Friday, January 4, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, calls ring out for the government to be dissolved, Victoria Nuland is again forced to address Iraq in a press briefing, Parliament calls a special meeting for Sunday, and more.
Weeks ago, Nouri threatened to call early elections. Today someone called his bluff. Alsumaria notes Iraqiya leader Ayad Allawi has joined Nouri's call for early elections -- this is parliamentary elections, not provincial elections which are scheduled to take place in a few months. KUNA quotes Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq stating, "The incumbent government has to step down." Like Allawi, al-Mutlaq is a member of Iraqiya. Though Nouri's had no response as of yet. Alsumaria reveals that MP Jabbar Kanani with Nouri's State of Law states that the answer to the current problems is to dissolve the Parliament and hold early elections. Paul D. Shinkman (US News and World Reports) states they have been told by a source (unnamed) that "the fledgling Baghdad government may be on the brink of dissolving parliament within days" and that this may happen "as soon as 48 hours."
Allawi's not just calling for early elections, he's calling for an interim government to be set up. In 2010, there was a push for just such a thing. The United Nations and France were on board with the idea but the US government killed that proposal. As reported in Michael R. Gordon and Bernard E. Trainor's The Endgame: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Iraq, from George W. Bush to Barack Obama, the top US commander in Iraq, Gen Ray Odierno, had concerns that if Nouri's State of Law did not come in first in the March 2010 parliamentary elections, Nouri would refuse to stand down. France, the UN and Odierno were right to be concerned.
Nouri's State of Law was supposed to run in a landslide -- that's what he said would happen. But the voters had a different plan. There was no landslide for Nouri and, in fact, State of Law didn't win. Iraqiya came in first. State of Law came in second. Having won the elections, per the Constitution, it would be Iraqiya's job to form the government. Someone from the slate would be named prime minister-designate. That person would then have 30 days to create a Cabinet (that's a full Cabinet, the Iraqi Constitution does not recognize a partial Cabinet). If the person can't form a Cabinet within 30 days, it's up to the President of Iraq to name another person prime minister-designate.
None of that happened. Nouri had the White House on his side. And he refused to stop being prime minister. He refused to let a new government be formed. He basically threw a temper tantrum for over eight months holding Iraq hostage. It was a political stalemate.
Instead of reasoning with the loser (Nouri), the White House told the other political blocs that Nouri could continues this for months and, for the good of the country, to allow Iraq to move forward, it was time for the leaders of the political blocs to be the bigger person and let go of their objections to the loser remaining prime minister.
The White House basically said to what they had termed a "democracy," 'Forget what the Iraqi people voted for, forget what the Constitution says, let Nouri have a second term as prime minister. Now, for that to happen, what do you need in return?"
The extra-Constitutional contract that the US brokered is known as the Erbil Agreement. Had an interim government been set up, Nouri would have had no edge, no place from which to toss a tantrum and bring the country to a standstill.
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."
There were other consequences as well.
What some called a 'democracy' would have been an 'emerging democracy' at best. Barack Obama decided the lesson to teach Iraqis was (a) your vote doesn't matter and (b) your Constitution doesn't matter. This does not make for building blocks to a strong democracy. This was hugely damaging. You puff out your chest and lie that you've brought people democracy -- when all you've really brough them was death and destruction -- and then the ones who were willing to hope that was true, the ones who were willing to believe in the process are given the message that your vote doesn't matter and it can be overturned in a backroom bargain, your Constitution doesn't matter and the US government can circumvent it on a whim.
The White House, in an honest moment, would argue that they were comfortable with (US puppet) Nouri and felt he was a 'stabilizing' force. In a really honest moment, which they are incapable of, they'd admit that Nouri swore now, finally, he could push through the oil and gas law the US has long wanted. Now this is the same law that Nouri promised to push through years ago. In fact, these are part of the Bush White House's benchmarks which Nouri agreed to in 2007. He didn't accomplish it then or in all the years since.
A smart person looks at the record and says, "Uh, Nouri can't accomplish this. If he could have, he would have done it yesterday." However, an idiot says, "He just screwed Bush. Nouri would never screw me over. It will be different this time, Nouri will keep his word." That's what an idiot said and that's why the US insisted Nouri get a second term.
Allawi wants a caretaker government because that's the only thing that can curb Nouri. A temporary government can prevent him from hanging on to an office if he hasn't earned it. Zaid Sabah and Khalid al-Ansary (Bloomberg News) has State of Law's MP Khalid al-Aadi stating, "The State of Law didn't ask to dissolve the parliament. But when any party asks for dissolving the parliament and dissolve the government and call for early election, we will not stand against it." They also say that the request is for Nouri to continue -- after the Parliament is dissolved -- "to govern as a caretaker." That is completely false and it is not what Ayad Allawi stated.
As protests continued to spread in Iraq today, Nouri al-Maliki, prime minister and thug of the occupation, had a message. KUNA quotes him stating, "The recent calls by extremists to turn the protests into civil disobedience only serve external agendas and could undermine the entire political process in Iraq." By Nouri's 'standards,' Martin Luther King Jr., Hendry David Thoreau, Mahatma Ghandi and other proponents of civil disobedience would be branded 'terrorists' as would the Muslim women in Pakistan in 1947. Not only is that global tradition ignored, Sun Yunlong (Xinhua) reported March 25, 2008, "Iraq's radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr Tuesday called on Iraqis to hold sit-ins across Iraq if attacks by U.S. and Iraqi troops continue against his follwers, a Sadr statement said."
Despite Nouri's attempts to demonize protests, Pakistan Today reports, "Thousands of Sunni Iraqis have continued to protest in Fallujah and other Iraq cities" and that they continue to insist upon "the release of prisoners and the end to allegedly sectarian policies." And Nouri continues to refuse to allow Iraqis to exercise their rights freely. AFP reports, "Demonstrators gathered at the Abu Hanifa mosque in the mostly-Sunni neighbourhood of Adhamiyah, but were barred by security forces from leaving the compound to rally on the street, an AFP correspondent said." The Voice of Russia adds, "The protests, which were attended by hundreds of thousands of people took place in other cities across the country as part of a declared 'Resistance Friday'." SAPA Asian News Agency spoke with two protesters, one male, one female. Abu Adbullah wondered, "How much longer will our children stay in prisons for no other reason than being Sunni." Umm Mohammed states, "My three children were arrested four years ago for no reason and I ask Maliki -- release them." Ahlul Bayt News Agency notes that "anit-government protests took place in several Iraqi cities, including Salahuddin, Diyala, Kirkuk, and Nineveh provinces, while demonstrators in western Anbar province continued to block off a highway linking Iraq to Syria and Jordan for a 12th succssive day."
All Iraq News notes that, following today's morning prayers, Arabs in Kirkuk took to the streets to protest and demand the release of the prisoners and the abolition of Article 4 which is seen as being used for political purposes against Sunnis. October 31, 2010, Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad was assaulted. Today, cleric and movement leader Moqtada al-Sadr visited the Church to show solidarity with Iraqi Christians and underscore that the dream is one Iraq that is welcoming and home to all Iraqis regardless of faith. Alsumaria notes he spoke of sending delegates to speak to the protesters in Anbar Province for that reason. He repeated his statements from earlier this week noting that the protesters had a legitimate right to express their grievances. All Iraq News notes that he stressed the importance of the Christian community to Iraq. Alsumaria adds that Moqtada then went to Kilani Mosque in central Baghdad for morning prayers. Emily Alpert (Los Angeles Times) offers, "Sadr is believed to be making gestures to the Sunni protesters and religious minorities in order to style himself as a unifying figure ahead of the provincial vote." Adam Schreck (AP) echoes Alpert, "Al-Sadr [appears] to be trying to capitalize on the political turmoil by attempting to portray himself as a unifying figure ahead of provincial elections in the spring."
Maybe so. But what is known is that Nouri's held onto the arrest warrant for Moqtada. It's part of the reason Moqtada stayed out of Iraq (especially after Nouri's 2008 attacks on Basra and Baghdad's Sadr City). Moqtada is taking a real chance going into Baghdad today. Whether that's to see himself up as "a unifying figure," I have no idea. Since 2010, we've talked about how he believes he will be Iraq's next prime minister. But ambitions or no ambitions today, with that still outstanding arrest warrant (which dates back to the US occupation), Moqtada took a real chance going into Baghdad, speaking of the need for unity and decrying what is taking place.
While Moqtada was talking inclusion and one Iraq, Nouri continues his attempts to divide the country. Al Mada reports that Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi has called out Nouri's attack on him (saying al-Nujaifi was unfit because he supported the protesters). al-Nujaifi has responded that the right of protest is guaranteed in the Constitution and that the citizens have the right to exercise their freedoms and to reject tyranny and injustice. Kitabat states that there was supposed to be a meeting of various political leaders today but the head of the National Alliance, Ibrahim Jafaari, postponed the meeting. Nouri was busy today too. Kitabat reports that he sent out forms to the local governments asking the identify the people leading the protests and to arrest them.
That's a fact US State Dept spokesperson Victorial Nuland worked hard to avoid at today's State Dept press briefing.
QUESTION:Just on Iraq.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: More protests today. Have you guys had contacts with the Iraqi government about how they're going to respond to this, how they're going to reduce tensions?
MS. NULAND: We have had contacts with the Iraqi government. We've had contacts with all of the stakeholders in Iraq along the lines of the comments that I made yesterday calling for peaceful protesters to be allowed to protest peacefully, but that also for restraint on all sides, including on the part of protesters and on the part of security forces. Our understanding is that they were relatively big protests today but that they were somewhat more peaceful than they had been in previous days, which is a good thing.
QUESTION: Victoria, are you involved directly in mediating, like at the Embassy level or perhaps at the "someone from the building level" between the different parties in Iraq? Because Allawi, the Iraqiya – the head of the Iraqiya – today called on Maliki to resign. Are you mediating any kind of talks between the two?
MS. NULAND: Well, Said, I wouldn't use that word. We've talked about this before here. You know that on a weekly basis, sometimes on a daily basis, our Ambassador in Iraq has meetings with all of the key leaders, encouraging them to work with each other to settle issues that they have through dialogue, to protect and preserve the basic tenets of the Iraqi constitution. He regularly sees the Prime Minister, the deputy prime ministers, the Vice President, cabinet ministers, deputy ministers, parliamentarians. So we try to use our good offices with all of the groups to encourage them to participate actively in dialogue with each other.
QUESTION: Okay. And Muqtada al-Sadr, the fiery Shia leader who heads Jaish al-Mahdi – the Mahdi Army is also is threatening to sort of break away with Malaki. Do you see this as a good sign as breaking away from Iran's hold?
MS. NULAND: Again, what we want to see is the major stakeholders in Iraq, political leaders, work through their issues through dialogue in consultation with each other. I'm obviously not going to comment on specific political moves by one player or another, except to say that when there are grievances, we don't want them settled through violence. We don't want to see them settled through moves that will hurt innocents. We want to see conversation, we want to see dialogue, we want to see protection of the constitution.
Still on Iraq? No?
MS. NULAND: Yes on Iraq?
QUESTION: Yeah. One of the issues that the protesters are angry about is the prisoners. They say that up to 50,000 people are being imprisoned in Iraq just because of their – this sectarian reasons. And the government is denying that number, and they're saying there are 900 women, and they didn't provide the number of male prisoners. Between those numbers of the government and the protesters' numbers, from your people on the ground during those meetings, do they have an idea? I mean, can they – do they have anything solid regarding the number of prisoners? Because this is one of the main issues that the people are protesting against in Iraq.
MS. NULAND: I'm not prepared to address here our assessment of what the accurate numbers may or may not be. I will say that this is one of the issues that we have encouraged dialogue and transparency on. It's important in any democracy for the justice system to be transparent, for there to be fairness and a level playing field, and that's something that needs to be addressed, obviously.
Fallujah, Ramadi, Tikrit, Mosul - all saw demonstrations against the Maliki government, with some, including Mosul, calling for the withdrawal of the Iraqi government and police forces. Never one to shirk from a challenge to his power, Maliki has responded with ominous language - including calling up protesters to 'end their strike before the state intervenes to end it'.
While Maliki has faced threats from the Sunni areas before, he has never faced them in isolation. This time, however, the Kurds are no longer his allies and instead have increasingly common cause with their Sunni neighbours. Following years of poor relations between Erbil and Baghdad, caused over disputes over oil and gas policy, budgetary allocations, the status of the disputed territories (including Kirkuk), and an overall disenchantment within Erbil towards the Maliki government, the relationship between the two capitals has, by the start of 2013, become appalling.
Following a military stand-off in the disputed territories at the end of 2012, the scene is set for 2013 to be one of the Kurds moving ahead with securing their autonomy by strengthening their relationship with Turkey and the Arab Gulf states, and by exporting oil and gas directly to their northern neighbour. In order to protect their region, it would make sense for them to do so from the disputed territories themselves, and so raise the spectre of increased military confrontation with Maliki in such volatile flashpoints as Kirkuk, Diyala, and Ninevah. This is a confrontation that the Kurds, with at least tacit Sunni support, may feel capable of winning. The Kurdistan War of 2013 may not be too unlikely, looking at the current pieces on the board.
Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi and Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq have called a special session of Parliament for Sunday. Alsumaria notes that MP Ali al-Tamimi, member of the Sadr bloc, states that they will be attending the Sunday special session.
A bombing yesterday in Musayyib targeted pilgrims taking part in the Arbaeen rituals. Today Yasir Ghazi and Christine Hauser (New York Times) report the death toll rose to at least 32 (injured is at twenty-eight). They also note a Thursday Baghdad roadside bombing which left 4 dead and fifteen injured. The UN News Center notes that United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq has strongly condemned the bombing and "The Mission expresses its profound sympathy to the families of the victims, to whom it extends sincere condolences, and wishes for a speedy recovery to the wounded." The month has just begun, is not even a week old, and already Iraq Body Count counts 55 people killed by violence in Iraq so far in January. Today,
Alsumaria reports that a grenade attack on a Mosul checkpoint left two police officers injured.
Fars News Agency notes, "Turkish Fighter jets bombed over 20 targets of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in Northern Iraq late Monday." Trend News Agency points out, "The conflict between Turkey and the PKK has lasted over 25 years." 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." Today the World Tribune reports the government of Turkey is in talks with the PKK on a disarmament treaty, "Officials said Turkey's intelligence community was examining the prospect of a long-term ceasefire with the PKK. They said the intelligence community offered the PKK a range of options after Ankara determined that Kurdish insurgents could not be defeated militarily." This follows their report from yesterday that Turkey was speaking to Abdullah Ocalan (imprisoned PKK leader) about a ceasefire. Hurriyet Daily News adds, "Peace and Democracy Party Deputy Ayla Akat Ata, lawyer Meral Danış and independent deputy Ahmet Türk traveled to İmralı Island on Jan.3 to meet with the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) Abdullah Öcalan, according to daily Radikal."
Citing Turkish Minister of the Interior Naim Sahin, AP states that the Turkish military will continue its operations even as talks are pursuded. Sahin states, "Operations are continuing. They will continue until members of the group who bear enmity against our people are no longer in a position to attack or shed blood." Hurriyet Daily News informs, "Imprisoned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan said during a meeting on Imrali island on Jan. 3 that he should be considered the 'only authority' in the process of of PKK disarmament."
The baby is crying. Her cheeks are swollen and yellowish as are those of many of the older children. "Al Sfar" (jaundice), confirms Um Ahmed. She says the clinic offers no help. One mother hugs her 3-year-old daughter. "I'm just watching my child get sicker every day and there is nothing I can do."
Another woman, Intisar, wordlessly pulls the base of the tent out to show me how damp the gravel is under the tent. "It seeps into those sponge mattresses, into our bones, into our skin. There is no way of staying warm or dry." Her husband shows me the deep crevice dug by their resident rats. "All night they crawl under us, trying to get warmth. The children scream, and I spend all night beating the rats out."
As I walk out, the tears rise in me. It hurts to look into the despair on the children's faces, to see a toddler barefoot on the gravel. There is so much that needs to be done. Without support these children truly suffer. As winter tightens its grip on Syria's neighboring countries, stories like those I heard in Al Qaem are far from unique.
[. . .]
As with all other organizations responding to the humanitarian needs of the Syrian refugees in the region, our greatest challenge is funding. We are on the ground. We have established operations in Al Qaem, which is no small feat. We are ready to deliver aid immediately but we need the funds to make it happen.
That night, I cannot get warm, despite the blankets and thick walls. I cannot stop thinking of the children, out in the desert cold.
To donate to Save the Children's Syria Children in Crisis Fund, which provides relief and support for Syrian children seeking refuge in Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan, please click here.
The Bill of Rights Defense Committee is a US group that works on issues effecting the basic rights. It is a national group that first came on my radar when I was going campus to campus speaking about the then-just started Iraq War. When Congress was unwilling or unable to stop the Patriot Act, BRDC organized city by city to get local governments to pass resolutions against the Patriot Act. Usually, people appeared before the municipal body to speak about why such a measure was necessary. Often they would be color coordinated (such as all wearing blue shirts). When the Patriot Act needed resistance it came down to librarians and the BRDC fighting for the rights we too often take for granted. Barack Obama has a Drone War in the rest of the world. He's bringing the drones closer in 2013. Many US cities and towns will discover the surveilance drones. From surveilance, what comes next? The Congress doesn't care. The weapons lobby has, as usual, bought off the Congress which is how drones are now about to operate freely just above US soil. The Bill of Rights Defense Committee is hoping to repeat their earlier efforts and get cities and towns to stand up. This year, they made the list of Great Nonprofits. If you're not familiar with their work, you can check out the website and you can also refer to the following news articles: