Saturday, November 10, 2012

The bad news never stops coming for Nouri

Through Friday, Iraq Body Count counts 62 dead from violence so far this month in Iraq.  Alsumaria reports today's violence includes a Falluja home invasion in which 1 father and 1 son were killed, 1 explosive expert was killed in Falluja attempting to disarm a car bomb, a Diyala Province attack left an Iraqi Lt Col dead, a Kirkuk roadside bombing injured a police officer, a Nineveh Province home invasion left a woman and her husband dead, and, in mass arrests, 35 people were rounded up.

Yesterday's snapshot noted the new war of words:

After the decision last month to buy billions of weapons from Russia, it may appear Russia and Iraq are getting very close -- and they might be.  But friendly?  Do you threaten a friend?  AFP reports, "Baghdad has told Russian energy giant Gazprom to either cancel its energy contracts in Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region or abandon its work with the central government, a spokesperson said on Friday."

The weapons deal is off.  Or it's on.  Or it's off.  Even the outlets seem confused.  Mohammed Tawfeeq and Joe Sterling (CNN) report:

Iraq's prime minister has canceled a recently signed arms deal with Russia after "suspicions over corruption" surfaced, his spokesman told CNN on Saturday.
Under the $4.2 billion deal forged last month, Russia would deliver attack helicopters and mobile air-defense systems to Iraq.

You may remember Ayad Allawi and others have made calls for Nouri al-Maliki to appear before Parliament to answer questions about the deal.  You may also remember that KRG President Massoud Barzani loudly objected to the deal.  Amani Aziz (Al Mada) reports that there are senior Iraqi government officials who are involved with a brother of Russian President Vladimir Putin.  All Iraq News notes there are calls for Nouri to step forward and clear his name.  Al Rafidayn notes Nouri spokesperson Ali al-Moussawi announced that the deal is of.  New contracts may be needed, he said, because weapons are, but the deal is off.  AP hedges the bets (which may be a smart move) going with language about the deal being "reconsidered" and in "turnaround" (maybe Universal will give it a green light!).  Reuters has been doing repeated updates and in their third one they noted, "In a confusing exchange, the announcement by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's office was immediately contradicted by the acting defence minister who denied the corruption charges and said the Russian arms deals were still valid."  RIA Novosti reminds, "At the time the deal was announced in October, the Russian press had hailed it as the country’s largest since 2006.  Under the contract, Moscow is to supply 30 Mil Mi-28NE night/all-weather capable attack helicopters, and 50 Pantsir-S1 gun-missile short-range air defense systems."

If the deal is off, Nouri looks rather poor on the world stage.  You don't make a four billion dollar deal, take the bows nationally and internationally for it, then cancel a few weeks later without your image taking a huge hit.  That's setting charges of corruption to the side.

Nouri really can't afford a huge hit to his image right now, he's still struggling over his attempt to cancel the food-ration-card system.  The axe was announced on Tuesday, it's been non-stop problems for him since.  From yesterday's snapshot:

Nouri and troubles are never far apart.  Tuesday, his spokesperson announced that the food-ration-card system (a program by which Iraqis were able to get flour, sugar, and other staples) was being stopped.  And that was supposed to be the end of that.  It hasn't been the end of anything.

Alsumaria reports that today, during Friday prayers, the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani declared his objection to gutting the program.  The statement noted that the government justifications for ending the program are neither logical nor acceptable and that those of faith in Iraq must object to the push to end the program due to the fact that it will increase the burden on the poor.  Further,  al-Sistani noted that the price of food cannot be left up to the merchants because each month of Ramadan has seen prices soar with the increased demand and the government has been powerless to do anything about it.  To the insistence by Nouri supporters that the program must be gutted to fight corruption, al-Sistani responded that if the government has failed to prevent corruption, that is no reason to punish the citizens for its own failures.  The statement ended with al-Sistani noting that his words were neither a political nor economic stand but instead an expression of the beliefs and hopes of the Iraqi people.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is a higher official that Nouri or most elected ones.  That's in part because of his role as a spiritual leader and in part due to his biography.  On the latter, he never fled Iraq.  Under Saddam Hussein, he was persecuted.  But he stayed in Iraq.  The people know he will stay in Iraq.  Unlike many of Nouri's now former Cabinet ministers, for example, he won't flee the country (those ministers often have accusations of theft attached to their names).  Unlike many, he doesn't hold dual citizenship.  He is an Iraqi who commands a great deal of respect in the country and that goes beyond Shi'ite and Sunni divisions.

Kitabat covers al-Sistani's statement and notes others objecting as well including Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi.  All Iraq News reports that people flocked into the streets of Najaf following morning prayers and took part in a mass demonstration against cancelling the ration cards.  Participants included Imams.  The people are calling on their provinical government to argue against dropping the ration cards.  Sheikh Abdul Mahdi al-Karbalai declared  in Karbala during morning prayers today that the decision must be reviewed because it is unacceptable and is rejected by religious authority.     All Iraq News notes that the Kurdistan Alliance has issued a statement denouncing Nouri's decision and insisting the ration card system is needed.  Kitabat reports that Moqtada al-Sadr is no longer just objecting to the cancellation, he's now demanding that the Cabinet make public which Cabinet ministers voted to cancel the program.  Today al-Shabibi tells AP, "They want to control the central bank.  If they control the central bank, they will destroy the economy."   In the face of all of this, the smart thing politically would be to announce that the food-ration-card system would remain in place.

All Iraq News reports the Cabinet of Ministers will hold an emergency meeting on the issue tomorrow.  Nouri's political slate is State of Law, his political party is Dawa.  How unpopular is the move to cancel the food-ration program?  Alsumaria reports Dawa made an announcement today that they had nothing to do with the decision and they're also trying to insist at the same time that it wasn't Nouri's decision.  Lots of luck selling both points.  And they need to worry about that because provincial elections are supposed to be in a few months (April).  Kurdistan Alliance MP Sharif Soliman tells All Iraq News that those responsible for the decision are trying to make up excuses and push the blame elsewhere.  The Kurdistan Alliance's Mohsen Saadoun tells Alsumaria that Nouri is responsible for this decision.

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