Friday, April 06, 2012

Nouri loses an MP, al-Hakim calls out the raid on the Communist Party

Iraqi officials emphasized the fact that the Arab League, the region's premier diplomatic organization, had convened its annual summit in Baghdad late last month. They said it was a sign that Iraq was back in the Arab fold after decades of isolation from its neighbors during more than eight years of American occupation. That made the conference's price tag -- in excess of $500 million -- worth every penny.
But behind the scenes, the summit was utter chaos, with the long-simmering mistrust between the Kurd-led Foreign Ministry and the Shiite-led Interior Ministry exploding into arguments over the slow issuing of badges, a lack of accommodations for hundreds of accredited journalists and hours-long convoy delays at checkpoints.
On social media platforms, Iraqi leaders were ripped as tasteless for serving VIP guests a dessert of dates dipped in 24-karat gold in a war-ravaged country where thousands of women were forced to sell off their gold to pay their husbands' and sons' kidnap ransoms.

The above is from Hannah Allam's "Iraq still divided after U.S. withdrawal" (McClatchy Newspapers) in this morning's Sacremento Bee. Also covering last week's Arab League Summit today are Abeer Mohammed and Khalid Walid (Journal of Turkish Weekly) who observe:

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. Hadeel Al Sayegh (The National Newspapers) observes:

Baghdad spent about $500 million (Dh1.8 billion) sprucing up the capital for this summit, planting palm trees, repaving roads, constructing villas and renovating hotels as it sought to re-establish its ties with the Arab world.
But Iraqi politics seem caught in a time warp, ignoring the pressing issues facing the region today. Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki took pains to refer to Baghdad by its historic name, Dar Al Salam, the house of peace. There was a startling lack of irony from a man who has hounded his rivals out of the capital.
Since the summit closed its doors with hardly a single note of substance, Iraq's sectarian rivalry has continued unabated. Vice President Tareq Al Hashemi, one of the most senior Iraqi Sunni politicians, has in the last few days fled from the Kurdish autonomous region, first to Qatar and on Wednesday to Saudi Arabia. The national meeting that was scheduled for yesterday to discuss Mr Al Hashemi's fate has been postponed indefinitely."

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. The conference was to have taken place Thursday but, approximately 24 hours before it was set to commence, the national conference was called off. KRG President Massoud Barzani visited the US and spoke in DC yesterday. 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." Yes, the White House has pressured Barzani. Not a smart move. Not when you've made promises for years that you've never kept. Two consecutive administrations have promised the Kurds that, among other things, the issue of disputed Kirkuk would be resolved. It never has been. Even when the US-brokered Erbil Agreement included it, it meant nothing (just like Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution, apparently) and that was part of the reason for Barzani's speech in DC yesterday.

KRG President Massoud Barzani: My visit to Washington came at the invitation of the US government in order to talk about the situation in Iraq, in the wider region, and also the situation between Kurdistan region and Iraq in detail. Yesterday, during our meetings with the President, the Vice President and other officials of the US administration, we have talked about all of these issues in detail. I'm sure many of you know that the people of Kurdistan have sacrificed a great deal and have shed a lot of blood for the sake of building a federal, democratic and pluralistic Iraq. But you always are mindful of the fact that, had it not been for the US support and assistance, without the sacrifices of men and women in uniform, the sacrifices that have been made, this objective would not have been achieved and the regime would not have been toppled. So we got a golden opportunity to build a new Iraq, an Iraq that's federa, democratic, l pluralistic, an Iraq that's new and better. And also to be clear that what's the composition of this new Iraq? It's three main pillars that constitute Iraq. It's the Kurds, the Shias and the Sunnis. Having said that, we have to be mindful of the fact that we have other national minorities living with us, that they have to be respected, they have to be equally treated. We've got the Turkomen, the Chaldean Assyrian, the Syriac and also an Albanian minority. But we also have to realize that in terms of nationalities, Iraq is made up of two main nationalities: Arabs and Kurds. I can say that in Kurdistan we have an experience that to a great extent has been a successful one. I cannot claim that this is an ideal experience without any flaws or shortcomings. But I can say for sure that the security stability situation is very good. The economy and social activies are good. Socially we have made a lot of progress. We in the region have adopted a tolerant policy. We have not resorted to revenge and retaliation. We have opened a new page and therefore we have been able to provide a safe and secure environment and to protect our people. And for that, we are grateful to the support and assistance that we have received from own own people but also thanks to the dedication of the security and law enforcement people. And the safe and secure environment has been the reason for inviting and attracting foreign companies and here lately American oil companies have also started to come to the region and start their investment and other activities. I will give you some brief examples to show you the difference that we have made and theprogress that we have made. After the fall of the regime in 2003, the GDP [Gross Domestic Product] per capita for individuals in the Kurdistan region was $275 per annum and now it exceeds $5,000. And also the electricity rate was 57%. It has reduced or dropped to 16%. Regarding other services and mainly electricity, we've been able to improve that sector. I can say that we're almost able to provide electritiy to all the main cities and townships and rural areas. In certain areas, we have got four hours of electricity. What has come to the Iraqi Treasury from 2003 until now, it has exceeded half-of-a-trillion [dollars]. You can check that information to see what kind of electricity has been provided in other parts of Iraq which does not exceed three to four hours. There are one million people under arms [security forces] but still terrorism and the threat of terrorism continues. Iraq is facing a serious crisis today. Yesterday, we have discussed that very frankly with the President, the Vice President and it's going to one-man rule. It's going towards control of all the establishments of state. So we have got a situation or we ended up having a situation in Baghdad where one individual is the Prime Minister and at the same time he's the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, he's the Minister of Defense, he's the Minister of the Interior and the Chief of the Intelligence and lately he has sent a correspondence to the president of the Central Bank in Iraq that that establishment would also come under the Prime Minister. Where in the world would you find such an example? We as the people of Kurdistan, we believe that this government has come to be as a result of the blood that we have shed and as a result of the sacrifices that we have contributed. We are eager to see the situation reformed. Therefore, we will not leave Baghdad for others. So, therefore, we see the situation in Iraq that it requires to be ruled in partnership -- for that power-sharing and partnership to consist of the Kurds and the Arabs -- both the Shia Arabs and the Sunni Arabs. Of course, we have to be mindful of the fact that the Iraqis themselves have to find solutions for the problems. When they try to find solutions for themselves, then their friends in the international community can help. But if they wait for others, for the outsiders to help solve their problems, they will wait forever and they will not see solutions. They have to do it themselves. It's very natural to have relations with the neighboring countries and also with the international community. But also specifically with the neighboring countries in order to exchange views and to exchange ideas about this but not to give them an opportunity to interfere int he internal affairs of Iraq or for them to come to solve the problems or for them to act on behalf of the Iraqi people. The Iraqis have to do it themselves. But my visit has nothing to do with the other visit it was separate.

An e-mail asked if that was the full speech? I believe there was a sentence or two of thanks (including to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy which hosted the event). But I just transcribed the above. I also took notes during question and answering and, as I said in yesterday's snapshot, I'd like to include some of that in today's snapshot. (Article 140 remarks if nothing else.)

Al Mada reports that Iraqiya's MP Hayder Mullah has given Nouri two weeks to respond to questions regarding Nouri's claim that there is a planned coup to overthrow the government. Possibly more disturbing to Nouri (who has a tendency to ignore questions from Parliament), 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 Alsumaria reports that Nouri's State of Law 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. Qatar and Saudi Arabia's heads of state did not attend the Arab League Summit and comments have been made back and forth in the days since. In addition, Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi has visited both countries despite Nouri al-Maliki's attempts to have him arrested. Both countries refused to extradite him to Baghdad. (And INTERPOL? As I said at the start of this week when Nouri was insisting INTERPOL would nab al-Hashemi, the agency's charter prevents it from getting involved political disputes -- this is done to help INTERPOL be seen as impartial and non-political.)

In Iraq, al-Hashemi has sought asylum in the Kurdistan Regional Government where he has been a guest of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and KRG President Massoud Barzani. Alsumaria reports Talabani has declared that he did not give permission for al-Hashemi's current diplomatic tour of the region. A more valid point is that Talabani has never granted (or denied) permission for diplomatic tours of any of Iraq's vice presidents nor does the Constitution require that vice presidents get permission. Al Mada notes that, in Saudi Arabia, al-Hashemi repeated what he has repeatedly stated throughout his current tour, he will be returning to Iraq (to the KRG) at the end of his diplomatic mission.

Meanwhile the leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, 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.

The e-mail address for this site is