Monday, December 31, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, protests continue, corruption continues, questions are asked as to why the US supports Thug Nouri, events of the year in Iraq get reviewed, and more.
Then came the official end of the war. On December 31, 2011, the country celebrated "Iraq Day" and the departure of U.S. troops. As Iraq prepares to mark the anniversary, also known as the "Day of Sovereignty," last year's celebratory tone has been replaced by a more somber one.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's political bloc, the Islamic Dawa Party, called on Iraqis not to become divided along sectarian or ethnic lines by "malicious schemes." The country has struggled to define itself, as its government stumbles from one political crisis to another.
Just as the last U.S. troops withdrew, al-Maliki, a Shiite, moved to arrest Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, a Sunni, who al-Maliki accused of using his security detail as a hit squad.
More recently, a few days before the first Iraq Day anniversary, thousands of Sunnis took to the streets in Anbar province, a major trade thoroughfare to Jordan and Syria, to protest al-Maliki's order to arrest the bodyguards of Finance Minister Rafaie Esawi, a Sunni. The arrest of Esawi's bodyguards came just hours after President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd who is widely viewed as a stabilizing political force in Iraq, left the country to undergo treatment for cancer in Germany.
2012 saw another cholera outbreak in Iraq thanks to Nouri al-Maliki's refusal to spend any of the billions made off of oil on the Iraqi people. They lack potable water in most areas. If you don't have potable water -- safe water -- to drink, you have to boil it before using it (or add purification tablets) and you better hope you didn't rush the boil and that the tablets still work. This wouldn't be a problem if Nouri would fix the public services. He's been prime minister since 2006, that's six years so the resposibility and the failure is all on him.
In addition to a lack of potable water, Nouri's also failed to provide dependable electricity. All this time later, it's still apparently too much to expect to have electricity for more than a few hours. Strange because, before the start of the Iraq War, these electricity shortages weren't so common. Even something as basic as santiation is beyond Nouri's capabilities so children -- risking infection and disease -- can be found playing in the piled up sewage so common on many Iraqi streets. Nouri's also refused to spend money on the crumbling infrastructure. This winter, Iraqis saw what Nouri's cheapness has resulted in: Flooding throughout Iraq, homes falling down from the flooding, people dying in the homes, people dying from drowning, people dying from electrocution, people trudging through parts of Baghdad in knee-high water. When you let the infrastructure fall apart, drainage becomes problematic. The Iraqi Red Crescent Society had to evacuate at least one village this month as a result of homes collapsing from the flooding.
Surely Nouri's done better somewhere, right? Nope. Iraq is still among the most corrupt countries as ranked by Transparency International. 176 countries were ranked this year on transparency and Iraq came in as the 169th most transparent country. Only seven countries were ranked as less transparent. Nouri's long been accused of skimming off Iraq's funds and his family lives high on the hog. He also employs his son who is said to be as much of a terror as Uday Hussein was said to be. Nouri's son is part of current corruption scandal.
October 9th, with much fanfare, Nouri signed a $4.2 billion dollar weapons deal with Russia. He strutted and preened and was so proud of himself. Yet shortly after taking his bows on the world stage and with Parliament and others raising objections, Nouri quickly announced the deal was off. The scandal, however, refuses to go away. TheIraq Times stated Nouri was offering up his former spokesperson Ali al-Dabbagh and others to protect the truly corrupt -- the truly corrupt -- according to members of Parliament -- including Nouri's son who got a nice little slice off the deal. These charges came from Shi'ite MPs as well as Sunnis and Kurds. Even the Shi'ite National Alliance has spoken out. All Iraq News noted National Alliance member and one-time MP Wael Abdul Latif is calling for Nouri to quickly bring charges against those involved in the corruption. (The arms deal is now treated by the Iraqi press as corrupt and not allegedly corrupt, FYI.) Latif remains a major player in the National Alliance and the National Alliance has backed Nouri during his second term. With his current hold on power reportedly tenous and having already lost the support of Moqtada al-Sadr, Nouri really can't afford to tick off the National Alliance as well. Kitabat reported MP Maha al-Douri, of Moqtada al-Sadr's bloc in Parliament, is saying Nouri's on a list of officials bribed by Russia for the deal.
The magic wands. It's a story so old even David Petraeus weighed in at one point. Nouri's government spent a small fortune purchasing these magic wands from a British company that apparently didn't also sell magic beans. You held the magic wand by a car and you 'jogged' in place, pumping your legs up and down and the magic wand, activated by your movement, would then detect a bomb if one was present. If you're not believing it, October, 9, 2009, an Iraqi correspondent for McClatchy was exploring the subject at Inside Iraq:
Before starting telling you what happens in most of the checkpoints you should know about the "explosives detectors". The device is carried by security man who stops your car and walk beside it carrying the device. The device's pointer changes its direction when passed by a car that supposedly carries explosives.
The small hand-held wand, with a telescopic antenna on a swivel, is being used at hundreds of checkpoints in Iraq. But the device works "on the same principle as a Ouija board" -- the power of suggestion -- said a retired United States Air Force officer, Lt. Col. Hal Bidlack, who described the wand as nothing more than an explosives divining rod. Still, the Iraqi government has purchased more than 1,500 of the devices, known as the ADE 651, at costs from $16,500 to $60,000 each. Nearly every police checkpoint, and many Iraqi military checkpoints, have one of the devices, which are now normally used in place of physical inspections of vehicles. With violence dropping in the past two years, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has taken down blast walls along dozens of streets, and he contends that Iraqis will safeguard the nation as American troops leave.
It wasn't just that US generals laughed at the magic wands, by 2010 even the British government was disturbed, demanding the devices no longer be manufactured and suing the company. But Nouri refused to join in the lawsuit (he apparently only likes to sue the press and politicians) and insisted that the magic wands continued to be used. Instead of admitting that he had wasted over one million dollars on magic wands that didn't work, Nouri put his vanity ahead of the safety of the Iraqi people. Last November, years after the problem was first discovered, it was quietly announced that Iraq would finally be getting bomb sniffing dogs and explosive sensors.
Did he not sue because he got a kickback on the deal? Who knows?
Iraqis continue to live in poverty and it is a nation of widows and orphans -- over a million orphans we learned as the year wound down. Nouri's 'answer' to that? End the food-ration card system. This system was put in place in the 90s and provided the Iraqi people with basic staples. After the start of the Iraq War in 2003, the US government targeted the food-ration card system. Paul Bremer was only the first US official to attempt to end it. Ending it would not be easy so they instead worked on cutting it each year so that it offered less and less. In 2006, when Nouri became prime minister, he continued the cuts.
This fall, he decided, with record poverty and unemployment close to 40% in Iraq, that now was the time to end this program. Cleric and movement leader Moqtada al-Sadr was the first to call him out and insist this wasn't happening. Iraqiya and others quickly backed Moqtada and Nouri was forced to back down (and even tried to claim that it wasn't his idea -- his Cabinet had planned it out without him). Iraq takes in billions on oil sales each year. Yet Nouri claimed there was no profit to share with the Iraqi people. Moqtada also pushed back on that and has been meeting regularly with the ministries to find out where the money is going.
It's not going to the Iraqi people. Well what about justice? Is Nouri providing justice? Early 2012 saw the Ministry of the Interior visit schools and tell Iraqi students that Emo and LGBT youth were devil worshippers, were vampires, were perverts and that they must die. That's appallling and that's Nouri. Nouri is the Minister of the Interior. How can he be the Minister of the Interior and the Prime Minister. Back in July, Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) observed, "Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has struggled to forge a lasting power-sharing agreement and has yet to fill key Cabinet positions, including the ministers of defense, interior and national security, while his backers have also shown signs of wobbling support." See, according to the Iraqi Constitution, if you can't appoint a full Cabinet, you can't become prime minister (someone else is named prime minister designate and given 30 days to build a Cabinet). But US President Barack Obama wanted Nouri to have a second term so no rules applied then (or apply now).
So Nouri had his Ministry go into schools and egg on violence against Emo and LGBT Iraqis -- and Iraqis who might be mistaken for Emo or LGBT. There was worldwide outrage. The story got covered by outlets that normally didn't even cover Iraq -- such as England's NME and the US' Rolling Stone magazine. Nouri called off his dogs and tried to lie that the Ministry of Interior was not involved; however, the Iraqi press quickly printed the handout the Ministry of the Interior had circulated on its school visits. Nouri's such a damn liar.
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."
Nouri's also targeted the press. 5 journalists were killed in 2012 (we'll have more on that near the end of the snapshot). Outlets that report realities Nouri doesn't like are repeatedly attacked. Both Al Mada and Kitabat were hacked in 2012 following their hard hitting reporting on corruption. Dropping back to Saturday, December 15th:
The Iraq Times reports that cable channel Baghdadi was surrounded by the Iraqi military on Friday and they forced everyone out and then shut the station down. They also note that Nouri ordered the closure. The Iraq Times reports that Iraqiya spokesperson Maysoon al-Damalouji declared today that Nouri is attempting to rebuild the Republic of Fear (a reference to the days of Saddam Hussein) and decried the closing of Baghdadiya TV.
The satellite channel's crime? Reporting on the corruption in the Russian oil deal. This month, he also began targeting Fakhri Karim who is the editor and chair of Al Mada newspaper -- he's had Karim's home surrounded by the US military. Isn't it strange how in 'free' Iraq, Nouri's always sending in the military to attack the press. And isn't it strange how the US government -- even most of the US media -- refuse to call that out? (Friday, he used the military to keep reporters away from the protests in an attempt to ensure that they did not get coverage.)
Nouri is a threat and danger to the Iraqi people. They voted for change and Barack went around their votes, the democracy, the Constitution to devise a contract (Erbil Agreement) to give Nouri a second term. Again, gays are targeted, Sunnis are targeted, Nouri refused to even have one woman in his Cabinet until there was international outcry -- and this is who the US government backs. Remember that the next time Barack wants to pretend to give a damn about human rights.
Nouri is in his second term as prime minister. Why? Barack Obama. In March 2010, Iraqis voted in parliamentary elections. Nouri's State of Law was expected to win by a wide margin. The Iraqi people had other ideas. Nouri's State of Law came in second to the Ayad Allawi headed Iraqiya slate. Per the Constitution, per democracy, per vote counting, that made Iraqiya the winner and, as such, they were supposed to be immediately named prime minister-designate (one person from their slate, most likely Allawi) and then given 30 days to form a Cabinet. Failure to do so would result in someone else being named prime minister-designate. This is clearly outlined in the Constitution. But Nouri didn't want to lose his post. So he threw a public tantrum for eight months basically refusing to vacate the palace. And he was able to get away with that because he had the support of Barack Obama. During this time, the US government didn't argue for fairness or democracy or rule of law or the Constitution. They went to the political blocs and told them that they were in the wrong. They told them they needed to be mature and give. They need to give to the loser. Grasp that, the US government started a propaganda campaign at political leaders to get them to give up what they'd won to the loser Nouri. A few asked questions. Supposedly Iraqi President Jalal Talabani (currently in Germany receiving medical treatment) got very short with US Vice President Joe Biden in one phone call (no, not the one where Joe asked him to let Allawi be president). Talbani finally, supposedly, had the brains to ask, "What's in it for us?"
Like a lightening bolt, the US government decided they could give Nouri a second term by going around the Constitution, by drawing a contract between the political blocs. This 'inspiration' resulted in the US-brokered Erbil Agreement. Leaders of political blocs agreed to give Nouri a second term (and end the eight-month plus stalemate) in exchange for Nouri agreeing to give them certain things. The primary demand by the Kurds was that Article 140 of the Constitution be implemented (finally). Iraqiya's primary demand was that an independent national security council be created and headed by a member of Iraqiya. Nouri used this contract to get his second term. Then he trashed the contract. The White House had given their word that not only was the contract legally binding but that they would stand by it. They did nothing.
Washington has little political and no military influence over these developments [in Iraq]. As Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor charge in their ambitious new history of the Iraq war, The Endgame, Obama's administration sacrificed political influence by failing in 2010 to insist that the results of Iraq's first proper election be honored: "When the Obama administration acquiesced in the questionable judicial opinion that prevented Ayad Allawi's bloc, after it had won the most seats in 2010, from the first attempt at forming a new government, it undermined the prospects, however slim, for a compromise that might have led to a genuinely inclusive and cross-sectarian government."
What was in it for the White House? Well they were allowed to leave behind US forces in Iraq after the drawdown (wrongly billed as "withdrawal") of December 2011. They were able to leave "trainers," CIA, FBI, Special-Ops and more. And the White House is able to add more. Back in September, Tim Arango (New York Times) reported:
Iraq and the United States are negotiating an agreement that could result in the return of small units of American soldiers to Iraq on training missions. At the request of the Iraqi government, according to General Caslen, a unit of Army Special Operations soldiers was recently deployed to Iraq to advise on counterterrorism and help with intelligence.
"Maliki is heading towards an incredibly destructive dictatorship, and it looks to me as though the Obama administration is waving him across the finishing line," Toby Dodge, an Iraq expert at the London School of Economics said earlier this year. "Meanwhile, the most likely outcomes, which are either dictatorship or civil war, would be catastrophic because Iraq sits between Iran and Syria."
In 2010, Nouri was su
Violence slams Iraq today as both the month and the year wind down. Mu Xuequan (Xinhua) notes Iraq witnessed "a wave of bombings and shootings." EFE counts 23 dead and seventy-five injured.
The latest attacks also came amid continuing anti-government demonstrations in several Sunni-dominated cities protesting against marginalization by the Shiite-led government as well as the alleged arrest of hundreds of Sunnis.
The demonstrators also accused the Shiite-dominated security forces of arresting women instead of the wanted male of their family members.
The protests were first sparked last week after the Iraqi security forces arrested chief of the Sunni Finance Minister Rafia al-Issawi's protection force and nine bodyguards over charges of terrorism.
The Middle East Monitor offers this take, "The demonstrators are demanding to an end to what they allege is the Iraqi government's 'marginalisation and exclusion policy'; they're also asking for the release of prisoners as well as an end to inhumane treatment in the country's prison."
Protests continued over the weekend. Al Bawaba News noted, "Pressure is mounting on Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to step down, after the largest scale protests so far saw tens of thousands of Iraqis gather on Friday to call for his removal." All Iraq News reported that Minister of Defense Saadoun al-Dulaimi received a list of demands from members of the council of Anbar Province whose citizens passed on the demands: They want the detention of women stopped, they want detainees released and Article 4 of the Constitution reviewed. The Defense Minister was visiting Anbar Province one day after Friday's massive demonstration took place in Falluja (with a conservative estimate of the protesters being 60,000). Al Mada noted that Nouri pronounced Friday's protests in Mosul and Ramadi "uncivilized"; however, rock throwing wouldn't emerge until Sunday.
Mosul is the capital of Nineveh Province. All Iraq News reported that Council Members have informed the central government in Baghdad that their citizens demand the release of prisoners an end to Article 4 and an end to the Justice and Accountability Commission. Article 4 is how Nouri dubs various Iraqi rivals 'terrorists.' And the Justice and Accountability Commission is what Nouri uses to prevent people from running in elections. They have no job, they have no real role. Any Saddam Hussein loyalists would have long ago been captured. But Nouri uses this Article 4 to destroy his political rivals. Alsumaria added that Nineveh Provincial Council announced Saturday a general strike in solidarity with the protesters. It's a 72-hour strike (medical facilities will not be on strike). Today Alsumaria reports that Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi has declared that Parliament will abolsih Article 4. He compares Article 4 to the Sword of Damocles hanging over the neck of Iraqis.
Atheel (or Ethel) al-Nujaifi is the governor of the province. He's also the brother of Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi. Alsumaria notes that the governor declared Saturday that Nouri al-Maliki can end the current crisis within 24 hours just be returning the arrested to their provinces. Al Mada explains that Nouri has repeatedly targeted Atheel al-Nujaifi.
In October, allegations of torture and rape of women held in Iraqi prisons and detention centers began to make the rounds. In November, the allegations became a bit more and a fistfight broke out in Parliament with an angry State of Law storming out. By December, Members of Parliament on certain security committees were speaking publicly about the abuses. Then Nouri declared that anyone talking about this topic was breaking the law. He continued on this tangent for weeks claiming this past week that he would strip MPs of their immunity. (The Constitution doesn't allow for that.) Also this past week, it was learned that at least four females were raped in a Baghdad prison.
The outrage here is part of what has fueled the protests. Alsumaria notes the Ministry of Justice's latest spin Saturday: Only women guards are at these prisons! Whether that's true or not (most likely it is not) world history demonstrates that when women are imprisoned it's very common for someone to get the 'bright idea' to sell access to these women. Greed is a strong motivator. Again, the very claim is doubtful but if there are no men on staff, that doesn't mean men have not been present in the prisons. It wasn't enough to silence objections or stop the protests. Sunday, Al Arabiya noted, "Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki ordered on Sunday the release of female prisoners, who were arrested for terrorism charges without judicial warrants or because of terror crimes committed by their relatives, to appease to protesters who want to see the scrapping of anti-terrorism measures in the country, a local website reported."
Protests continued on Sunday with most of the press attention going to Ramadi where Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq was involved in an incident. Chen Zhi (Xinhua) reports that al-Mutlaq's office issued a statement claiming there was an assassination attempt on him while he was by the protesters and, following the assassination attempt, his bodyguards fired on the protesters. His office also claims that his bodyguards were injured. Citing witnesses and video, AP states that the bodygaurds fired on protesters who were making demands and throwing "rocks and bottles." AP notes that two protesters were injured by the gunshots. Reuters speaks with local witnesses and ends up with the same sequence of events AP has. Salma Abdelaziz, Yousuf Basil and Mohammed Lazim (CNN) report:
Some demonstrators Sunday called for al-Multaq, who is Sunni, to submit his resignation to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government. Protesters chanted, "Leave! Leave!" and threw stones at him, witnesses told CNN.
The deputy prime minister's bodyguards opened fire in an attempt to disperse the crowd as protesters hurled stones at the stage, Anbar provincial council member Suhaib al-Rawi told CNN. A protester with a gunshot wound was among five people injured, al-Rawi said. Details about the other injuries were not immediately clear.
All Iraq News counts 1 protester dead and four injured. Samantha Stainburn (Global Post) observes, "It is not known if the injured protests were shot intentionally or accidentally." The statement al-Mutlaq's office issued can be seen as an attempt by the politician to cover what happened. Why he was stupid enough to go to a protest is beyond me. Yes, he is Sunni and, yes, he is in the Iraqiya slate. But Saleh al-Mutlaq is not popular. He and Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi (also Sunni and Iraqiya) were both targeted by Nouri in December of 2011. While Tareq ended up having to leave the country and being convicted of 'terrorism,' Saleh sailed right through. In May, Nouri dropped his efforts to strip Saleh of his office.
By that point, there had been months of speculation in the Iraqi press that Saleh al-Mutlaq had cut a deal to save his own ass, that he was now in partnership with Nouri al-Maliki. This seemed to be even more true when Saleh was seen as undermining efforts to get a no-confidence vote against Nouri as spring was winding down.
Saleh al-Mutlaq is seen -- rightly or wrongly -- by Sunni Iraqis as someone who protects himself and does nothing for other Sunnis (whether they're politicians or average citizens). His actions on Sunday did nothing to alter that opinion. Today Dar Addustour observes that Mutlaq was seen as attempting to distract protesters from their legitimate demands for and that his words were seen as throwing shoes at the protesters. (Remember, throwing shoes is a major insult in Iraq.) Kitabat adds that al-Mutlaq further insulted the protesters by refusing to get on the platform to address them.
Al Mada notes the Mosul sit-in continued today. They also report that, according to a police source, six people taking part in a sit-in in Salahuddin Province were arrested yesterday and that the Salahuddin Provincial Council is warning Baghdad against ignoring the demands of the protesters. Alsumaria reports that Speaker of Parliament al-Nujaifi declared today that the government must offer real solutions and not fall back on procrastination.
On death and violence, Mark Sweney (Guardian) notes that of the 121 journalists killed worldwide in 2012, the International Federation of Journalists points out five were in Iraq. IFJ notes these are the top countries: