Thursday, May 10, 2012

The political crisis and the press crisis

Al Mada reports that the National Alliance held a meeting yesterday that they self-described as important and that they state was part of their efforts to resolve the country's political crisis; however, State of Law was not invited to the meet-up.  The National Alliance is a Shi'ite grouping.  Among the members are the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (Ammar al-Hakim is the leader), Moqtada al-Sadr's bloc, the National Reform Trend (Ibrahim al-Jaafari is the leader), the Bard Organization (Hadi al-Amir is the leader) and the Iraqi National Congress (led by Ahmed Chalabi).  The National Alliance backed Nouri al-Maliki for prime minister in 2010.  Nouri's political slate was State of Law.  It came in second in the March 2010 elections.  Iraqiya, led by Ayad Allawi, came in first.  Eight months of gridlock followed those elections (Political Stalemate I) as a result of Nouri refusing to honor the Constitution and his belief that -- with the backing of Iran and the White House -- he could bulldoze his way into a second term. The Erbil Agreement allowed Political Stalemate I to end.  Nouri's refusal to honor the agreement created the ongoing Political Stalemate II.  Marina Ottaway and Danial Kaysi's [PDF format warning] "The State Of Iraq"  (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace) notes the events since mid-December as well as what kicked off Political Stalemate II:

Within days of the official ceremonies marking the end of the U.S. mission in Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki moved to indict Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi on terrorism charges and sought to remove Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq from his position, triggering a major political crisis that fully revealed Iraq as an unstable, undemocractic country governed by raw competition for power and barely affected by institutional arrangements.  Large-scale violence immediately flared up again, with a series of terrorist attacks against mostly Shi'i targets reminiscent of the worst days of 2006.
But there is more to the crisis than an escalation of violence.  The tenuous political agreement among parties and factions reached at the end of 2010 has collapsed.  The government of national unity has stopped functioning, and provinces that want to become regions with autonomous power comparable to Kurdistan's are putting increasing pressure on the central government.  Unless a new political agreement is reached soon, Iraq may plunge into civil war or split apart.

The Erbil Agreement allowed Nouri to have a second term as prime minister.  That was a concession other political blocs made.  In exchange, Nouri made concessions as well.  These were written up and signed off on.  But once Nouri got his second term, he refused to honor the Erbil Agreement.  Since the summer of 2011, the Kurds have been calling for a return to the Erbil Agreement.  Iraqiya and Moqtada al-Sadr joined that call.  As last month drew to a close, there was a big meet-up in Erbil with various political blocs participating.  Nouri al-Maliki was not invited.  Among those attending were KRG President Massoud Barzani, Ayad Allawi, Moqtada al-Sadr, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi.  Since December 21st, Talabani and al-Nujaifi have been calling for a national convention to resolve the political crisis.

Nouri spent the first two months dismissing the need for one, arguing that it shouldn't include everyone, arguing about what it was called, saying it should just be the three presidencies -- that would Jalal Talabani, Nouri al-Maliki and Osama al-Nujaifi -- and offering many more road blocs.  As March began, Nouri's new excuse was that it had to wait until after the Arab League Summit (March 29th).  The weekend before the summit, Talabani forced the issue by announcing that the convention would be held April 5th.  Nouri quickly began echoing that publicly.  However, April 4th it was announced the conference was off.  Nouri's State of Law took to the press to note how glad they were about that.

Today, Alsumaria reports that Nouri al-Maliki is stating that a national meet-up is necessary to resolve the issues and that this cannot be done via backdoor deals or under the table agreements.  He declared the Constitution dead and said that it needs to be revived.  He also argues that he is all for a meet up but others have something to hide and they are attempting to prevent a meeting.  Nouri also claims that he is looking for a real partnership.

For many participants, the issue of Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi is one the crisis has to address.  Nouri has been targeting Iraqiya members for months.  In October, he had many -- including university professors -- arrested on trumped up charges (the bulk of those arrested should have been released by now -- weeks after they were arrested, it was acknowledged there was not a coup plot and they began releasing them in waves).  In December, he was attacking al-Hashemi ("Terrorist!") and Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq (demanding al-Mutlaq be stripped of his post).

Having helped start the illegal war, Michael Rubin took to the neocon's version of In Style magazine (Commentary) yesterday to insist al-Hashemi was guilty and everyone knows that.  No one knows a damn thing other than the fact that Nouri's regime tortures.  That is established by Amnesty International, by Human Rights Watch and by the United Nations.

Here's what else people know.  As Vice President, Tareq al-Hashemi cannot be tried.  Any trial is supposed to wait until he is no longer vice president.  That can result from the natural expiration of his term or it can result from Parliament removing him from his post.  Neither has happened.  Per the Constitution, Tareq al-Hashemi is not supposed to be on trial.

It is suspected that at least one of his bodyguards, Amir Sarbut Zaidan al-Batawi,  was tortured to death.  I believe that because we noted -- we were among the first to note -- that the photo showed bruises ("welts, bruises and scars").  When Nouri and his flunkies tried to insist "renal failure" caused the death, we called that out too noting   GH Malik, AR Reshi, MS Najar, A Ahmad and T Masood's "Further observations on acute renal failure following physical torture" (The Oxford Journal):

Thirty-four males aged 16–40 (mean 25) years in the period from August 1991 to February 1993 presented in acute renal failure (ARF), 3–14 (mean 5) days after they had been apprehended and allegedly tortured in Police interrogation centres in Kashmir. All were beaten involving muscles of the body, in addition 13 were beaten on soles, 11 were trampled over and 10 had received repeated electric shocks.

Meanwhile US news outlets ignored the bodyguard or ran with what Nouri al-Maliki and his flunkies claimed.  They didn't do any reporting, they didn't question renal failure.  They didn't have the guts or backbone to note that if someone in custody dies of renal failure -- pretend it's not torture, but even so, that goes to the people who were holding Amir Sarbut Zaidan al-Batawi.

The press has been on Nouri's side from the beginning, they've willingly whored for him.  The 2010 elections were March 7th.  By the early morning March 8, 2010, the whoring was impossible to ignore.  Ballots weren't yet counted, no totals had been released, but there was Quil Lawrence on Morning Edition (NPR) declaring Nouri the winner.  How do you do that?  NPR's never explained it and their laughable ombudspersons never want to tackle it.  They never issued a correction despite the fact that Nouri didn't win.

Now some are frightened.  That's sad but it's understandable.  (It's more understandable when the frightened are Iraqi journalists.  The Los Angeles Times cannot get their Iraqi correspondents to sign off on stories and that has been the case for some time.  Ben Lando, of Iraqi Oil Report, has publicly noted how difficult it had become for IOR to get their Iraqi correspondents to use bylines as well.  This is due to fear.)

Americans, however, have no excuse for being afraid.  It's a real shame that there are outlets in Iraq that show more bravery and guts than American outlets when you compare the coverage from both of Iraq.  They really are risking something, the Iraqi press.  The worst that will happen to the American reporters working for American outlets -- true of all Western Europeans as well -- is that they will be asked to leave the country.

But the average American 'reporter' in Iraq trembles and is cowed while Iraqi reporters fight for the free press.  And the Americans, if you're remember the early Iraq War fables, were going to be the ones to teach Iraqis about a free press?

It's really amazing if you have the memory and perspective to walk this through.  Little bits of truth emerged in the New York Times.  Only little bits.  Early on in the war.  And Dexter Filkins would come back to the US and go from campus to campus publicly stating that the New York Times would not let him print what was really going on.  I have no respect for Filkins at all.  But today the censorship is even more severe -- when the war is supposedly over -- and no one even has the tiny integrity of Filkins, no one will say, "We're not allowed to tell what's really going down.  We can only offer glimmers."  (A friend who's covered Iraq is not covering anymore because he's done with it.  He's had it with the fighting to get the truth into the reports.  I don't blame him one bit.  And I wonder how some people spend all day taking a Nouri press release and repeating it -- with no questions asked -- and calling that a 'report.')

In the coverage of Tareq al-Hashemi, you see just how cowed the Western press is.  No one notes that it was wrong for the Baghdad judges to hold a press conference in Feburary stating Tareq al-Hashemi was guilty.  There had been no trial.  But there they were declaring him guilty and one judge was stating that he was threatened by people working for al-Hashemi.  These are fair and impartial judges?

It's really sad.  And you have to wonder about the Iraqi press.  When they see the Westerners who are hugely paid in comparison to what the Iraqis make, who are set for life and can travel the globe, who are backed by outlets known around the world, and these people are too damn scared to tell what's really happening?  You have to wonder how the Iraqi press finds the strength to even try on their own.  So far they have.  So many of them deserve applause. 

They risk arrests, they risk death.  And thus far, they're still willing to get up each day and try to present what's going on. 

When they cover the political crisis, they do term papers compared to the breezy nonsense the Western outlets offer.  Use the link to Alsumaria above and you'll see in the body of their report a reference to this day in April and that day in April.  They nail it down, they document it. 

And then you get the Western outlets offering one lie after another.  Refusing to stand up for a damn thing.  It's really a shame.  Almost as though they and their corporate employers are attempting to send the Iraqi press a message: "Stop trying so hard, it doesn't really matter."

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