Thursday, November 29, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, Nouri's management skills take
another hit, more death sentence are handed out by the government, Nouri's disprespect for the Constitution is noted, Nouri claims his own commanders are shutting him out of the process, a fight breaks out in the halls of Parliament, Martin Kobler testifies to the UN Security Council, and more.
Today Martin Kobler addressed the United Nations Security Council in New York. Kobler is the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy in Iraq and heads United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI). As usual when we note the report on Iraq to the Security Council, we do it in two snapshots. It was a presentation that lasted over 20 minutes. It is important enough -- how the UN officially views Iraq for public consumption -- to be included in full. So we spread it out over two snapshots.
Martin Kobler: Mr. President, as 2012 draws to a close, it is pertinent to take stock of progress Iraq has made during the last twelve months. During that time, Iraq has made committed efforts to enforce law and order following the withdrawal of United States forces. Reclaiming its rightful place at the diplomatic table, it successfully hosted the 23rd Arab Summit in Baghdad in April, and, in May, it hosted talks between Iran and the permanent members of the [Security] Council plus Germany. In terms of strengthening state institutions, the Human Rights Commission was established in April and a new board of Commissioners of the Independent High Electoral Commission was elected in September. The latter resulted in an agreement on the date for government council elections in April next year. This progress, however, is in danger by two factors. First, the stalemate between Iraq's political leaders and, second, developments in the region. Mr. President, I regret to report to the Council that estranged relations between Iraq's political leaders have endured throughout the year. One manifestation of this is the Arab-Kurdish rift. The lack of trust stems from a number of pending issues of contention, including power-sharing, security and tense relations between the central government and the region of Kurdistan. The resulting political deadlock is preventing the progress and reform necessary to consolidate Iraq's transition. Attempts to defuse the stalemate have most recently focused on a package of political reforms which appears stalled. The government of Iraq's decision to establish the Tigris Command Operations Command responsible for overall security in Kirkuk, Salahuddin and the Diyala Govern-ates has been highly criticized by members of the Kurdistan Regional Government. A military stand-off ensued, incorporating the armed forces of the respective governments. The militarization of the situation has resulted in the regrettable death of one civilian. I should like to take this opportunity to call on the parties to exercise all due restraint at this time of increased tensions. I count on the leadership of the politicians of Iraq to resolve their differences through political dialog in accordance with the Constitution. In that regard, I welcome the recent efforts of Parliament Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi and I also welcome the convening of a meeting between the Iraqi army and the Peshmerga at the technical level earlier this week in Baghdad. It is a step in the right direction. And I do encourage both sides to keep the door open -- of dialog open -- and implement the understandings reached. UNAMI stands ready to implement any possible agreement reached that would de-escalate the situation and promote confidence among the various communities. Over the past few days, Mr. President, dozens of Iraqi security personnel and civilians -- including worshipers -- have been killed and many other dozens injured in Baghdad, Kirkuk, Karbala and Falluja. Extremists use the political differences of the leaders to ignite either sectarian or ethnic violence and tensions in Iraq. Immediate resolutions and compromise by all political leaders should be the response to these attempts. The tense political standoff is thus testing Iraq's internal fault-lines. August and September were the deadliest months in the last two years. A particular atrocious series of attacks on October 27th targeted pilgrims during holy Eid al-Adha observance. Left unaddressed, the political impasse will leave Iraq vulnerable to the sectarists of Iraq's ability, mainly from the spillover of violence in the wider region. Mr. President, Iraq finds itself in an increasingly unstable region environment generated by the Syrian Civil War. The Syrian conflict has exposed a complex web on interconnected and conflicting interests that threatens to engulf the region in violent conflict. With no immediate solution to the crisis in sight, there are real risks of spillover, violence and destabilization. At the domestic level, the conflict across Iraq's borders has had a significant humanitarian impact on Iraq. The crisis also impacts on Iraq's relations with her neighbors. Iraq's relationship with Turkey has also grown increasingly tense in recent months with an escalation in the rhetoric exchanged on both sides. The divergent positions between Iraq and other states in the region on how to address the Syrian crisis have also further strained their relations. Within this challenging context, however, it is possible to identify opportunities for UNAMI to continue to assist Iraq's transition process. Indeed, not withstanding the lack of progress between Iraq's political leaders, in resolving their differences, Iraq's expectations on UNAMI continues to grow. UNAMI's assistance, pursuant to its Council mandate, is focusing on two priority tracks: First, advancing national reconciliation and dialog and, second, tackling regional issues. Since my last briefing to the Council, UNAMI has continued to encourage political leaders to engage in inclusive dialog to resolve their differences in the spirit and framework of the Constitution. I've continued to conduct frequent visits to Erbil and Sulamaniyah to promote such a dialog. I've also conducted intensive discussions both in Baghdad and in Kirkuk focusing on the holding of the long overdue governate council elections in Kirkuk. UNAMI's support to the Council of Representatives on the basis of sustained facilitation and technical advice contributed to the selection of the IHEC's new board of commissioners in September -- a proficient and a genuinely and truly independent IHEC board is essential at this juncture as Iraq prepares for nationwide governor council elections on 20th of April next year and legislative elections in 2014.
Factually, we should note that the Arab League Summit was March 29th and not in April. and that it was a failure as judged by who attended. From that day's snapshot:
Who were the notable no-shows? Hamza Hendawi and Lara Jakes (AP) report that the no-shows included rulers from "Saudi Arabia, Qatar and most other Gulf countries, as well as Morocco and Jordan -- all of them headed by Sunni monarchs who deeply distrust the close ties between Baghdad's Shiite-dominated government and their top regional rival, Iran." The Belfast Telegraph notes, "The only ruler from the Gulf to attend was the Emir of Kuwait, Sheik Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah."
With regards to IHEC . . .
I like Chris Hedges. He is someone who tries to tell his truth and I'm always willing to consider what he says. So let's drop back to election night in the US. There's Hedges on a really bad program that he really shouldn't have been on but was. Ava and I debated whether or not to cover this in real time but decided not to. Hedges offered his belief that the world itself was in danger and that the world was being destroyed, to the point that it would be uninhabitable. He said that in the face of that, other issues were less important. Other issues identified by him? He immediately went to women's rights. Isn't that the knee jerk for lefty males every time?
And Ava and I were watching and giving him consideration because it is true that planet going down in flames might trump other things. However, Chris Hedges then remained silent as a dumb ass with a stupid organization then piped in that he agreed and, by the way, what was really important and what needed to be focused on was all the enthusiasm it was building among people of color.
We waited for Hedges to object.
There was no objection and we felt Punk'd.
You want us to set aside women's rights -- the basic rights of over half the planet and a group that represents every race and ethnicity known to humankind -- and yet you're okay with some crap about the 'importance' of happy thoughts for a certain segment of people? That trumps whether or not human life can be supported by the planet? An abstract feeling trumps the basic legal rights of over half the population?
Does Heges believe that happy thoughts trump the survival of the planet? I doubt it. But he wasn't willing to object. These conversations happen over and over. In the US, it's usually a bunch of male Democrats saying the party could get more votes if they dropped their support for abortion. (That would of course drive women voters away but the 'brains' making that proposal don't consider women 'real voters' anyway.) On the left (I'll let the right talk about itself), in the abstract, the disabled and challenged are treated with respect, men of color are treated with respect, men of certain ethnicites are treated with respect, all these groupings get respect and no one's asking that their rights be ignored or chipped away at. But time and again, women -- who don't even make up half the Senate in our 'advanced' United States -- are asked to sacrifice. It's past time for the left to get honest about what it really thinks about women and how little women are valued. These continual attacks on women, these continual slights would not repeatedly happen were women not so devalued. And hats off to Ruth for her great catch last night where she noted George Mitrovich reduced a strong Senator to arm candy because of his own sexism and that he did so while trying to pretend he's appalled by sexism. to decry sexism. Let's also note that his crap appeared at The Huffington Post. Time and again, certain women sell all women out so that they can advance on their own. (The term is "queen bee.")
And time and again, women have to sacrifice and we're so damn sick of it. Women's rights, their basic rights, Hedges was willing to toss aside for survival of the planet but not a feel-good mood about an election. That was important and valid. But the right to self-determination, to control one's own body, to own property, etc, these were unimportant.
What does this have to do with the above?
Kobler's bragging and boasting about IHEC -- Independent High Electoral Commission -- was embarrassing.
There is only one woman on the Commission. The law requires women to be a third of the Commission. The woman was added days after the others and probably wouldn't have been if even the Iraqi judges weren't publicly calling out the lack of women on the Commission.
Time and again, women are made to wait. We're made to wait by Chris Hedges because it's all about survival, we're made to wait some other reason at some other time. If Iraq, as it stands currently, cannot follow the law and cannot appoint three women to IHEC (appoint, not elect, what a joke that was from Kobler), then exactly when the hell will the law be followed?
Nouri al-Maliki has one female minister in his Cabinet. All the rest -- even the so-called 'acting' ministers -- are men. Women continues to be eliminated from positions of power, women continue to not be seated at the table. Iraq's female politicians -- especially female members of Iraqiya -- loudly and publicly decried the IHEC board for not having the three women required by law. But Kobler can't even note that. Kobler happy stamps it and we're all supposed to accept that?
At what point is Nouri's government held accountable for its failure to follow the law? At what point does the United Nations finally find the guts to call out the disenfranchisement of women? Oh, yes, women were mentioned -- much later in the speech -- and we'll get to that tomorrow. As their own little island. As though they're not also Iraqis, as though Iraq is not also their country, as though they don't have a right to participate and as though 'success' in Iraq can be judged without considering what's happened to Iraq women.
How very sad.
Today Iraq was slammed with multiple bombings and shootings leading Antiwar.com to dub it a "bloodbath." Margaret Gtiffis (Antiwar.com) counts 54 dead and 237 injured in the day's cycle of violence. RT notes, "Two roadside bombs in the city of Hilla blew up a group of Shiite pilgrims, leaving at least 26 people dead and several dozen wounded. The bombs struck a commercial area of the city during a busy period. Another attack happened in the shrine city of Karbala, 90 kilometers to the south of Baghdad. A car bomb killed 6 civilians and wounded 20, some of them police officers." And RT has three Reuters photos of the aftermath of those two bombings. Today's violence continues the week's trend of attacks. Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) observes, "Attacks on Tuesday and Wednesday left at least 38 people dead and more than 130 wounded."
In Hilla, AFP notes, "Iraqi security forces cordoned off the area of the blasts and set up checkpoints in the city to search cars, an AFP correspondent said, adding that shops near the site were shuttered after the attack." Ali al-Rubaie (Reuters) quotes teacher Ihsan al-Khalidi explaining, "We started to stop civilian cars asking them to take the wounded to hospital since there were not enough ambulances to transfer them." Sinan Salaheddin (AP) provides these details on the Hilla aftermath, "Twisted and charred remains of vehicles were seen outside damaged shops as shop owners collected their strewn merchandise from the bloodstained pavement, littered with debris." On the Karbala attack, Al Jazeera explains, "In the shrine city of Karbala, a car bomb killed four and left another 16 people wounded. The bomber parked the vehicle near the entrance of the Imam Abbas shrine. Al Jazeera's Jane Arraf, reporting from Baghad, said the holy site made for a 'very daring' attack in Karbala." Xinhua adds, "Iraqi security forces blocked the roads to central Karbala which leads to the shrine of Imam Hussein, one of the 12 most Shiite revered Imams." Al Bawaba notes that Shi'ites were the targets in the attacks on those two cities while other bombs today were targeting security forces.
In addition, theVoice of Russia notes that Turkish warplanes bombed northern Iraq: "A fleet of F-16 bombers with Turkey's Second Tactical Air Force based in southeastern Diyarbakir province raided Iraq's Avashin, Zap, Haftanin and Metina regions, Dogan news agency reports." The war planes were targeting the PKK. Aaron Hess (International Socialist Review) described the PKK in 2008, "The PKK emerged in 1984 as a major force in response to Turkey's oppression of its Kurdish population. Since the late 1970s, Turkey has waged a relentless war of attrition that has killed tens of thousands of Kurds and driven millions from their homes. The Kurds are the world's largest stateless population -- whose main population concentration straddles Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria -- and have been the victims of imperialist wars and manipulation since the colonial period. While Turkey has granted limited rights to the Kurds in recent years in order to accommodate the European Union, which it seeks to join, even these are now at risk." Trend News Agency adds, "The conflict between Turkey and the PKK has lasted for over 25 years."
Violence didn't just happen out in the streets of Iraq and during home invasions today.
All Iraq News reports an "altercation" took place in Parliament today between several deputies and led Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi to immediately adjourn the session and postpone the next session until Saturday. Thrown fists have not been uncommon in the Iraqi Parliament in the last seven years but it has been some time since there were any reports of physical violence among MPs. Whatever happened, All Iraq News notes it took place in the hallway. Alsumaria also terms it an "altercation" and notes that prior to that, the Parliament had read six bills and was discussing the allegations of torture in Iraqi prisons and detention centers. Though no one has yet to take responsibility for the altercation, you can be sure State of Law will insist it was caused by 'Ba'athists' who've been hiding out in Syria (since that is the group they tend to blame for everything).
The Ministry of the Interior (headed by Nouri since he never nominated anyone to be Minister of Interior -- in violation of the Constitution) issued a statement today. Dar Addustour reports that statement strongly denies that any women are being held illegally or tortured in detention centers. That is the wording of the statement. I point that out because the accusation is women are being tortured in detention centers and prisons and the statement issued only covers detention centers. Kitabat notes that before the altercation, the Parliament was discussing the denial by the Ministry of the Interior. Lending credence to the belief that the altercation was about women prisoners being tortured, Alsumaria reports that the National Alliance is up in arms and saying that what happened today is Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi's fault as a result of his 'bias' by allowing this issue to be addressed.
Nouri had hoped for a different image to be projected today. All Iraq News notes that the prime minister visited the International Book Fair in Baghdad today and posed for photos. Not only did the bombings and shootings and whatever happened in the hallways of Parliament overwhelm that photo op, the Russian arms deal just will not go away.
October 9th, with much fanfare, Nouri signed a $4.2 billion dollar weapons deal with Russia. After taking his bows on the world stage and with Parliament and others raising objections, Nouri quickly announced the deal was off. It's not going away.
The deal has been rife with rumors of corruption from the moment that it was announced. Nouri's spokesperson Ali al-Dabbagh has twice had to publicly issue statements insisting he was not involved in the deal. In addition, there are allegations that Nouri's son received a kickback from the deal.
Mohammad Sabah (Al Mada) notes that al-Dabbagh has left Baghdad and arrived in the UAE and that someone is whispering Russian President Vladimir Putin personally provided Nouri with proof that al-Dabbagh was involved in backroom deals to benefit from the contract. If the point of that rumor is to create sympathy for Nouri, it doesn't. It just makes him look incompetent if it's true. True or not, it's very hard to believe that Putin (or any leader) would provide evidence of corruption knowing it would tank a multi-billion dollar deal.
Al Rafidayn notes that Parliament's Integrity Commission is said to have the names of 14 officials who were to profit from the corrupt deal. Kitabat explains one of the names is Ali al-Dabbagh and the Parliament was attempting to call on him to appear before them. That's now in doubt since he's fled to the UAE. Kitabat notes the other names are said to be those who accompanied Nouri to Russia.
Adding to the view of Nouri as an incompetent on the world stage are the issues emerging over another big contract. Dar Addustour reports that Rotana Arabia, a cell phone company, signed a contract with Iraq woth as much as $30 million. The contract was brokered by Saadoun al-Dulaimi who is the Minister of Culture. Nouri's calling for the contract to be cancelled, citing corruption. He wants the Ministry to cancel the contract. Not the Minister. He can't ask Minister of Culture Saadoun al-Dulaimi to do anything because no one can find him and he's reportedly fled the country.
Tensions continue between the KRG and the Baghdad-based central government over Nouri sending in the Tigris Operation Command forces into disputed regions, as Martin Kobler noted today when addressing the UN Security Council. In an interesting development, Mohammad Sabah (Al Mada) reports Nouri is said to be angry because his generals are not providing him with details and summeries of the ongoing negotiations with the Kurdish Peshmerga officials. If Nouri is really being kept out of the loop, that says a great deal about how much his power has faded in the last weeks. Even more surprising since the Peshmerga has published the main points the two sides agreed upon:
1. Forming an operational mechanism, principles of cooperation and joint committees in the disputed regions. The joint operations in the disputed regions of Kurdistan will remain unchanged but the mechanism of operation will be revitalized between the federal forces and the forces of the Kurdistan Region.
2. The meetings of all the joint operations committees will be rescheduled to once a month. This will be increased if deemed necessary, especially for meetings of the SAC.
3. The location of the meetings and coordination for the meetings will be organized by the command of the Iraqi Armed Forces who will work as a coordinator for the work of the committees, especially the SAC.
4. A follow-up procedure will be conducted for the work and the decisions of the joint committees and punitive measures will be taken against any defaulting party or individual.
5. Any party or individual will be punished in case of reporting misleading information to their superiors in order to create problems and crisis at any level.
6. The SAC must be immediately informed about any problems that arise in the disputed areas in order to immediately work on solving them.
7. The agreements must be honored and the commanders, officials and individuals who violate the terms of the agreements will be punished.
8. Forming a quick mechanism to pull out all the forces of both sides that were mobilized to the region after Nov. 16, 2012. Pulling out these forces must be transparent, truthful and supervised by the supreme committee members after the consent of the SMC.
9. Reconsidering the decision of forming operations command in the region, especially the Tigris Operations Command, and giving back the authority of security in Kirkuk to the police, Asayish and internal forces.
Alsumaria reports that KRG President Massoud Barzani met today with a Kurdish deglation that had been engaged with negotiations over the Operation Tigris forces and they told him that Nouri al-Maliki will not agree to withdraw the forces.
To explain what's going on, Nouri al-Maliki was installed by the US in 2006 as prime minister of Iraq. (The Parliament's choice had been Ibrahim al-Jaafari whom the Bush White House felt was too close to Iran.) The 2005 Constitution of Iraq called for Article 140 to be implemented by the end of 2007. Article 140 outlines how disputed regions will be resolved: census and referendum. Kirkuk is the most well known disputed area because it is oil-rich. The Kurds claim it as does the central-government out of Baghdad. How do you resolve the dispute?
You implement Article 140. Nouri refused to do so throughout his first term. To get a second term after his political slate came in second in the March 2010 elections, the US government brokered a contract known as the Erbil Agreement. If Nouri made certain concessions (including that he would finally implement Article 140 -- implementation that he's required to do -- this isn't optional, this is Iraq's Constitution), then he could have a second term as prime minister despite the results of the election.
That should have settled it. It didn't. All this time later, he's still not implemented Article 140. But he has now sent in security forces he controls into these disputed areas. The Kurds see this as an attempt by Nouri to grab the areas for Baghdad in violation of the Iraqi Constitution.
And that's only one of the Constitutional issues Nouri's in violation of. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan is the political party of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. PUK's Adnan Mufti tells Rudaw:
As the president of Iraq, Jalal Talabani is responsible for overseeing the constitution. He will warn anybody who violates the constitution. On Nov. 19, Ali Ghedan, the commander of the Iraqi infantry units, sent a letter to certain units and ordered their mobilization. Talabani, acting in his constitutional powers, sent a letter to Ghedan right away. Talabani told Ghedan that his orders were unconstitutional, because Article 67 says the army is not allowed to interfere in political matters.
Talabani also told Ghedan that he had been unconstitutionally appointed to command the infantry units, because the commanders of all of such units have to be appointed by parliament. In the case of Ghedan, this was not done. Therefore, Ghedan does not hold any constitutional powers. Talabani asked Ghedan to annul his orders right away, otherwise he would be taken to court.
Under the Iraqi Constituion, Prime Minister Maliki is the Commander in Chief and enjoys the right to create and deploy such a force, of course. The Constitution also requires him, via Article 61, to get the approval of parliament for the appointment of any high-ranking military commanders, such as Lieutenant General Abdul-amir Zaidi. I doubt anyone in Iraq can remember the last time Maliki sought parliamentary approval for such appointments, of course. Perhaps referring to the Constitution has become passe and quaint, as Prime Minister ignores more provisions of Iraq's highest law than I can adequately list here. I'll still go ahead and cite a few of Mr. Maliki's constitutional transgressions, perhaps out of nostalgia for the document: Refusing provinces their constitutional right to become regions (Article 119), denying Kurdistan's right to exploit new oil fields in its Region (Articles 112 and 115), failing to create a Federacy Council (Articles 48 and 65), compromising the independence of Iraq's High Commission for Human Rights, Independent Electoral Commission, and Commission on Public Integrity (Article 102), and reneging on promise after promise to finally allow a census and referendum to settle the fate of the disputed territories (Article 140).
Haider Hassan Jalil Rahim, an MP from Mr. Maliki's ironically named State of Law Coalition, seems to think that the likes of the Dijla forces should even occupy Kurdistan and to hell with the federal system that was agreed to in 2005. Recently he told Rudaw that "The government should impose its prestige and authority over the entire Iraqi territory, but the conflict will not reach that stage of intensity." Iraq's Constitution requires that the Kurdistan Region's Parliament give its permission before any Iraqi federal army units enter its territory, but I won't even bother to look up the number of the article in question. The country seems to be quickly moving past the stage of promises on a piece of paper actually mattering, you see. Instead, Iraq increasingly slides back to the old pattern of confrontation between a leader in Baghdad's personal army units and the Kurds' peshmerga, all amred to the teeth. Although the conflict may "not reach that stage of intensity" this month, the pressure seems to build every year. With American military forces now out of the country, the chances of an unfortunate explosion between the Kurds and Mr. Maliki's Republican Guards (whatever he actually calls each unit) grow everyday.
In related news, a political rival of Nouri's visited the KRG. Al Mada reports that the head of the Supreme Council, Adel Abdul-Mahdi al-Muntafiki, went to Erbil yesterday and met with Massoud Barzani to discuss how to resolve the issues and how to achieve constructive dialogue between all parties. He is a former vice president. He and Tareq al-Hashemi became the vice presidents of Iraq in 2005 and Adel continued in that role until the protests of 2011 against government corruption, lack of jobs, lack of basic public services and more. After Nouri stalled for his infamous '100 days' (promising to solve the issue if Iraqis would give him 100 days and then, at the end of those 100 days, doing nothing), Adel announced he was stepping down as vice president in protest of the ongoing corruption. Tareq al-Hashemi remains a Vice President. He's currently in Qatar, having left Turkey recently. As soon as the bulk of US forces left Iraq in December 2011, Nouri targeted Sunnis and members of his political rival group Iraqiya. He declared Tareq, the vice president of the country, to be a terrorist. Even before the for-show trial took place, the Baghdad judges Nouri controls had already held a press conference to announce Tareq was guilty. That's not how it works under the Iraqi Constitution, no. That is how it works under Nouri's oppresive thumb. Tareq was found guilty in absentia.
He is the only known sitting vice president of a country to be convicted of terrorism. He is also the only known sitting vice president of a country to be sentenced to execution (three sentences). Today AFP reports, "Four of fugitive Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi's bodyguards were sentenced to death on Thursday for killing a civil defense officer and his wife, judicial spokesman Abdelsattar Bayraqdar said." Xinhua quotes Abdul-Sattar al-Biraqdar, Supreme Judicial Council spokesperson, stating, "The Central Criminal Court of Iraq (CCCI) on Thursday issued verdicts of penalties by hanging against four bodyguards of Hashimi for their involvement in the killing of an Iraqi civil defense major and his wife along with wounding their son in al- Jamia district (in western Baghdad) in 2011."
In the US, Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. Yesterday her office issued the following:
Committee on Veterans' Affairs
United States Senate
112th Congress, Second Session
Update: November 28, 2012
Wednesday December 12, 2012 10:00am
Hearing: Nomination of Keith Kelly to be Assistant Secretary of Labor for Veterans' Employment and Training.
The plan for tomorrow's snapshot is to finish up Kobler's speech to the Security Council (with more criticism than what we offered today) and to cover a Wednesday Congressional hearing that there's not room for today (and that I wasn't willing to cover yesterday -- associating it with the morning vomitting made me unwilling to cover it Thursday, sorry -- that's not a reflection on the hearing).