Friday, December 20, 2013

Iraq snapshot

Friday, December 20, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, today was one year of continuous protests in Iraq, we examine the meaning, we look at what fueled them, we look at 2011's protests and the difference between then and now, today is also one year that Iraq's been without a president, and much more.

Today, protests took place in Iraq.

As Iraqi Spring MC notes above, the people turned out in Falluja.

To appreciate what took place today with regards to the protests, we have to drop back to the wave of protests which took place in 2011.

Back then, the Arab Spring or 'Arab Spring' took hold in places in the Middle East promising populism and freedoms.  Even in areas where the protests weren't put down, little changed.  This week, a young Iraqi woman told BBC News, "I thought the uprising was a brighter future for our Middle East but it turned out to be a huge failure because of other countries meddling in our issues, it became a huge, huge failure for our Middle East I am against these uprisings and I wish it never would have happened in the first place."

Iraq's 2011 protests actually began before the 'Arab Spring.'  What were they protesting in Iraq?

Corruption, the 'disappeared' (Iraqis rounded up and then lost in the maze of what some optimistically call "justice" in Iraq), the lack of jobs and a government that looked pretty much like the one before the 2010 elections -- despite Iraqis turning out to vote and putting Iraqiya in first place.  An Iraqi correspondent for McClatchy explained one day's protests as follows:

The main purpose of the demonstrations that took place in many Iraqi cities in Feb 25 was to give the Iraqi officials an idea about the bad reality that we live eight years after what was called liberation. After the collapse of the former regime in 2003, Iraqis were so optimistic about future. We thought that collapsing Saddam's regime was the end of suffering, deprivation but it looks that Iraq moved from the dictatorship of one party to the dictatorship of a group of parties. Both Baath Party and the current Iraqi parties care only about their interests neglecting Iraqis completely. During Saddam's regime, high positions were only for the regime's supporters and now the same thing happen. If you are not a member of the ruling parties or a friend of one of the officials, you can forget about having a decent job even if you have the highest level of education. Professionalism is not the basic criterion in Iraq. It had been ignored more than three decades ago. The basic criterion now days is (which party are you from? )or sometimes (how much money you can pay to get the position?)

The Pacifica Evening News carried a report on the various protests Friday, February 25, 2011:

Mark Mericle: Thousands marched on government buildings and clashed with security forces in cities across Iraq in an outpouring of anger that left 11 people dead -- the largest and most violent anti-government protests in the country since political unrest began spreading in the Arab world weeks ago. The protests, billed as a Day of Rage were fueled over anger by corruption, chronic unemployment and shoddy public services from the Sh'ite dominated government. Shi'ite religious leaders discouraged people from taking part, greatly diminishing the Shi'ite participation. Tarek Bazley reports.

Tarek Bazley: The spirit of protest is very much alive in Iraq despite the capitol and virtual security lockdown, thousands took to the streets. Their day of rage inspired by recent events in North Africa.

Iraqi man: Our demands are to prevent corruption by making laws to prevent it and apply it correctly for the of the Iraqi people.

Tarek Bazley: Soldiers searched protesters trying to enter Liberation Square. They barricaded a bridge leading to the city's so-called Green Zone government area. At one point, protesters threw stones at riot police and forced them back against the wall. In the southern city Basra, around 3,000 also took to the streets to protest against corruption and a lack of basic services. Concrete slabs surrounding the Basra government building were knocked over. Clashes too with riot police in Mosul where provincial government offices were set on fire. Eight years after the US invasion and the fall of Saddam Hussein, there's clear anger on the streets. Development has been slow to come to the country and after recent events in the region there are fears that anger could drive a broader call for change. Tarek Bazley, Aljazeera.

In the face of those protests and with unrest elsewhere in the region and the government of Egypt eventually toppled, Nouri got a little worried.  So what did he do?  He started making promises.

Nouri's words always worthless, that's been established repeatedly. But fearing for his own job, he promised that he would 'abdicate' his 'throne' at the end of his second term and that, if the protesters would just stop protesting, give him 100 days, he would end corruption.  His lies were all about ending the protests.

Let's review some of that.  Dropping back to February 5, 2011:

This week has seen a lot of words but not a lot of action. Words include the announcement that Nouri won't seek a third term. Why does it matter who he said it to?
Announced by who? The Los Angeles Times isn't clear. He said it to Sammy Ketz of AFP in an interview. Ketz reports him stating he won't seek a third term, that 8 years is enough and that he supports a measure to the Constitution limiting prime ministers to two terms.

Of course, he didn't support a measure limiting the office to two terms.  In fact, last August, he was ordering the Baghdad court to nullify a measure that the Parliament passed.  But let's drop back now to February 6, 2011 where we again noted Nouri's claim reported by Sammy Ketz:

That was written yesterday and Nouri couldn't even go 24 hours sticking to his 'promise.' Ben Lando and Munaf Ammar (Wall St. Journal) report that Nouri's spokesperson, Ali al-Mousawi, declared today, "We would like to correct this article. Maliki said, 'I think that the period of eight years is adequate for the application of a successful program to the prime minister, and if he is not successful, he must vacate his place'." Of course he's not announcing that. He's a thug. His previous four year term was an utter failure.

In March (2011), the New York Times' editorial board's "Mr. Maliki's Power Grab" showed more sense than many outlets like the BBC had:

Instead of taking responsibility, Mr. Maliki charged that the protests were organized by "terrorists." He ordered the closing of the offices of two political parties that helped lead the demonstrations.
His only concessions were vows not to seek a third term in 2014 and to cut his pay in half. That was not persuasive, especially given his many recent power grabs. 

Again, Nouri's word is worthless.  He established that repeatedly in his first term and repeatedly in his second.  He cannot be trusted, his word is meaningless.  Now he wants a third term despite his promises.  What about those 100 days?

Dropping back to the June 7, 2011 snapshot:

The 100 days is over.  Al Rafidayn reports Nouri's press conference yesterday in Baghdad found Nouri expressing his hope that "the citizens will treat us kindly in the measuring our accomplishments and that they will be objective." He announced that meetings would take place today on evaluations. New Sabah quotes State Of Law's Khaled al-Asadi stating that Nouri will make assessments through tonight and that the 100 Days was in order to evaluate the performances and that "no sane person would assume a government only four years old could accomplish improvement in one hundred days." Oh,how they try to lower the expectations now. The 100 Days?  Al Jazeera gets it right, "Maliki gave his cabinet a 100-day deadline to improve basic services after a string of anti-government protests across Iraq in February.  He promised to assess their progress at the end of that period, and warned that 'changes will be made' at failing ministries.  That deadline expired on Tuesday -- and Maliki largely retreated from his threat, instead asking for patience and more time to solve problems." Fakhri Karim (Al Mada) observes that the 100 Days has done little to instill strength in the belief that Nouri has the "ability to manage the Cabinet" and the duties of the office of prime minister. Karim notes that Nouri's inability to govern, his failure at it, led to the protests and that they were for the basic services which are "the most basic necessities" of our time. Alsumaria TV notes, "Starting today, meetings will be held in front of the people. Discussions will cover all fields one by one. We will go over three headlines or three ministers. We must realize the framework upon which we will carry on with the second 100 day deadline, Maliki said."

Please, Nouri lied to end the protests.  There was no end of corruption at the end of 100 days.  Just more lies from Nouir.  His assertion of "the second 100 day deadline"?  What a load of crap.  There was never another mention of ending corruption let alone the open hearings and meetings he claimed would take place.

He's just a cheap little thug who will say anything to maintain his hold on power.

During the 100 days most of the protesters stopped protesting.  Some because cleric and movement leader Moqtada al-Sadr urged them to stop.

The protests would try to regroup after June 7th.  Some would take part in the protests but it did not reach the level that it had been in February 2011.  There were reasons for that, such as the attacks on the protesters, the assassination  of journalist and activist Hadi al-Mahdi (assassinated on Nouri's orders, I will always believe) and more.  But regardless of the reasons, the protests had lost their momentum.

Today, Iraqi Spring MC reports protests also took place in Ramadi, Samarra, Jalawla, Tikrit, among other places.

And this matters because protests matter.

But it matters also because of what it demonstrates about the Iraqi people.

What I'm offering is my opinion, my analysis.  I can be wrong.  Anyone can be and I'm more often wrong than most people, I'm sure.  But I do know politics and that includes certain signs.

There what the press repeatedly missed.

To establish that, we'll just use one example.   December 30th, Sunni politician and Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq tried to grand stand and use a Ramadi protest as a photo op.  That rocks and bottles were tossed at him was shocking to the western press.  Just shocking.  He's so popular!  He's so loved!  The calendar showed 2012 was winding down but the press was living in 2010.  As I noted on December 30th:

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).
He went to a Sunni area, Ramadi, where protests had long been taking place and was immediately greeted with a demand that he resign from the Cabinet.  (That would not have taken him out of his MP status.  He just would no longer be a Cabinet member.)  He was appalled by the idea and rejected it outright.
Nouri's first term was notorious for one Cabinet walk out after another.
But Saleh wouldn't even entertain the idea?
You've got provincial councils going on strike but Saleh can't even do a walk out?
Of course they threw rocks and bottles at him.  He was already seen as a sell-out.  And people want to believe that's not the case but then he appears before them and acts like that?  He destroys his own image.
He never should have gone and it's a sign of just how out of touch with Sunni public opinion he is that he did show up.

It wasn't just that they played dumb in their press reports in real time.  It was also that my take above resulted in four members of the press -- one wire service, three US newspaper 'men' (all contacting were men -- they're always so  eager to 'correct' a woman) .  If you ever wanted to be quoted, just note in your e-mail that you want to be named and quoted.

Of course, it's good that you didn't want to be noted.

Salah al-Mutlaq popped up at the protests again.  At the end of March.  Not physically.  It was his image.  People carried his image.  But before you think like the western press -- "Oh, that popular Saleh!" -- take a look at what they carried.

From Karkuk من كركوك

I don't think you need to speak Arabic to grasp what the big red X across his face means.

Three months before, we'd already talked about the realities -- realities the western press denied.

So I can be wrong, I often am wrong.  But I can also be right and I feel right about what I'm going to offer below.

People are fretting that the vote -- if parliamentary elections take place on April 30th -- will be lower than in 2010 and it will be especially lower for Sunnis.  Some western commentators are insisting that Sunnis will stay home.

They're basing on a see-saw that's been present so far.

In the 2005 parlimentary elections, Shi'ites turned out in large numbers while Sunnis -- in significant numbers -- didn't vote.  In 2010, the reverse was true.

Based on that pattern, it is probably safe to predict that the next election will see Sunnis disenchanted and staying home.

But what about the pattern of today?

December 21, 2012, this wave of protests kicked off.  Today, they reached the one year mark.

Iraqis -- largely Sunni, but not just -- carried on a wave of protests for one year -- and counting.  Today, was the one year mark but there's not any announcement that they stopped today.

For one year, they've protested.  Largely Sunnis, protesting in spite of everything.

Nothing has stopped them.

The flooding in Iraq didn't stop them.

The increased violence in Iraq didn't stop them.

Being targeted with threats and violence didn't stop them.

While many western outlets published stories about poor little back stabbing Saleh getting pelted and used that as 'violent protests!,' the same outlets ignored the ongoing violence aimed at the protesters.

Such as?   January 7th, Nouri's forces assaulted four protesters in Mosul,  January 24th,  Nouri's forces sent two protesters (and one reporter) to the hospital,  and March 8th, Nouri's force fired on protesters in Mosul killing three.

All of that and more appeared to be a trial run for what was coming, the April 23rd massacre of a peaceful sit-in in Hawija which resulted from  Nouri's federal forces storming in.  Alsumaria noted Kirkuk's Department of Health (Hawija is in Kirkuk)  announced 50 activists have died and 110 were injured in the assault.   AFP reported the death toll rose to 53 dead.  UNICEF noted that the dead included 8 children (twelve more were injured).

Not even that attack stopped the protests.

And away from the protests?

Protesters and leaders of the protests have been repeatedly targeted.

Ammar Jassam Theyabi

September 25th is just one day when one of them was assassinated and -- like with the assassination of Hadi al-Mahdi in 2011 -- no suspect was ever found -- mainly because Nouri's never had any real investigations because these attacks are carried out by his supporters.  If you want to be generous you can say 'probably not on his orders.'  Above is Ammar Theyabi.  National Iraqi News Agency reported a Ramadi sticky bombing claimed the life of "Ammar Theyabi, one of the organizers of the Anbar protests."  Alsumaria revealed that Ammar was crossing a bridge when the bomb went off.   Iraqi Spring MC states the attack bears the characteristics of one carried out by government intelligence agents.  Ammar is only one of the many killed for protesting.  Even though the Constitution of Iraq guarantees the right to protest, you can be killed for it.

And if you are?

Iraq media may cover it.  But the western press has demonstrated repeatedly in 2013 that they just don't give a damn.

So they probably shouldn't be trying to analyze the Sunni population having ignored them.

The way I see it, my analysis?  Sunnis will be voting if elections are held April 30th.

You don't take part in a year long protest and risk your own safety just to turn around and not vote.

Yes, Sunnis have every reason to be discouraged about the voting process (and that's on Barack Obama who overruled their votes in 2010).  But if you're completely writing off the process, you don't take part in protests.

What you do is you pick up a gun or make a bomb.

Nouri's smeared this wave of protesters as 'terrorists' the same as he did in 2011.

But terrorist don't do sit-ins and don't marches.

Terrorists do not believe that they will be heard.  They have exhausted all political options -- at least in their minds -- and the only thing they feel they can now do is bring down the system with violence.

The massive participation by Sunnis this year in 12 months of continuous protests does not say, "I'm opting out of the political process.  I'll either turn to apathy or violence."

The protesters are still part of the democratic process.

Those who've participated are probably more likely to vote because of their participation.  That's also true of family members of protesters who didn't join the protests.  They know how the government tried to destroy the protesters and, alone with their ballot in April, they can stand with their loved ones.

The year-long protests have been fueled by many things including the disappeared, the lack of public services (potable water, reliable electricity, etc.), corruption, unemployment, the targeting of Sunnis and especially the torture and rape of girls and women in Nouri's prisons and detention centers.

From the December 31st snapshot:

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."

Yesterday Ahmed Muayed (Niqash) reported:

The practice of torture to exact confessions from prisoners remains widespread in Iraq’s justice system. And investigators have apparently been able to practice it with impunity. But now even MPs from the ruling coalition are saying something needs to be done about it.

The 34-year-old began to cry as he spoke about his time in a Baghdad prison. He and his three brothers were arrested in the eastern province of Diyala and brought to Baghdad.
“At times, I was convinced that I was dead and that those who were beating and torturing me were demons from hell,” the man, who wished to be known only as Hamid, told NIQASH. “I was screaming so loud I hallucinated that my voice was heard on the other side of the universe.”
Hamid says part of the torture involved being stripped, hung from a pole, sprayed with cold water from a hose every half hour and beaten.

“They beat us with sticks and without mercy. And they kept repeating that they would take their revenge on us until we confessed to our crimes,” Hamid says.
Various international watch dog organisations agree that torture is still widespread in Iraq’s prisons. Human Rights Watch has released dozens of reports on torture in Iraq. Erin Evers, a Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch, who was in Iraq, interviewing women in prison and officials, lawyers and others about the justice system, says torture in Iraqi prisons is “a systematic act”.

Evers says that the investigating officers rely on it to get confessions and that they get away with it because they are never held accountable for using torture, either by the Ministry of Justice or other authorities.
An Amnesty International report published in March this year, called Iraq: a Decade of Abuses, said that, “thousands of Iraqis are detained without trial or are serving prison sentences imposed after unfair trials, torture remains rife and continues to be committed with impunity.”

Today was the one year anniversary of the start of the ongoing protests.

It was also something else.

Let's play Where's Jalal!

Last December,  Iraqi President Jalal Talabani suffered a stroke.   The incident took place late on December 17th (see the December 18th snapshot) and resulted in Jalal being admitted to Baghdad's Medical Center Hospital.    Thursday, December 20th, he was moved to Germany.  He remains in Germany currently.

He has been out of the country for a full year.

He is incapacitated and unable to carry out the duties of his office.

Per the Constitution of Iraq, he should have been replaced as prime minister.

In October, it was reported that he can't speak.

And for those who would argue that 'the vice president is filling in for him!' -- per the Constitution, that's 30 days only.  So the country has no president and the Constitution's not being followed.  Those aren't good signs for Iraq.

Nor is the violence.  National Iraqi News Agency reports 1 person was shot dead outside his Baquba home, and a Falluja attack left 1 person dead and three injured (two were police officers),  All Iraq News adds that 2 Tuz Khurmatu bombings left 6 people dead and twenty-five injured.  Alsumaria explains one of the bombings -- the one that left 5 people dead -- targeted mourners in a cemetery.  Earlier this week, Alsumaria noted that placing bombs in cemeteries had become the "killing technique of the month" and  quoted Salim al-Hiyali ("security expert) stating, "Planting bombs in graves is a new phenomenon that surged in the security scene in Diyala during December after two such incidents took place: the first in a graveyard near Al Wajihiyah (25 km north-east of Baaqubah) leading to the death of about 60 civilians and the second took place near a cemetery in Abu Idris (3 km south of Baaqubah). 30 civilians were injured and died as a result."

Alsumaria reports other violence today includes a Mosul roadside bombing left Col Mohammed Ibrahim and his assistant injured, a Juachik vomving left 2 people dead, 2 people were shot dead in Tal Afar, a Mosul roadside bombing claimed the life of 1 police officer and left another injured, 1 taxi driver was shot dead in Mosul, 1 telecom company employee was shot dead in Mosul,  National Iraqi News Agency also reports that a Shirqat attack left 1 Sahwa dead and four police officers injured, a Qayara bombing targeting the home of Nineveh Antiquity Department Director Abdul Aziz Hassan al-Jobouri left 1 child dead and another injured, 1 police officer was shot dead in Shirqat, and a Qayara home invasion left 1 police officer and the officer's mother dead.

Yesterday's violence claimed the life of  Iraqi journalist Muhanad Mohammed and one of his sons. Ammar Karim (AFP) remembers him today in a post which includes:

Muhanad was a dedicated journalist whom I had known for many years, a man who was never afraid of death, who built an extensive network of sources, and who always fought to get the truth and convey it with integrity. He had worked for both foreign and Iraqi media, and was the seventh journalist to be killed in Iraq in less than three months.
On a personal level, he was a true and loyal friend during the difficult situations we passed through, and he would get mad if we didn't stay in touch.

Turning to the US,  Senator Patty Murray's office issued the following:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                               CONTACT: Murray Press Office (202) 224-2834
Thursday, December 19, 2013                                                    Ayotte Press Office (202) 224-3324
MILITARY SEXUAL ASSAULT: Final Defense Bill Includes Murray-Ayotte Reform to Better Protect Victims
Murray-Ayotte provision would provide trained military lawyers to victims of sexual assault in all service branches
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) released the following statements after the United States Senate approved the Fiscal Year 2014 National Defense Authorization Act, which includes their bipartisan legislation to provide victims of sexual assault in all military branches with a Special Victims’ Counsel (SVC) – a trained and certified military lawyer to assist victims throughout the legal process. The defense bill, which passed the Senate by a vote of 84-15, also includes dozens of major reforms to protect and support victims of sexual assault, boost prosecutions, and hold military commanders accountable. 
Today we have taken a major, unprecedented step toward finally eliminating the plague of sexual assault in our nation’s military,” said Senator Murray. “Thanks to the voices of countless victims, the work of thousands of advocates, and the bipartisan cooperation of my colleagues, we have shone a light on an issue that for too long has left so many of our nation’s heroes in the shadows. I’d especially like to thank Senator Ayotte for her partnership as we worked to enact this reform, which truly gets at the heart of effectively addressing the tragic epidemic facing our men and women in uniform. I look forward to President Obama’s signature on this legislation and in the coming months will work closely with Secretary Hagel and the incoming Director of the Department of Defense’s Sexual Assault and Prevention Office, Major General Jeffrey Snow, to ensure swift implementation of our legislation.”
“Providing sexual assault victims with their own military lawyer takes a major step toward empowering victims and making sure they get the guidance they need,” said Senator Ayotte. “The special victims’ counsel provision will help encourage victims to come forward to seek justice, and it will help ensure that perpetrators are held accountable for their crimes. I appreciated the opportunity to work with Senator Murray on this bipartisan measure, which is part of a broad package of reforms to address sexual assault in our military.”
In August, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel directed immediate implementation of several measures to “gain greater consistency of effort and enhance oversight, investigative quality, pretrial investigations and victim support” in cases of military sexual assault. Among other measures, the directive includes implementation of a special victims’ advocacy program to assist sexual assault victims in all branches through the legal process, similar to the legislation introduced by Senators Murray and Ayotte.
Senators Murray and Ayotte have worked for much of the year to advance legislation to prevent sexual assaults in the militaryLast month, Senators Murray and Ayotte  joined a bipartisan group of female Senators on the floor to speak out against sexual assault in the military and call on their colleagues to support some of the historic changes being made to prevent this scourge.