Monday, November 12, 2012

Iraq: Ration cards and weapons deals

Last Tuesday, Nouri's spokesperson Ali al-Dabbagh announced the cancellation of the food-ration card system.  There was a huge pushback -- from politicians, from clerics, from the people.  The program has been in place since 1991  meaning that it is all over half of Iraqis know (Iraq has a very young population, the median age has now risen to 21).  It allowed Iraqis to get basic staples such as flour sugar, rice, etc.  As the clerics, including Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, noted, this move would hurt the people who are already struggling economically.    It was also an idiotic political move to make.  In April, provinicial elections will be held.  Nouri's already in campaign mode and this very unpopular move did not help him there.  The smartest thing politically would have been to go into a full retreat on the proposal and announce that you had heard the people, to flatter them and make it appear you listened.

Nouri's politically ignorant -- as most petty tyrants are.

He wants what he wants.  Which means he wants to please foreigners (the World Bank, among others) who want Iraq on a market economy.  Al Mada notes an emergency session of Nouri's Cabinet was held on this topic.

So Alsumaria reports that the food program is not getting the axe.  Instead, the people will be able to decide if they would like to remain on the existing system or receive cash.  Maybe Barack Obama will try this in his effort to destroy Social Security?

When you tell people they can remain on the ration card system or they can get cash, when you tell that to people in a bad economy with many bills, they will be tempted to go for the cash.  The ration card is the better system.  But there are bills owed that have to be paid and there is the hope in people that things have to get better.  So they will tell themselves that they can make it right now with the cash and that, in a few months or a year, fate will provide and things will be better.  In the meantime, they've been moved off the progam and the prices -- as Sistani, politicans and the people have noted -- will sky rocket.  So the money will be of little use to them then.

But they won't be able to go back on the ration card system.  The point is to dismantle the system.  That was what the US government tried to do immediately after the invasion.  It's what Nouri and others have done with the constant reduction of what rations the cards provided.  All Iraq News notes the Parliament has voted to cancel the decision to replace the cards with cash but it's not clear whether the Cabinet's emergency meeting and new decision overrides that move by the Parliament.

Khalid al-Ansary and Nayla Razzouk (Bloomberg News) covers it in a brief English language story.

All Iraq News notes the trade unions, including the General Federation of Trade Unions, want to know which Cabinet members voted to do away with the ration card system and they also want to know who was involved in the $4.2 billion weapons deal with Russia -- a deal that may or may not be off.  Meanwhile Al Mada reports the weapons deal and the ration card system move has political blocs are calling for a reshuffling of the Cabinet.

On the weapons deal, Hiwa Osman (Rudaw) notes, "Maliki is now stuck between two decisions. If he goes ahead with the deal, it will be clear that some of those close to him and to the minister of defense have made a fortune in commission, as his advisor and various political parties have said." Trend News Agency reports the deal is going ahead according to "Iraq's acting Defense Minister Sadun Al-Dulaymi."  Whether that's the last word or not, who knows.  Saturday, officials were making various statements on the status of the deal.  Hiwa Osman's article has a very strong visual that deserves noting:

Those who saw the picture released by the prime minister’s office of Nuri al-Maliki inspecting fighter jets by knocking on the metal body of the plane should not be surprised that he has decided to halt the deal out of suspicion of corruption.
The picture should have sounded alarm bells for the Russians, Czechs and people of Iraq. He seemed like a man shopping for a car in a sales lot, not a head of state buying strategic weapons. From the start, the deal did not seem to have been examined well or to have gone through the proper procurement procedures.

When Nouri's in the hot seat, members of his State of Law always manage to lash out at others.  Alsumaria reports that State of Law MP Sami al-Askari is calling Iraqiya leader Ayad Allawi a failure and he tells Alsumaria that the Kurds are playing up the Sunni - Shi'ite divide.

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