2010. Since December, he has repeatedly made public statements decrying the current political crisis and asking for the politicians to work on issues directly effecting the lives of Iraqis. An issue effecting Iraq's internally displaced refugees is living among piles of garbage Al Rafidayn reports. Currently the United Nations estimates there are 1.3 million displaced Iraqis within Iraq. On Albzona's departure from State of Law, Al Rafidayn notes the MP declared he will remain a member of the National Alliance (a larger coalition of Shi'ite political blocs).
Meanwhile the leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (also a member of the National Alliance), Ammar al-Haskim, has weighed in on two key issues. Al Mada reports he declared the poverty program of the last two years a failure, noting that it has not reduced the rate of poverty in Iraq. He is calling not only for a new program and strategy but for the budget to reflect a strong goal to reduce poverty. In regard to the raid Nouri ordered last week on the Communist Party's newspaper headquarters, al-Hakim stated that when security forces violate the rights of the people negative images are reinforced and that the role of the security forces is to protect freedoms (not attack them). He decried the arrest of 12 people in the raid on the Communist Party. Last week, Iraqiya leader Ayad Allawi condemned the raid. From the March 28th 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 last week, "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.
Add a third political leader to the list. In DC yesterday, Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani was asked if Nouri's authoritarian ways were reason to be concerned as he consolidated complete control of the security forces and Barzani responded, "The new Iraqi army needs to be built on the basis of being the army of the country, not an army of an individual. So to be an army that belongs to the people of Iraq and the state of Iraq in accordance with the Constitution and the laws. And also the Iraqi army should not interfere in the internal political differences of the country. "
ABC News notes, "Barzani, who was in Washington to meet with President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, said that unless Baghdad resolves simmering disputes involving its ethnic and political factions, the situation would be ripe for an autocratic government." Hurriyet Daily News adds, "The Obama administration has pressed Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) leader Masoud Barzani to re-engage with Baghdad amid high tension over the status of fugitive Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi. Al-Hashemi arrived in Saudi Arabia on April 4 and accused his country's prime minister of waging a systematic campaign against Sunni Arabs in Iraq." Today's Zaman reports:
"Barzani visited the US to complain about Maliki," said one diplomat on Friday, speaking on condition of anonymity. Barzani met with President Barack Obama and with Vice President Joe Biden separately on Wednesday, and told them that Maliki is consolidating power in a dictatorial way. He said Obama and Biden reassured him that the United States would remain committed to cooperation with Kurdistan and committed to helping Iraq solve its serious internal political problems.
[. . .]
Bilgay Duman, an expert on Iraq from the Ankara-based Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Research (ORSAM), stated that Barzani's reception by high-ranking US officials should be perceived as a warning to Maliki to abandon his sectarian-based policies in the country. Iraq is suffering from severe instabilities due to daily clashes between Shiite and Sunni groups, which escalated after US troops withdrew from the country in December. The KRG is striving to maintain balanced ties with Iraq's rival Sunni and Shiite groups as they vie for influence in the country following the US withdrawal. Turkey is very critical of Maliki, saying the Shiite prime minister is using the arrest warrant against Hashemi to sideline Sunni political groups in the administration and hoard power for dominance of the Shiite bloc.
"The stance of Arbil and Ankara against Baghdad are very much in line, due to the fact that both are disturbed by Maliki's dictatorial government," affirmed Ali Semin, a Middle East expert from the Turkish think-tank -- the Wise Men Center for Strategic Studies (BİLGESAM). He added that the US is now trying to forge ties between KRG and Turkey in order to secure the unity of Iraq.
So that we're all on the same page, the 2005 Iraqi Constitution includes Article 140:
First: The executive authority shall undertake the necessary steps to complete the implementation of the requirements of all subparagraphs of Article 58 of the Transitional Administrative Law.
Second: The responsibility placed upon the executive branch of Iraqi Transitional Government stipulated in Article 58 of the Transitional Administrative Law shall extend and continue to the executive authority elected in accordance with this Constitution, provided that it accomplishes completely (normalization and census and concludes with a referendum in Kirkuk and other disputed territories to determine the will of their citizens), by a date not to exceed the 31st of December 2007.
The census and referendum are to take place no later than December 31, 2007. Nouri al-Maliki becomes prime minister in 2006. He took an oath to the Iraqi Constitution. He never ordered the census or the referendum before the end of 2007. His first term ended with him unable/unwilling to abide by the Constitution he took an oath to uphold. There has been no census or referendum. He is and remains in violation of the Constitution.
With that understanding, we'll now note what KRG President Massoud Barzani declared yesterday in DC at the forum put on by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy on the issue of Kirkuk and Article 140.
President Massoud Barzani: Article 140 is a Constitutional Article and it needed a lot of discussions and talks until we have reached this. This is the best way to solve this problem. It's regarding solving the problems of the territories that have been detached from Kurdistan Region. In fact, I do not want to call it "disputed areas" because we do not have any disputes on that. For us it is very clear for that. But we have shown upmost flexibility in order to find the legal and the Constitutional solution for this problem. And in order to pave the way for the return of these areas, according to the Constitution and the basis of law and legally to the Kurdistan Region. And we have found out that there is an effort to evade and run away from this responsibility for the last six years in implementing this Constitutional Article. And I want to assure you that implementing this Constitutional Article is in the interest of Iraq and in the interest of stability. There are people who think that time would make us forget about this. They are wrong. Time would not help forget or solve the problem. These are Kurdish countries, part of Kurdistan and it has to return to Kurdistan based on the mechanism that has been stipulated in the Constitution. And at the end of the day, as the Constitution stipulates, it's going back to what the people want to determine. So there is a referendum for the people of these areas and they will decide. If the people decide to joing Kurdistan Region, they're welcome and if the people decide not to, at that time, we will look at any responsibility on our shoulders so people would be held responsible for their own decisions.
Barzani is not calling for any additional steps to resolving the issue of Kirkuk, he is only asking that what was already agreed to and written into the Constitution be followed. In addition to taking questions, Barzani delivered a speech at the forum and you can see yesterday's snapshot for that.
President Massoud Barzani: As far as the second part of your question, the Erbil Agreement. In fact, the agreement was not only for the sake of forming the government and forming the three presidencies -- the presidency, the Speakership of Parliament and premier. In fact, it was a package -- a package that included a number of essential items. First, to put in place a general partnership in the country. Second, commitment to the Constitution and its implementation, the issue of fedarlism, the return of balance of power and especially in all the state institutions,the establishment in [. . .] mainly in the armed forces and the security forces, the hydrocarbons law, the Article 140 of the Constitution, the status of the pesh merga. These were all part of the package that had been there. Had this Erbil Agreement been implemented, we would not have faced the situation that we are in today. Therefore, if we do not implement the Erbil Agreement then there would certainly be problems in Iraq.
Again, the political crisis did not start over the accusations Nouri hurled at Saleq al-Mutlaq and Tareq al-Hashemi. The failure to follow the Erbil Agreement -- the document ending Political Stalemate I -- is what caused the current crisis -- a crisis that has now lasted over a year and four months.
Turning to the United States, yesterday Caitlin Duffy (Forbes) reported of Home Depot, "The home improvement retailer's shares are once again hitting fresh multi-year highs, with the stock up 1.4% on the day at $50.56 as of 12:35 p.m. in New York trade. Call activity on Home Depot suggests at least one strategist is gearing up for the bullish momentum to continue in the near term." But how long will the outlook remain bullish as word leaks out about a new lawsuit? The US Justice Dept issued the following yesterday:
WASHINGTON -- The Justice Department announced today the filing of a complaint in U.S. District Court in Arizona against Home Depot U.S.A. Inc. for violating the employment rights of California Army National Guard soldier Brian Bailey under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA).
The department's complaint alleges that Home Depot willfully violated USERRA by terminating Bailey's employment because of his military service obligations. Bailey, an Iraq War veteran, worked at a Home Depot store in Flagstaff, Ariz., as a department supervisor while at the same time serving in the California Army National Guard. Throughout his employment with Home Depot, Bailey took periodic leave from work to fulfill his military obligations with the National Guard. According to the Justice Department's complaint, Bailey was removed from his position as a department supervisor after Home Depot management officials at the Flagstaff store openly expressed their displeasure with his periodic absences from work due to his military obligations and further indicated their desire to remove him from his position because of those absences.
Bailey initially filed a complaint with the Labor Department's Veterans' Employment and Training Service, which investigated the matter, determined that the complaint had merit and referred the matter to the Justice Department. The Justice Department's Civil Rights Division subsequently decided to represent Bailey in this matter and filed this lawsuit on his behalf.
USERRA prohibits employers from discriminating against National Guard soldiers, such as Bailey, with respect to employment opportunities based on their past, current or future uniformed service obligations. Under USERRA, it is unlawful for an employer to terminate an employee because he has to miss work due to military obligations.
Among other things, the suit seeks compensation for Bailey's lost wages and benefits, liquidated damages and reinstatement of Bailey's employment with Home Depot.
"The men and women who wear our nation's uniform need to know that they do not have to sacrifice their job at home in order to serve our country," said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "The Civil Rights Division is committed to aggressive enforcement of USERRA to protect the rights of those who, through their bravery and sacrifice, secure the rights of all Americans."
"The National Guard is composed primarily of civilian men and women who serve their country, state and community on a part-time basis," said Acting U.S. Attorney Ann Birmingham Scheel. "National Guard members, and their employers, should know that we will employ all of USERRA's tools to protect the employment rights of those in uniform while they sacrifice time away from their families and jobs for training and active duty."
This case is being handled by the Employment Litigation Section of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Arizona.
Staying with the issue of the US military, on Saturday, David Brown (Washington Post) reported on studies -- apparent Pentagon studies -- that researched the signature wounds of the modern wars and demonstrated a weak link between TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) and PTSD (Post-Trumatic Stress Disorder) and "outright violent behavior." As we have noted for years here, those suffering from PTSD are far more likely to self-harm than to harm others. That was true not only in the early research on PTSD during these wars but true as well when you go back to studies on similar conditions such as what was once known as "shell shocked." In all of that, self-harm could and sometimes did include self-medicating with alcohol or other drugs. What's distrubing about the Post report is "outright violent behavior." Some might agree (some might not) with the conclusion that a drunken brawl with a friend isn't "outright violent behavior." I would hope at this late date, in the US, no one would conclude -- as the Pentagon apparently has -- that domestic abuse is not "outright violent behavior." Domestic abuse is a crime. it is a serious crime. The military can do whatever they want with drunken brawls among friends, I don't really care (some people may), but when you classify domestic abuse as something other than "outright violent behavior," we do have a problem -- a very serious problem. Domestic violence is a crime, it is violence and I think a strong argument can be made that it's a form of terrorism. As Maureen Orth detailed in Vanity Fair nearly nine years ago, there are life and death consequences. The US military has a long history of looking the other way when a woman is assaulted or raped. Supposedly that's changed. We heard it over and over, for example, from then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates when he would appear before the Congress. But if the climate actually had changed, beating a woman would not be classified as something less than "outright violent behavior."
While it is estimated that over 19,000 sexual assaults occurred in the military in 2010, a rate far higher than among civilians, the government has failed systematically to investigate complaints, appropriately punish perpetrators, and treat trauma and other health conditions suffered by survivors. The profound personal and social consequences that arise from the government's systemic failures are powerfully profiled in the new film, The Invisible War. Turning a blind eye to these crimes has allowed them to continue, imperiling the lives of victims and degrading their service.
On Friday, a federal district court judge cited yet another example of the military's unwillingness to acknowledge sexual violence within its ranks. In response to Freedom of Information Act requests filed by the Service Women's Action Network (SWAN) and the ACLU seeking records from the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs regarding their response to sexual assault, sexual harassment, and domestic violence in the military, the Army Crime Records Center claimed it couldn't provide records about "sexual assault" because its records are organized by specific criminal offenses such as "rape," not under the general heading of "sexual assault."
"'Sexual assault' is easily read as encompassing rape and other non-consensual sexual crimes defined in the Army's offense codes," the judge found. "The fact that the agency was unwilling to read the Plaintiffs' request liberally to include such terms seems to be almost willful blindness."
The judge further ruled that several other sections of the Departments failed to adequately respond to our requests and ordered the government to fulfill its obligations under FOIA. We will continue to press the government for the information we need to truly understand, address, and end the epidemic of sexual violence in the military.