Tuesday, December 18, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, Nouri ups his attacks on the press and resorts to the military to carry it out (again), the Peshmerga fires on an Iraqi aircraft, Jalal Talabani is rushed to the hospital with rumors and confusion ensuing, Amnesty International decries the executions in Iraq, and more.
APA reports Turkey's "Prime Minister Recept Tayyip Erdogan has said Turkey is prepared to bring Iraqi President Jalal Talabani to a hospital in Turkey after he suffered a heart attack". A heart attack? A stroke? A coma? Details shift depending upon the outlet.
What is known is that Jalal Talabani was taken to the hospital last night. All Iraq News noted a statement from his office stated that it was a health emergency and that the President of Iraq was fatigued due to the recent political crisis and from his efforts to mediate the crisis between Baghdad and Erbil. Alsumaria also noted the statement that it states he was exhausted. Aaad Abedine (CNN) was among the first to note it was a stroke and in the most recent update quotes Kurdistan Alliance MP Mahmoud Othman stating, "His health condition is not very good." However, Talabani's office throughout the day did not say "stroke."
By 3:00 pm Baghdad time, Suadad al-Salhy, Isabel Coles, Patrick Markey and Michael Roddy (Reuters) were citing unnamed "government sources" declaring Talabani in "critical but stable condition." They weren't the only one citing government sources at that time. For example, Alsumaria reports Talabani's health is deteriorating and that he is now in a coma according to "government sources." Kitabat went with an unnamed medical source who stated that Talabani was "clinically dead.". All Iraq News was noting that he has not regained conscious and that brain damage is feared. They also noted that Talabani's office has issued a new statement declaring the emergency health condition -- again, Talabani's office avoided specifics -- was a result of the hardening of his arteries and repeat the statement that his condition is stable.
Again, that was what was in the news cycle earlier today (it was morning in the US). It's already Wednesday in Iraq, early morning hours, and details are not any clearer nor any more concrete. In their headline, the Independent of London states "Stroke leaves President in a coma" (the text of the report doesn't mention a coma). Adam Schreck and Qaasim Abdul-Zahara (AP) call it a stroke and note that some reports "say Talabani may be in a coma." BBC News reports, "Well-placed Kurdish sources say he remains in a coma." As American Enterprise Institute's Michael Rubin points out at CNN's Global Public Square, "The president's health has long been shaky; Talabani has made a half dozen trips to Minnesota's Mayo clinic in recent years for various ailments exacerbated by obesity and diabetes, compounded by years of excessive smoking and drinking. Talabani's extended absences have become commonplace. Just this past summer, Talabani was absent from Iraq for almost two months after suffering complications from knee surgery."
With the lack of clarity as to Talabani's condition, focus turns to what happens if he passes away or is unable to continue as president? All Iraq News cites the Constitution and explains that should the office of president become vacant, the vice president would preside for no more than 30 days. There would be an election (elected by the Parliament) within 30 days to determine who would be the next president. We'll come back to that in a minute. Kitabat notes politicians are discussing succession issues and, should Talabani step down, pass away or be unable to continue in office, most are stating that Talabani's deputy in the PUK, Barham Salih, would be the next elected president of Iraq. Conservative Michael Rubin offers his belief that there will also be a push for Hoshyar Zebari. Hoshyar Zebari is a Kurd (like Talabani and Salih) and he is in his second term as Foreign Minister of Iraq. In that role he has traveled regularly to meet with various foreign officials (such as Euopean Union High Commissioner Catherine Ashton, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, etc.). Lack of clarity also prompted Osama al-Nujaifi to return home. All Iraq News reports the Speaker of Parliament was in the midst of his scheduled trip to India when he learned of Talabani's hospitalization and he ended his official visit to return to Iraq. Though al-Nujaifi returned on his own, it is also true that as one the "three presidencies" noted in the Constitution (the others are the prime minister and the president), the Speaker of Parliament does need to be present in Iraq during a time of national uncertainty.
And if "national uncertainty" seems a bit much to some, please note that Alsumaria reports the Islamic Union of Kurdistan (a minor political party in the KRG) used today to launch a verbal attack on both Talabani and KRG President Massoud Barzani.
Jalal is in his second term as president of the constitutional republic of Iraq, his first term began in April of 2006. Per the Iraqi Constitution, he cannot seek a third term. (Jalal was also president in 2005 prior to the writing and ratification of the Constitution.) He is a leader not only of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (one of the KRG's two major political parties) but also of the Talabani tribe. While his official power derives from the Constitution, his prominence on the world stage results from his personal biography as well as that of his wife Hero Ibrahim Ahmed, First Lady of Iraq. Dropping back to the December 5th snapshot:
Like many notable Iraqis, her family has a long history of involvement in Iraqi politics and in being persecuted. Novelist Ibrahim Ahmad was her father. He was also a judge and one of the first chairs of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (the first after it changed its name). Moving up the political chain in Iraq has always meant creating enemies. He would end up in Abu Ghraib prison for two years. He would go on to become an editor of a newspaper and, more importantly to the political situation, the voice of the KDP following it's split into two parties -- the other, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, would be headed by Mustafa Barzani. Today the PUK is headed by Massoud Barzani who is also the President of the Kurdistan Regional Government. He is the son of the late Mustafa Barzani. Mustafa's grandson is KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani.
Jalal and Hero have been married for over thirty years -- by all accounts a happy marriage -- and their own personal histories and experiences go to why Jalal has been an international presence. When Parliament votes in a new president, which may not be until 2014 when Talabani's term expires, it is very doubtful that anyone with the same national or international stature will be the president. (Although Hero Ibrahim Ahmed would obviously have a similar stature and the Talabani tribe has long supported women politicians. It was nieces of Jalal's that were most vocal in decrying Nouri's Cabinet in January 2011 for it's lack of women.) The editorial board of Lebanon's Daily Star observes, "Replacing Talabani with someone as charismatic and experienced, with the same skills of mediation, and with as few blemishes on his nationalism, will be no easy task, especially for a government's whose reputation has thus far been far from clean."
Jonathan Blakley: Okay. President Talabani, he's sidelined. I'm wondering what you know about his health because there's been a lot of kind of wild speculation on how badly he is right now. Apparently, it's a stroke. And also, do you -- are you fearful that with him sidelined, could there be some instability up there in northern Iraq and Kurdistan?
Victoria Nuland: Well let me start by saying that our thoughts are with President of Iraq, Jalal Talabani, his family, and the people of Iraq. We wish him a full recovery. I frankly don't have any information beyond what his office has put out with regard to his health. I think you know that we have been urging calm, we've been urging dialogue. We were pleased with the initial agreement between Peshmerga and Iraqi forces. We want that kind of calm to continue. We want stability to be observed, obviously, up there. But we'll just have to see how he is going forward.
Some will see -- I know I will -- more genuince concern in the US Embassy in Baghdad's Tweet than in all of Nuland's blathering.
Let's drop back to December 17, 2011 because clearly some need their memories jogged of when Nouri last turned the military on enemies in Baghdad:
Ines Tariq (Al Mada) reports on the controversy over whether or not the country's Supreme Court has issued an arrest warrant for Iraq's Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi. Reportedly, Nouri al-Maliki wants al-Hashemi arrested. Nouri's political slate is State of Law. They came in second in the parliamentary elections. Iraqiya came in first. al-Hashemi is a member of Iraqiya. Iraqiya made clear Friday that things were changing and today they walked out of the Parliament.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is amassing dictatorial power as U.S. troops leave the country, risking a new civil war and the breakup of the nation, his deputy warned
Tuesday. Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq told CNN that he was "shocked" to hear U.S. President Barack Obama greet al-Maliki at the White House on Monday as "the elected leader of a sovereign, self-reliant and democratic Iraq." He said Washington is leaving Iraq "with a dictator" who has ignored a power-sharing agreement, kept control of the
country's security forces and rounded up hundreds of people in recent weeks. [. . .] "America left Iraq with almost no infrastructure. The political process is going in a very wrong direction, going toward a dictatorship," he said. "People are not going to accept that, and most likely they are going to ask for the division of the country. And this is going to be a disaster. Dividing the country isn't going to be smooth, because dividing the country is going to be a war before that and a war after that."
Like Tareq al-Hashemi, Saleh al-Mutlaq is a member of the Iraqiya political slate. Dar Addustour is reporting that the homes of al-Hashemi and al-Mutlaq as well as the home of Rafi Hiyad al-Issawi have been surrounded by "tanks and special forces." Dr. Rafi Hiyad al-Issawi was the previous Deputy prime minister (2007 through 2010). He was the head of Falluja General Hospital prior to that and he is currently the Minister of Finance. Like the other two, al-Issawi is a member of Iraqiya.
[. . .]
[. . .] Liz Sly (Washington Post) notes that the 'government' is "unraveling faster than had been anticipated Saturday." She also notes, "In recent days, the homes of top Sunni politicians in the fortified Green Zone have been ringed by tanks and armored personnel carriers, and rumors are flying that arrest warrants will be issued for other Sunni leaders." For days? Plural. "In recent days."
He's again using the military to surround and intimidate someone he has labeled an enemy, the editor of Al Mada newspaper. That should alarm and bother everyone. That should bother Iraqis because why the hell is the Iraqi military -- especially considering the last days of violence -- being stationed at Fakhri Karim's home? How is the editor of a newspaper a military target? This is an attack on the press and it's appalling and it's disgusting. This morning I called out the Committee to Protect Journalists for refusing to stand up for Fakhri. In doing so, I noted that they didn't have their Iraq count correct (they list only 3 murdered journalists for 2012) and their new report was wrong because it claims that there were no murdered journalists in 2012 and I went over a Saturday phone call I had with a CPJ friend over their silence on Nouri using the military Friday to shut down satellite channel Al-Baghdadi in Iraq. The friend called later in the morning to angrily inform me that late yesterday afternoon CPJ did issue a statement calling that out. So let me include the link and now let me note that we argued on the phone (loudly) about this Saturday, Sunday and Monday morning. I'm glad they finally decided to issue a statement and let me say I was wrong this morning when I said they hadn't issued one. Let me further note that they did a much better job than I did (not very hard to do) by noting that the radio station was Radio Al-Mahaba (the press accounts I read and linked to had the radio station being part of Al-Baghdadia, it's not, it's an independent women's radio station). So praise to you for that but, please CPJ, explain to me exactly how many phone calls need to take place and how loudly I need to scream into the phone for you to note Iraq because you still haven't noted Fakhri?
Yeah, you finally noted al-Baghdadi. But it's closed. Fakhri is alive and Al Mada is publishing. At what point are you going to defend them? And when are you going to call out turning the military loose on the media? In what non-failed state is that suddenly acceptable?
But please do let me know exactly how long and how loud I need to yell over the phone to get concern expressed for Fakhri. I don't know him, I've never met him. I know the paper he's the editor of, Al Mada. I know it does strong work and has consistently had strong reporting. If it makes a mistake, it corrects it. It's a responsible paper and one that does investigative reporting. It should be considered a national treasure and a point of pride for the international journalism community.
Like most papers covering Iraq, it has been repeatedly targeted. Back in July, we were noting how both it and Kitabat were hacked and "May 25th, Al Mada reported on how their website was experiencing daily attacks causing the site to crash. They were down for the entire month of June. When they came back up last week (they came up on Thursday, June 28th, they were able to add new content Friday, June 29th), they really hoped CloudFlare was going to help. But it hasn't. They've been down since Wednesday."
So Al Mada's on it's own? Fakhri is on his own? So much for some sort of 'family of journalists' around the world. Apparently there's family and then there's step-family and the step-children will be ignored and left on their own as though this weren't the 21st century but instead some Grimm's fairy tale.
We do realize that Fakhri and others at Al Mada are real people, right? They're real people with hopes and dreams doing a job that we're all supposed to place a value on: informing the public. They're doing serious journalism and I truly do not think it is too much to ask that when they are under attack from their government that those of us fortunate enough not to have to worry about being attacked by Nouri al-Maliki can use our voices and use our voices loudly to call attention to what is going on and, hopefully, to assist the people working at Al Mada in both continuing their work and in preserving their freedom. It doesn't cost me a thing (except maybe a CPJ friend) to defend Al Mada and Fakhri. I won't be tossed in one of Nouri's secret prisons. And that's why it's important that everyone else who is as fortunate as me calls out what Nouri is doing and makes it clear, "Nouri al-Maliki, the world is watching you." That's the only thing might stop him.
After Al-Baghdadi is closed, CPJ shows up decrying it. But where were they when it mattered? From the November 27th snapshot:
Sunday theIraq Times noted that Nouri's Dawa Party was targeting Al Baghdadi and the paper noted they stood in solidarity with the cable outlet. Iraqi Times notes that the cable outlet was prevented by security forces working for Nouri's office from entering Kadhimiya and filming. (This is the city that the US set up the base Camp Justice and where Saddam Hussein was executed.)
CPJ's online posting about Al-Baghdadi neglects to inform readers that prominent Iraqi politicians have called out the closing -- that includes cleric and movement leader Moqtada al-Sadr's bloc in Parliament as well as Iraqiya (headed by Ayad Allawi). Allawi and Sadr have a certain level of power that many Iraqis don't, true. But so did Tareq al-Hashemi and, for political reasons, he's now received his fifth death sentence (while remaining Vice President of Iraq to this day). Nouri can't execute me. Nouri can't execute CPJ. Again, those of us who have the comfort of being able to call out these attacks on the Iraqi press need to be doing so.
Can you imagine the fear in the United States if President Barack Obama had the US military surround the home of New York Times editor Jill Abramson? Nouri sent the military to Fakhri Karim's home. There is no excuse for that. And considering the US government's role in starting the Iraq War and the US press' role in selling the Iraq War, calling out Nouri al-Maliki's attacks on the Iraqi press should be a US obligation, not option.
Kitabat reports that, according to Nineveh Province Governor Ethel Nujaifi, a young girl was raped by a lieutenant in the Iraqi military. A judge ordered the officer's arrest but the Iraqi military has refused to turn him over. The Ministry of Defense is the one refusing. (The Ministry of Defense is headed by Nouri al-Maliki since he refused to nominate someone for the post and allow Parliament to confirm the nomineee.) Still on the topic of rape,Kitabat reports that Iraqiya MP Hamid al-Mutlaq revealed today that federal prosecutors have presented pre-liminary evidence to the Supreme Judicial Council that, prosecutors argue, prove that women are being raped and tortured in Iraqi prisons. As we noted when this scandal was breaking, Nouri has been very lucky and able to walk away from many scandals unscathed but Iraqis will not let this one pass by. Instead of attacking those who brought it up publicly, Nouri should have been announcing that he was addressing it and fixing it.
From prisons to executions, Peter Bouckaert (Foreign Policy) points out, "After becoming president of a post-Saddam Iraq in 2005, Talabani often tried to serve as a moral compass for a country mired in bloodshed. He refused to sign off on executions -- even that of his arch-enemy Saddam Hussein -- citing his personal opposition to capital punishment. Ultimately, a compromise was reached where his deputies signed the execution orders, resolving the deadlock. Today, Iraq sadly is one of the world's leaders in executions, which are often imposed on people who were convicted in unfair trials."
Staying with violence, as noted in the October 15th snapshot, Iraq had already executed 119 people in 2012. Time to add more to that total. Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reported last night that 10 more people were executed on Sunday ("nine Iraqis and one Egyptian"). Tawfeeq notes the Ministry of Justice's statement on the executions includes, "The Iraqi Justice Ministry carried out the executions by hanging 10 inmates after it was approved by the presidential council." And, not noted in the report, that number's only going to climb. A number of Saudi prisoners have been moved into Baghdad over the last weeks in anticipation of the prisoners being executed. Hou Qiang (Xinhua) observes, "Increasing executions in Iraq sparked calls by the UN mission in the country, the European Union and human rights groups on Baghdad to abolish the capital punishment, criticizing the lack of transparency in the proceedings of the country's courts."
Iraq has already executed at least 129 people this year
Amnesty International is calling on the Iraqi authorities to halt the execution of 28 prisoners whose death sentences were reportedly ratified yesterday.
Death sentences for 28 people accused of terrorism-related offences were reportedly ratified by one of Iraq's vice-presidents, the last step in the judicial process. They are at risk of imminent execution. Earlier this month it was reported that around 40 death row prisoners were transferred to al-Kadhemiya Prison in Baghdad where executions are carried out.
Meanwhile, last week Amnesty urged the Iraqi authorities to quash death sentences against four men sentenced on 3 December in Anbar province, western Iraq, following the broadcast of "confessions" given while reportedly being tortured in pre-trial detention.
Iraq has already executed at least 129 people in 2012, the highest number since 2005. As in previous years, it's estimated that hundreds have been sentenced to death or had death sentences upheld by the courts.
Amnesty is calling on the Iraqi authorities to impose an immediate moratorium on executions as a first step towards abolition.
Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said:
"Death sentences are being flung out after grossly unfair trials relying on 'confessions' obtained under torture.
"Instead of carrying out executions, the Iraqi authorities should prioritise fixing its deeply flawed criminal justice system." . Since the death penalty was reintroduced in Iraq in 2004, the death sentence and executions has been imposed and carried out extensively, following procedures that violate human rights standards. Many trials of those sentenced to death have failed to meet international standards for fair trials, including by using "confessions" obtained under torture or other ill-treatment as evidence against the defendants. Some Iraqi television stations continue to broadcast self-incriminating testimonies of detainees even before the opening of a trial, undermining the fundamental right of defendants to be considered innocent until proven guilty.
Amnesty opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception, as a violation of the right to life and the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. More than two-thirds of the countries in the world have abolished the death penalty in law or practice.
From executions to War Crimes, US journalist Dave Lindorff spoke with Iran's Press TV, "Lindorff went on to say that President Obama is practically a 'war criminal' under the 'UN Charter and the Nuremberg principles, which declare that covering up war crimes by government and military leaders, and failure to prosecute such war crimes, are in themselves war crimes."
Saturday, community member Ginger called our attention to an Iraq War veteran has been left rotting in a Mexican prison for four months. Patricia Mazzei (Miami Herald via Lake Wylie Pilot) reports: When the mother of a military veteran arrested and detained in a dangerous foreign jail called her congresswoman's office two weeks ago asking for help, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said she had a hard time believing former Marine Lance Cpl. Jon Hammar was in prison for carrying a six-decade-old shotgun into Mexico. "We said, 'Surely she must be exaggerating,'" recalled Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami Republican. She wasn't. Olivia Hammar's son had been in a state prison in Matamoros, along the Mexican border, for nearly four months.
Jon Hammar and a friend traveled into Mexico in an RV. He had a sixty-year-old rifle. At the US checkpoint, he showed the rifle and Customs told him to fill out a form (which he did) and that that was all he needed to do. He drove on through the checkpoint and ended up at a Mexican checkpoint where the gun was supposedly illegal (an inch too short --- which may or may not be an accurate measurement of the gun). His friend was released since Hammar made clear he was the gun owner. That was August, since then he has remained in a Mexican prison.
This should be a nightmare for many people. For Mexico? Lynn Brezosky (San Antonio Express) explains, "A group representing more than 14,000 businessmen in northern Mexico is pleading for the release of Marine Corps veteran Jon Hammar, warning his "unfair" imprisonment for carrying an antique shotgun on his way to a surfing vacation will further devastate an already struggling tourism market." The US? Richard Boyden (Black Hills Today) argues the White House is ignoring the Iraq War veteran, "A real friend of America would admit to their wrongs and make things right. Not to do so is the deliberate and intentional act of an enemy and therefore they should be dealt with as such for the sake of this Marine. President Obama needs to decide who's side he is on."
An Iraq War veteran is being held in a Mexican jail, chained to his bed, his life continuously threatened, while his family is extorted for money…and our nation's leaders appear impotent (or negligent) by their failure to help him.
After you've read the story below, please go to the White House petition and sign it to press the Obama Administration to start working to bring Jon Hammar home.
CPJ's posting includes a quote from CPJ's Middle East and North Africa program coordina