Tuesday, August 14, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, reconstruction on a church in Baghdad nears completion, sad realities about the 'reform commission,' Jalal still hasn't recovered from his self-inflicted political wounds, and more.
Douglas A. Ollivant is with the New America Foundation and he's written an important paper on Iraq entitled "Renewed Violence in Iraq: Contingency Planning Memorandum No. 15" and there is so much in it worth pondering, many sections worth applauding, some I disagree with but can understand the argument he's making but I also believe in the facts. The section that I think needs the most attention is this:
Be a proponent of the electoral process. The United States will continue to work primarily with Maliki not because he is "the U.S. guy," but because he is the duly elected prime minister of a parliamentary democracy. If Maliki loses a no-confidence vote and another government forms, the United States should be equally supportive of the new prime minster. Above all, the United States should make clear that it would find any suspension of, or irregularity within, the next parliamentary elections in 2014 severely problematic. Achieving another round of elections in 2014 (and provincial elections in 2013) will likely better establish the political strength of all the factions and increasingly mature the political system.
I agree 100% with that. However, that's not what's taken place. The US has worked overtime to ensure that a no-confidence vote not take place. I know for a fact that they attempted to pressure KRG President Massoud Barzani to back away from the proposal and he refused to do so. (Good for him.) Others were more pliable. In addition, there was the idiotic poll by the National Democratic Institute. The poll was a joke to the US Senate. But the New York Times ran with it, didn't they? And wasn't it great that this poll found Nouri to be immensely popular throughout the entire country?
When politicians are evaluating whether or not to go against Nouri and vote him out of office, just by luck, sheer coincidence, the US has a poll testifying to Nouri's immense popularity.
The poll was a joke, the results not to be taken seriously. It was propaganda pure and simple and the New York Times has never had a problem with knowingly violating the Smith-Mundt Act.
As intended, the fake poll shook up a few. And of course there are the stories in the Iraqi press about Nouri blackmailing political rivals to get them to stop the no-confidence vote (see August 8th's "Iraq's sex tape rumors"). Whether they're true or false, they exist and they linked Nouri to the US with reports that the CIA was supplying Nouri with video to blackmail his rivals with. True or false, this suggests a level of US backing which can further secure Nouri's standing.
The US should stop rescuing Nouri. That's probably not going to happen. Samantha Power has insisted Nouri is the key to stability in Iraq and others in the administration believe that idiot. Nouri should have gone. Samantha Power is a bad journalist and that's all she is. Any study of history would tell you the best thing for Iraq and the US would be for the US-installed (2006) Nouri to be gone in 2010. Hopefully and ideally, it would have provided Iraq with a fresh start. Were that not actually the case, it still would have given the illusion of a fresh start.
Instead Iraqis were left to publicly wonder -- and did -- why they went to the trouble of voting when nothing changed. The only difference in the government was Osama al-Nujaifi became Speaker of Parliament. A real change could have allowed democracy to take hold. The illusion of change could have given the people hope.
Instead the White House ignored the fact that Iraqiya came in first, ignored the Constitution which gave the illusion that the Iraqi people had some say in who governed them and backed Nouri in his tantrum for a second term. The White House then brokered the Erbil Agreement which gave Nouri his second term.
It was insanity. No one who knows history would ever advise you to continue with a leader who was installed during an occupation.
The US interfering to save Nouri most recently has rendered Iraqi President Jalal Talabani largely impotent. From yesterday's snapshot:
Alsumaria reports that Kurdistan Alliance MP Barham Saleh is in Baghdad today to look at the National Alliance's proposed reforms. This is what used to be known as the Reform Commission. It's nothing but the National Alliance and there's no great effort to spin it any longer as more and more politician -- in the National Alliance and out of it -- have made clear it's not what Nouri made it out to be. Raman Brosk (AKnews) adds that Barham Salih was also set to meet with Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi.
What an important meeting. And how surprising that someone so close to Jalal and someone who is a member of Jalal's political party (PUK) would be the one chosen to undertake such an important meeting. All Iraq News reports today that Kurdish MP Mahmoud Othman has declared that Saleh isn't on an official visit, it's a personal one. For a brief moment, it appeared Jalal would have an easy road back. He betrayed Moqtada al-Sadr, Massoud Barzani, Ayad Allawi and others (supposedly including Ammar al-Hakim according to the journal Moqtada published online) when he refused to follow the process to call for a no-confidence vote. Jalal refused to make that call and instead allowed people who admitted they signed the call to pull their names from the petition. In addition, he disallowed signatures. And then came the fallout and fat boy Jalal hot footed it out of the country -- even though the Kurdish political parties (including his own) were saying that no leaders should leave Iraq at that time do to the political crisis.
Jalal had to leave, for West Germany, it was insisted because he had to have immediate surgery. And what was this life threatening procedure Jalal had done? Elective knee surgery. And that only turned him into a bigger joke. That's when he began issuing threats of stepping down as president. Poor Jalal, he barely had the time to issue those daily bulletins from his sick bed.
All Iraq News notes State of Law MP Salman al-Moussawi released a statement declaring that the relationship between Baghdad and the Presidency of the Kurdistan Region would calm and tensions would decrease in the coming days. You have to wonder about Jalal still waiting to make his grand entrance. Nouri's publicly attacking the KRG which does not play well with residents of those three provinces. Jalal is from the KRG. He may be president of Iraq but he's a Kurd and he's becoming a Kurd without a home, forget homeland. Not since he pissed off Kurds with his March 2009 pronouncement of "The ideal of a united Kurdistan is just a dream written in poetry" has Jalal been in such a weak position. And the White House put him in that position by, Barack Obama put him in that position, by pressuring him to back off from the no-confidence vote. (In fairness to Barack, as Jalal has demonstrated repeatedly over the years, it does not take a great deal to make Jalal buckle.)
While Jalal's weakened, eyes turn to Iraqiya and specifically to Saleh al-Mutlaq who is either a very cunning Iago to Nouri's Othello or he's someone who has sold out Iraiqya. The jury is still out on that but were Ayad Allawi to give up leadership of Iraqiya right now, the political slate would break into warring factions because Saleh can't hold it together. (Were Allawi harmed in an assassination attempt or killed, the members of Iraqiya would rally and actually grow stronger. Nouri should remember that when plotting revenge on his enemies.) The other prominent members of Iraqiya are Osama al-Nujaifi whom Nouri wishes he could get rid of but he can't and Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi.
Tareq al-Hashemi is now an exile. The Turkish government has given him residency. Last December, while he was in the KRG, Nouri al-Maliki swore out a warrant on him accusing al-Hashemi of terrorism. He never returned to Iraq. He is being tried in absentia. Alsumaria notes the trial was set to resume today. All Iraq News explains that they heard from al-Hashemi's bodyguards today. Excuse me, some of his bodyguards. Some, not all. Can't hear from all because at least one died in Iraqi custody with the signs of torture. Torture confessions in Nouri's Iraq are a common occurrence. What Nouri especially loves to do though is have activists tortured and then, after the torture, make them sign a statement swearing they were treated properly while detained. Kitabat notes that there were five bodyguards 'testifying' today -- five bodyguards who face charges that can carry the death penalty. As has been the pattern with this trial, it is now adjourned for several weeks. (It is set to resume September 9th.)
The trial is in stall mode more than Nouri.
December 21st, as the political stalemate was noticably becoming a political crisis, Jalal Talabani and Osama al-Nujaifi began calling for a National Conference to resolve the issues. Nouri of course rejected the call. He rebuffed it, he postponed it, when it was finally supposed to take place it was called off that day. And then, two months later, doing everything he could to derail a no-confidence vote, Nouri began proposing a Reconciliation Committee. Many grumbled about it once it started but Ayad Allawi was the first to publicly note it was nonsense. And it is.
A handful of Nouri supporters from the National Alliance were handpicked. It's not even a commission or a committee so much as it's a body that will produce a paper, a list of recommendations. How far astray this has gone from a body that would be able to address issues. Ali Hussein (Al Mada) observes that Iraqis weren't calling for a paper, that they didn't wake up each morning and, for example, cram themselves into cars and take part in the traffic jams on the main streets of Baghdad because they wanted a list of reform steps the government might take. Hussein notes the 100 days. Largely forgotten, the 100 days were Nouri's scramble for time when he feared the 'Arab Spring' was coming to Iraq. (Sunday he denounced the Arab Spring in Egypt and elsewhere as a foreign plot.) Iraqis were taking to the streets in larger and large numbers. They demanded jobs. They demanded basic utilities (dependable electricity, potable water, etc). They demanded an end to corruption. They demanded the release of the hidden and disappeared. What did Nouri say?
'I hear you! Give me 100 days and you'll see that I've addressed it.' June 7, 2011, Nouri's 100 days ended. Remember? From that day's snapshot:
The 100 Days is over. Al Rafidayn reports Nouri's press conference yesterday in Baghdad found Nouri expressing his hope that "the citizens will treat us kindly in the measuring our accomplishments and that they will be objective." He announced that meetings would take place today on evaluations. New Sabah quotes State Of Law's Khaled al-Asadi stating that Nouri will make assessments through tonight and that the 100 Days was in order to evaluate the performances and that "no sane person would assume a government only four years old could accomplish improvement in one hundred days." Oh,how they try to lower the expectations now. The 100 Days? Al Jazeera gets it right, "Maliki gave his cabinet a 100-day deadline to improve basic services after a string of anti-government protests across Iraq in February. He promised to assess their progress at the end of that period, and warned that 'changes will be made' at failing ministries. That deadline expired on Tuesday -- and Maliki largely retreated from his threat, instead asking for patience and more time to solve problems."
And that's what the 'Reform Commission' now feels like, an empty promise just like the 100 days. Aswat al-Iraq noted Sunday that there was a call to publish the list of reforms so that Iraqis could see it and they also noted, "A number of meetings were held in Arbil, Najaf and Sulaimaniya over the last few weeks among the blocs that demanded Maliki's demotion to determine their final stand on the political crisis."
Martin Kobler is the UN Secretary-General's special envoy to Iraq. AFP reports he spoke with them yesterday and told them that "a top priority" for the UN is "the oil and gas law." Though it wouldn't seem possible in oil rich Iraq, energy and fuel are issues in the country. All Iraq News reports that, although it's expected to be cloudy the next four days, the temperature is expected to hover around 44 degrees Celsius (111.2 degrees Fahrenheit).
This as Alsumaria reports Iraqis are complaining about the fact that most of their money is being spent on generators and fuel to provide electricity to their homes. And despite the government having agreed to funding assistance, less than 45% of the allocated assistance has been distributed. Part of the reason or the failure to distribute funds is that a number of officials argue the money is being wasted and that the government should not be providing assistance. Some don't believe in assistance (unless it's getting the US government to foot the bill for your overthrow of Saddam Hussein) while others who see it as a waste insist that the money should instead be going to the construction of a power plant instead. An economist tells Alsumaria that Iraqis are spending billions each year on electricity and that part of the reason for that huge expense is that the government refuses to regulate and control the prices of generators and gas. The generators are necessary because the government is unable to supply electricity for 70% of each day.
Moving on to other topics. Alsumaria reports that reconstruction on Our Lady of Salvation Church in Bagdhad is almost complete and that the cost was two billion dinars ($171,674.99 in US dollars). Sunday, October 31, 2010, the Church was assaulted. From the November 1, 2010 snapshot:
Yesterday in Baghdad, Iraqi forces swarmed Our Lady of Salvation Church where people were being held hostage by assailants. Ernesto Londono and Aziz Alwan (Washington Post) report, "The bulk of the bloodletting happened shortly after 9 p.m. when Iraqi Special Operations troops stormed Our Lady of Salvation church in the upscale Karradah neighborhood to try and free worshipers who had been taken hostage. Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy's Miami Herald) reports, "Insurgents seized control of a church in central Baghdad on Sunday, taking hostages during evening mass after attacking a checkpoint at the Baghdad Stock Exchange." Graham Fitzgerald (Sky News) observes, "Apparently no attempt was made to negotiate with them and bring the siege to a peaceful conclusion." John Leland (New York Times) quotes police officer Hussain Nahidh stating, "It's a horrible scene. More than 50 people were killed. The suicide vests were filled with ball bearings to kill as many people as possible. You can see human flesh everywhere. Flesh was stuck to the top roof of the hall. Many people went to hospitals without legs and hands." Lara Jakes (AP) reports there were 120 hostages in the church. Ned Parker and Jaber Zeki (Los Angeles Times via Sacremento Bee) add, "The Iraqi police immediately sealed off the surrounding area in the busy Karada commercial district. The American military was called in to help. As U.S. Army helicopters buzzed overheads, American officers accompanied Iraqi commanders and shared satellite imagery, according to Iraqi police and the U.S. military. A caller to the Baghdad satellite channel Baghdadiya, who insisted he was one of the attackers, said the group was demanding the release of al-Qaida prisoners in Egypt and threatened to execute the hostages if the authorities failed to meet their demands."
ran inside and took shelter in a locked room as we waited for the security forces to arrive." TheTelegraph of London quotes a young male hostage (unnamed) stating of the hostage takers, "They entered the church with their weapons, wearing military uniforms. They came into the prayer hall, and immediately killed the priest." Martin Chulov (Guardian) adds, "The priest they call Father Rafael is believed to have survived, but his colleague, Father Wissam, is believed to have been killed." Jim Muir (BBC News) offers a video
report and an Iraqi female hostage states, "Gunmen entered the church and started to beat people. Some of the people were released but others were wounded and some died and one of the priests was killed." Muir points out that churches in Iraq have been attacked before "but there's never been anything like this."
Jonathan Adams (Christian Science Monitor) observes, "The incident, which began Sunday afternoon, highlights the continued threat to Christians in Iraq, whose number has shrunk from 800,000 to 550,000 since 2003 as members have fled abroad or been killed. Radical groups continue to launch attacks on religious and non-religious sites as political leaders struggle to form a new government some eight months after controversial elections." Alsumaria TV quotes France's Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner stating, "France firmly condemns this terrorist action, the latest in a deadly campaign of targeted violence which has already led to more than 40 deaths among the Christians of Iraq. France repeats its attachment to the respect of fundamental liberties such as religious freedom and supports the Iraqi authorities in their struggle against terrorism." Vatican Radio quotes Pope Benedict XVI stating, "Last night, in a very serious attack on the Syrian Catholic Cathedral in Baghdad, dozens of people were killed and wounded, including two priests and a group of faithful gathered for Sunday Mass. I pray for the victims of this senseless violence, all the more ferocious as it affected defenceless civilians." Vatican Radio also reports:
"No-where is safe anymore, not even the House of God", says auxiliary Bishop of Baghdad of the Chaldeans, Shlemon Warduni, the day after an unprecedented attack on the Christian community of the Iraqi capital. Together with Patriarch Delly he visited survivors and wounded of the Sunday massacre, in which over 50 hostages and police officers were killed when security forces raided a Baghdad church to free more than 100 Iraqi Catholics held hostage by al Qaeda-linked gunmen. Between 70 and 80 people were seriously wounded, many of them women and children.
Nearly two years later and the repairs are almost completed. Also in Baghdad construction news, al-Shorfa reports that Baghdad plans to build 15 bridges. Turning to violence . . .
I have been at rallies and protests in Latin America and am always so envious of the spirit and laughter at them. Oftentimes our marches here in the US are funereal as we slog along frowning and singing a very dispirited version of "We shall overcome, we shall overcome, we shall overcome," (we shall sing this song, we shall sing this song, we shall sing this song till we die-i-i."). In Latin America there is dancing, tambourines, SPIRITED singing and a very liberal amount of "Vivas!" No one in Latin America thinks you are not serious if you are out confronting the establishment: they call you, "Compañera," not "Clown."
I have been known, myself, to treat very serious topics with humor and some say, "warmth." However, here in the US I have to give most of my audiences permission to laugh, then a lot of audience members come up to me after my speech and say, "I didn't know you were so funny!" That's me, that's the way I have always been. Should I allow my tragedy and the obscenity of the US Empire to change me any more than it already has?
Shall we discard being human from our work and become Automatons for Change? Serious, we must be serious; don't smile, don't have fun or the suits in DC won't take you seriously. Oh by the way, speaking of "suits"---don't forget to wear your lavender polyester pant-suit decorated with a tasteful string of baubles around your neck--how will 1950's America know you are serious if you don't do that, for crying in the sandbox?
My being human and acting human allows me to connect in a very real way with other humans on this planet. "Peace" is not an intellectual exercise for me and "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose," and freedom to not have to struggle so hard just to survive. Thriving is better than surviving and laughing is usually better than crying.
I just thought of something else funny! Maybe if Roseanne and I acted all serious and junk and played the repressive Reindeer Games of the 1%, we might actually have a chance and get on corporate media more like the other very serious 3rd party candidates. Oh, but wait, they ignore them, too, don't they?
Maybe, just maybe, 3rd party politics can't take better root in America because we (not me, we; they, we) think we have to imitate the very cyst-ems (misspelling on purpose) we are trying to overthrow? Our campaign in SF against Pelosi was probably one of the most successful 3rd party/independent runs in a long time and it was against one of the most powerful people in government. Guess what, we worked hard, but we had lots of the F-Word, "FUN!"
Last Sunday's terrorist attack at the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin is a "clear wake-up call that the nation is not adequately addressing the terrorism threat from white supremacist groups," warned Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein following an address to a major veterans group, Veterans for Peace, at their national convention in Miami this weekend.
Stein said that, "It is long past time that the FBI show it understands that white supremacists, not pacifists or environmentalists, are the real threat to American security."
"While the individuals who commit these terrible crimes often exhibit signs of mental instability, their acts do not arise solely from personal psychological disorders. Their savagery has often been cultivated, encouraged, and enabled by rightwing groups that foster hate, condone racism and xenophobia, glorify violence, and train their members in the use of assault weapons and military tactics. An individual may decide to act alone, but this does not absolve the hate groups from responsibility for their role in laying the groundwork for the tragedy."
Stein charged that the FBI and Homeland Security have given inadequate attention to the threat of white supremacist groups, choosing instead to focus resources in attempts to entrap anti-war and environmental activists who have never used violence against any person. "The FBI has a long history of politically motivated targeting that goes after minority groups and leftwing protesters. They expend great resources in entrapping citizens who are basically nonviolent. This is not just a waste of resources, it is an infringement upon our civil liberties.
"As president, I will order a thorough review of FBI targeting practices and ensure that the Agency is properly dealing with the threat of white supremacist groups. I will also issue an executive order forbidding the FBI or Homeland Security from infringing upon the legitimate rights of the American people to exercise their free speech or to peacefully assemble to present their grievances to their government. Nonviolent groups, whether of right or left part of the spectrum, deserve to have their right to free speech protected. Political targeting must end."