Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, January 21, 2014.  Chaos and violence continue, one 'analyst' spews hatred at Sunnis while another forgets 2007, US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel meets with Iraq's Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi, Nouri finally arrests a Shi'ite militia leader, the arrested has a cell phone in jail and calls Reuters to threaten Nouri, the assault on Anbar continues, bad news for Nouri in a new Human Rights Watch report and a new UN human rights report, and more.

Talk Radio News reports US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel met in DC with Iraq's Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi:

During the meeting, Hagel provided al-Nujaifi with an update on a U.S. plan to accelerate the delivery of “critical defense equipment” to those Iraqi Security Forces conducting missions in the country’s Anbar Province. In August, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress of a possible Foreign Military Sale to Iraq of a $339 million Mobile Troposcatter Radio System and a $2.4 billion Integrated Air Defense System. The proposed air defense system is expected to provide Iraqi Air Defense Command with situational awareness of the country’s airspace.

The Pentagon issued the following regarding the meeting today:

Release No: NR-041-14
January 21, 2014

Readout of Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel's Meeting with Iraqi Council of Representatives Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi

Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby provided the following readout:

Secretary of Defense Hagel met with Iraqi Council of Representatives Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi today at the Pentagon. 
The secretary lauded the Government of Iraq's continued outreach to local Sunni tribal leaders and officials to evict terrorist fighters from Fallujah and other parts of western Iraq. 
Secretary Hagel provided an update on U.S. efforts to accelerate delivery of critical defense equipment to resupply the Iraqi Security Forces conducting missions in Anbar Province.  The secretary also underscored the importance of proceeding with federal Iraqi elections as scheduled, and encouraged the Government of Iraq's efforts to implement local and national political initiatives.  
The secretary concluded the meeting by reaffirming the steadfastness of the U.S-Iraq bilateral relationship and the U.S. commitment to helping the Iraqi government ensure the safety and security of all Iraqi people.

UPI reports, "Iraq was the only member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to post a decline in oil production last month, the IEA said Tuesday."  Nouri al-Maliki's Iraq stands out -- just never in a good way.  Today the prime minister and chief thug of Iraq wanted to take bows again.  AP notes that Nouri's government issued a declaration, "The justice ministry carried out the executions of 26 (men) convicted of crimes related to terrorism on Sunday."  CNN adds, "One of those executed was Adel al-Mashhadani, a militia leader in Baghdad who was "famous for sectarian crimes," the statement said. He was a member of the Awakening, the Sunni tribal fighting force who fought alongside the United States against al Qaeda militants."  The announcement of the executions come one day after UNAMI issued their [PDF format warning] latest human rights report on Iraq which included:

16. Declare a moratorium on the use of the death penalty in accordance with UN General Assembly resolutions 62/149 (2007), 63/168 (2008), 65/206 (2010) and 67/176( 2012) ; revie w the criminal code and the criminal procedure code with a view to abolishing the death penalty; and consider acceding to the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR aimed at abolishing the death penalty; 
17. Implement international standards that provide safeg uards of the rights of those facing the death penalty , as set out in the annex to Economic and Social Council resolution 1984/50 of 25 May 1984 , until the death penalty is abolished in Iraq.

Clearly, Nouri's not listening to the United Nations.

Today Human Rights Watch issued World Report 2014 which notes 2012 saw Nouri's government execute at least 129 people while 2013 saw the number increase to 151.  BBC News notes today's executions come after "m the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights for an immediate halt to executions in Iraq. A spokesman for Navi Pillay said in October large-scale killings were 'obscene and inhumane'."

Of course, that's not Nouri's fault.  Not in his mind anyway.  Nothing is never his fault, in his mind.

Dropping back to the January 16th snapshot:

Meanwhile, Iraq's budget has gone to Parliament.  National Iraqi News Agency reports that Kurdish MP Mahmoud Othman calls the forwarding of the budget -- which led the Kurds to walk out of the Cabinet -- "unwise."  NINA also notes Kurdish MP Ashwaq al-Jaf notes the Kurds plan to use Constitutional steps in Parliament to address the issue.  Steve LeVine (Quartz) explains:

The Iraqi government has raised the stakes yet again in its brinksmanship with Kurdistan—unable so far to halt the Kurds’s headlong push as an independent oil exporter, Baghdad has prepared a 2014 budget that entirely cuts off the northern region.
Baghdad’s move on Jan. 15 is a response to Kurdish plans to sell their first piped oil at the end of this month at Turkey’s Mediterranean port of Ceyhan, the first stage in an apparent strategy for wholesale economic independence from Iraq proper. With it, Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki raises the temperature not only on the Kurds, but also the foreign oil companies on which Kurdistan is relying—ExxonMobil, Chevron, France’s Total, Gazprom and a group of wildcatters.
Maliki said there will be no restoration of the Kurds’s $12 billion-a-year budget allocation until they produce 400,000 barrels of oil a day—worth about $14.6 billion a year at today’s prices. But the oil companies’ current plans do not yield that scale of production until well into next year. So to stave off economic mayhem this year, the Kurds will be lobbying both Maliki to see reason and the oil companies to up their game. 

UPI notes, "Genel Energy, led by former BP boss Tony Hayward, said Wednesday it expects oil from a pipeline in the Kurdish north of Iraq to be exported from Turkey soon."

Nouri created that crisis.  On Sunday, a Kurdish delegation had to go to Baghdad.  Aswat al-Iraq reported they were there to discuss the budget and the oil issue.  On the same day, Aswat al-Iraq quoted KRG President Massoud Barzani stating, "Kurds will not recede any of their rights any form."  Rudaw reported:

Meetings led by Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani in Baghdad to resolve oil and budget rows ended inconclusively on Sunday, with a decision to continue the talks at a later date.
Following the closed-door meetings, Maliki softened his stance over threats to cut off the Kurdistan Region from the federal budget, unless there was agreement over revenues from the oil exports to Turkey.
"I have not said I would cut the KRG's share of the budget. I said there should be a language of understanding to solve the issues between Baghdad and Erbil," Maliki told Rudaw.

It wasn't, you understand, Nouri's fault.  It's his Cabinet, most Sunnis (all but Saleh al-Mutlaq) long ago began boycotting sessions.  He controls the Cabinet, he controls what gets forwarded to Parliament but it wasn't his fault.

It was some Phantom head of the Cabinet -- a head of it that no one knew existed or had ever heard of.

A sure sign of a failure in a leader is someone who can't admit mistakes and has to pretend he or she is perfect.

And Nouri is so far from perfect.  Rudaw reports on the conclusions of the British All Parliamentary Group:

The cat and mouse game between Erbil and Baghdad is as old as Iraq itself. The APPG agrees with Kurdish leaders that Baghdad should nurture and celebrate the social and economic achievements of the Region and see it as the future for the whole country. It seems possible that the autonomous region and the federal government can negotiate a revenue sharing law that accompanies the new pipelines between the Kurdistan Region and Turkey.
The rapprochement with Turkey has concerned some in Baghdad and in America who fear that economic independence will become political independence and that Iraq will disintegrate. Members of the APPG accept that a unified Iraq should work for all its component parts through what President Barzani described to us as "partnership and power-sharing."
The Kurds told the APPG that the current revenue-sharing agreement should give them 17% of the national budget but that they usually receive about 10% and not consistently. The crucial need is for a robust and reliable revenue-sharing law.

But Nouri will always have fools and tools who applaud him.  Jamie Tarabay has an idiotic article at Al Jazeera America entitled "Will daily bombings bring Iraq to a new tipping point?"  I'm sorry, when did daily bombs not take place.  What world is Taraby living in where daily bombings are something recent to Iraq?  She writes like someone seeking a fatwa and if that seems harsh, read this 2013 piece by Tarabay -- especially this section:

De-Baathification, adopted in 2003 to weed out Saddam Hussein-era officials from positions of power, is still law. It has been employed by the Maliki government to isolate, arrest or oust political threats and opponents.
The security forces remain under the thumb of Shia politicians, including those from Maliki’s Dawa party, but also members of the Badr brigade — the former military wing of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, which ran against Maliki's Dawa Party in the last parliamentary election, in 2010. Despite repeated appeals by the U.S. to bring more Sunnis into the ranks, the Interior Ministry, which controls the country's security forces, remains a Shia bastion. Sunnis guarding the few remaining Sunni enclaves in Baghdad in makeshift units called the Sons of Iraq continue to be shut out of joining.
Maliki wants the U.S. to provide Iraq with Apache attack helicopters and drones and recently purchased Korean fighter jets. His critics claim he intends to use them against their communities.

That's just last month.  Now read her crap today, her anti-Sunni screed -- "long-suffering Shia majority," "many Sunnis consider them [Shi'ites] to be heretics and apostates," "narrative reinforces the calls by Shia religious leaders for calm and fortitude, but the goal of the Al-Qaeda elements is to provoke the Shia to abandon such restraint and plunge" and it just goes on and on. She calls the Sunnis everything but dogs and largely conflates all Sunnis as fighters and/or al Qaeda.  I don't understand how such hateful and ignorant writing can be produced to begin with.  But it's especially shocking when compared to her past articles -- recent, like last month, or her work at NPR (or AP before that) -- which had balance and didn't spew hate towards any sect.

As she vents her hate and stupidity, let's return to Human Rights Watch's new report World Report 2014 to note some reality:

The government responded to largely peaceful demonstrations with violence and to worsening security with draconian counterterrorism measures.  Borders controlled by Iraq's central government remained closed to Syrians fleeing civil war, while as of November, nearly 206,600 Syrians fled to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG)-controlled area.  
In December 2012, thousands of Iraqis took part in demonstrations in mostly Sunni areas, demanding reform of the Anti-Terrorism Law and the release of illegaly held detainees. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki announced in January 2013 that he had created special committees to oversee reforms, including freeing prisoners and limiting courts' use of secret informant testimony.  At time of writing, there was little indication that the government had implemented reforms.  Security forces instead used violence against protesters, culminating in an attack on a demonstration in Hawija in April, which killed 51 protesters.  Authorities failed to hold anyone accountable.  
The government responded to increasing unrest with mass arrest campaigns in Sunni regions, targeting ordinary civilians and prominent activists and politicians under the 2005 Anti-Terrorism Law.  Security forces and government supporters harassed journalists and media organizations critical of the authorities.  
Iraq's security forces abused detainees with impunity.  Throughout the year, detainees reported prolonged detentions without a judicial hearing and torture during interrogation.  In February, Deputy Prime Minister Hussein al-Shahristani told Human Rights Watch that security forces frequently carred out mass arrests without arrest warrants.  Courts continued to rely on secret informant testimony and coerced confessions to issue arrest warrants and convictions.  On May 11, villagers south of Mosul found the bodies of four men and a 15-year-old boy, which bore multiple gun shot wounds.  Witnesses had last seen them alive on May 3 in the custody of the federal police 3rd Division, but at time of writing, the government had not announced any investigation into the deaths.

Jamie Tarabay seems to have missed or forgotten all of that.  She and Kirk Sowell both need to hop on a pair of ponies.  As Cass Elliot, Denny Doherty, John and Michelle Phillips (the Mamas and the Papas) sing in "Too Late" (first appears on The Papas & the Mamas):

Get on your pony and ride
Get on your pony and ride
No one to catch up to you
If you try.
Get on your pony and ride
Get on your pony and ride
No one to catch up to you
If you try.
No one to catch up to you,
If you try -- 'cause I've tried.

'Cause when the mind that once was open shuts
And you knock on the door, nobody answers anymore
When the love and trust has turned to dust
When the mind that once was open shuts
When you knock on the door, nobody answers anymore
When the love and trust has turned to dust

Sunday, Kirk H. Sowell (Foreign Policy) tries his hand at analysis and he got this part right:

He [Nouri] wished Christians a Merry Christmas, extended to "all Muslims, who believe in Jesus the Messiah, messenger of humanity and peace." Holiday greetings out of the way, the prime minister moved on to what he really wanted to address. He spoke of ongoing counter-terrorist operations, and the need for tribal support. Maliki then talked about "what is referred to as the ‘sit-in protest,' which has become a base for the leaders of al Qaeda," repeating the phrase twice. This was a reference to the protest site near Ramadi, the symbolic center of the mainstream Sunni protest movement countrywide.
Maliki went on, saying "this we know because they have openly appeared on the podium, declaring we are al Qaeda, and we cut off heads. They have openly raised the banner of al Qaeda at the podium, and soon we will air the confessions" of terrorists admitting they are based at the site. "Our intelligence from aerial and human sources inside the site, confirm the presence of both Iraqi and foreign al Qaeda leaders. The provincial government has also confirmed that there are 36 al Qaeda leaders based there. So now there is a popular demand that the site be shut down."
With national elections set for April, Maliki's Christmas speech, a show trial-like airing of "confessions" by detainees on state television, and a wide-ranging media campaign in the days that followed were part of an effort to tie Ramadi protests to al Qaeda. The case was largely wrong, and to an extent made in bad faith. This and the December 30, 2013 bulldozing of the Ramadi encampment were among several actions that led to the total breakdown in security in Anbar province at year's end and exacerbated the security crisis there.

He was less sturdy on other points -- such as this:

The movement never had a serious chance of achieving its stated goals. It stated its demands absolutely, and was too sweeping, demanding a total abolition of de-Baathification and repeal of the death penalty for terrorism, which no Shiite prime minister would accept. 

de-Ba'athification is something no Shi'ite prime minister would accept?

I'm confused how he can argue "no Shi'ite prime minister would accept" that.  Did he do a survey of potential Shi'ite prime ministers?

I find it hard to believe Sowell did that.  I find it even harder to believe that Sowell's never seen this:

Reversal of de-Baathification laws. The Iraqi parliament passed the Justice and Accountability Law on January 12, 2008, clearing the way for an estimated thirty-thousand low-ranking ex-Baathists to return to public life. The law also allowed some party members to collect pensions. But some Sunnis argue the law has made matters worse for them by opening the door to federal prosecution, barring top-ranking officials from regaining jobs, and restricting former Saddam security forces from reintegration. The drive to rescind de-Baathification laws was part of a larger effort to make constitutional concessions to minority groups like Sunni Arabs.

That's what the Sunni protesters have been calling for since the ongoing protests kicked off on December 21st -- they've been calling for more than that, but with regards to de-Ba'athification, that's what they're calling for.

No Shi'ite prime minister would agree to that?

Is Nouri al-Maliki no longer Shi'ite and/or no longer prime minister?

He was prime minister in 2007 and he agreed to the quoted passage above which is part of the White House benchmarks.  Background, Democrats swept the 2006 mid-term elections in the US.  Prior to the elections, they controlled no house of Congress.  They promised if voters would put them in charge of one house of Congress, they'd end the Iraq War.  The voters did better than that, they voted them in charge of both houses of Congress.  As the new Congress was sworn in back in January of 2007, Bully Boy Bush knew he had to make immediate changes.  Gone was Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (Robert Gates replaced him in January of 2007) and a series of White House benchmarks was created to demonstrate success -- in order to continue Congressional funding.

The Council on Foreign Relations has the benchmarks here.  Nouri agreed to these benchmarks.  It's a failure on the part of the Obama administration that they've given billions to Iraq (and continue to) and tons of weapons and have not demanded that Nouri implement these benchmarks he agreed to and signed off on.

In June of 2007, Fred Kaplan noted at Slate:

At his press conference this morning, President Bush, seeing the glass half full, pronounced the report "a cause for optimism"—and for staying on course.
Yet a close look at the 25-page report reveals a far more dismal picture and a deliberately distorted assessment. The eight instances of "satisfactory" progress are not at all satisfactory by any reasonable measure—or, in some cases, they indicate a purely procedural advance. The eight "unsatisfactory" categories concern the central issues of Iraqi politics—the disputes that must be resolved if Iraq is to be a viable state and if the U.S. mission is to have the slightest chance of success.
Here are the benchmarks at which, even the White House acknowledges, the Iraqi government has not made satisfactory progress:

  • Legislation on de-Baathification reform
  • Legislation to ensure equitable distribution of oil revenue without regard to sect or ethnicity
  • Setting up provincial elections
  • Establishing a strong militia-disarmament program
  • Allowing Iraqi commanders to pursue militias without political interference
  • Ensuring that the Iraqi army and police enforce the law evenhandedly
  • Increasing the number of Iraqi security forces capable of operating independently (here, the number has actually gone down)
  • Ensuring that Iraq's political authorities are not undermining or making false accusations against members of Iraqi security forces

The status of former Baathists, distribution of oil revenue, local elections, disarming militias, sectarianism within the police, the legitimacy of the national army—these are the main issues grinding the parliament to a standstill, aggravating ethnic conflict, and forcing millions of Iraqis to flee the country. These are the issues that the Iraqi political leaders are supposed to be resolving while American troops fight and die to make Baghdad secure.

Sowell claims no Shi'ite prime minister would ever agree to what . . . Nouri al-Maliki promised he'd do in 2007.

When you realize that even the Bully Boy Bush administration knew de-Ba'athifcation -- which they started -- had to end for Iraq to come together as a country, the demand of the protesters -- for the same thing -- becomes much less 'out there' than Sowell attempted to play it in his Sunday episode.

Monday last week, United Nations Security-General Ban Ki-moon visit Baghdad.  Yesterday, the United Nations News Centre reported:

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today called on Iraq’s political leaders to enter inclusive talks in the face of rising conflict and warned that failure to make progress in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks could spark a new outbreak of violence.
“Today, I reiterate my message to Iraqi political leaders to fulfil their responsibilities to ensure inclusive dialogue, social cohesion, and concrete political progress,” he told the United Nations Security Council at the start of the body’s regular debate on the situation in the Middle East following his return from a visit to the region.
“The country is again facing serious threats to its stability,” he said. Mr. Ban, who visited Iraq ahead of a stop in Kuwait were he chaired a humanitarian donors’ conference for Syria, which generated some $2.4 billion in pledges, said he discussed his concerns with many Iraqi leaders and urged all sides to remain committed to political dialogue and uphold respect for the rule of law and human rights.
“I was reassured by their pledge to hold parliamentary elections as scheduled on 30 April,” he added. “Today, I reiterate my message to Iraqi political leaders to fulfil their responsibilities to ensure inclusive dialogue, social cohesion, and concrete political progress.”

The assault on Anbar continues.  Kareem Fahim and Yasir Ghazi (New York Times) report, "Thousands of residents have fled Falluja in recent days, fearing worsening violence after the failure of negotiations between local leaders and jihadist militants to end a standoff that has lasted weeks, leaders from the city said Monday." AFP reports 22,000 families have been forced to flee their homes due to the Anbar operations and they note, "The UN said the actual figure was likely to be higher, as not all those who fled had registered. It said of those who had left, most had found refuge elsewhere in Anbar, but some had gone as far afield as the northern Kurdish region."   UPI adds, "Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is having a tough time trying to dislodge al-Qaida forces who hold much of the western cities of Fallujah and Ramadi because his army doesn't seem to be up to the task, despite emergency shipments of U.S. arms."

NINA reports today:

Security source announced on Tuesday the continuation of the displacement of hundreds of families in several neighborhoods of Fallujah as a result of the shelling of the city by the army.
A security source in Anbar, told / NINA / that hundreds of families fled the city of Fallujah, because of the artillery intense shelling that led to the killing and wounding of many civilians. 

And they note that among the Falluja shelling targets today was a school.  Steve Inskeep (NPR's Morning Edition -- link is audio and text) spoke with AFP's Prashant Rao this morning about the violence.

RAO: In terms of how the government is responding though, it varies depending on the area. In Baghdad, they have locked out a lot of areas. They've sort of increased checkpoints and they've sort of tighten those checkpoints. But in Anbar, the response have been a combination of the deploying of U.S.- supplied Hellfire missiles and also clashes in some towns in between Ramadi and Fallujah, where the Iraqi army and Iraqi police, allied tribal fighters are all looking to take back territory that the government lost about three weeks ago.

INSKEEP: Let's remember here Anbar. Of course, that's the Sunni-dominated province west of Baghdad. You're saying that's where some of the heaviest fighting is taking place. So is this sectarian violence Sunni versus Shia?

RAO: Well, it might be slightly over-generalizing it to say it's sectarian. But there is a perception of sectarianism, in that the Iraqis security forces are perceived in Sunni areas to be a Shia force, especially some of the more elite fighting units. And, of course, Anbar, as you say, is a predominantly Sunni province - so it takes on that color. That is certainly part of the perception.

Some of today's violence?   National Iraqi News Agency reports security forces killed 6 fighters in Ramadi,  3 police members were shot dead in Mosul, Sheikh Ismail Brayse ("director of Information of the Sunni Endomen in the province of Diyala" and "Iman of Abuk Bakr mosque") was shot dead in Diyala Province,  a southeast Baghdad (Diyala Bridge area) sticky bombing left 1 person dead and another injured,  1 person was shot dead and another left injured in a southwest Baghdad (Bayaa area) attack, a Mosul attack left "a member of Nineveh intelligence" dead and two more injured, a central Baghdad car bombing (Alnahdhah area) left eleven people injured, 2 police officers were shot dead at a Mosul wedding ceremony, and Mahmoud al-Issawi ("adviser of Anbar governor for security affairs") was kidnapped to the "east of Fallujah today."

Suadad al-Salhy (Reuters) reports Nouri finally arrested a Shi'ite militia leader and he's from Iran.  Strange, the show confessions last Friday were about Saudi Arabia -- the country Nouri denounced on Sunday.  Again, this one is Shi'ite and he's from Iran.  And he got a cellphone and jail and dialed Reuters:

A Shi’ite militia leader arrested in Iraq as said leaders of Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki’s political bloc will be killed unless he is released within 24 hours.
Wathiq Al-Battat, speaking to Reuters on a mobile phone he said had been given him by a sympathetic prison guard, said he was being held without charge in solitary confinement in a small, cold cell, with no access to lawyers or his family.
Battat was detained in Baghdad on Jan. 2, six weeks after his Iranian-backed Al-Mukhtar Army fired six mortar bombs from southern Iraq into a neighboring country, causing no casualties.

Yesterday's snapshot noted the attempted citizen's arrest of War Criminal and former UK Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.  George Monbiot (Guardian) explains today:

Nothing changes without talk; nothing changes through talk alone. Petitions and debates and social media campaigns and even, sometimes, articles in newspapers are essential campaigning tools but, without action, they seldom amount to anything but catharsis. Without risk, there is no inspiration. Without demonstrations of what change looks like, the public imagination fails.
This is why I set up the Arrest Blair website. Everywhere I went, I met people who were furious that Tony Blair should have got away with what, under international law, appears to be clearly defined as mass murder. The crime of aggression ("planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression) was described by the Nuremberg Tribunal as "the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole".
[. . .]
Arrest Blair collects donations and uses them to build a bounty pot. We pay out a quarter of the money that's in the pot when a successful claim is made. Four people have received the bounty so far, in each case amid a blaze of publicity for an issue that is otherwise largely forgotten.
Twiggy Garcia's attempt last Friday was performed with a certain panache. While Garcia held his shoulder, Blair attempted his long-polished trick of changing the subject: "Shouldn't you be worried about Syria?" Garcia responded that he could "only address things that are within my grasp at any one time". It'll take a day or two to formalise the decision, but his claim seems to meet the criteria.
Once more, what Blair did in Iraq is in the news, 11 years after the event, and the clamour to ensure that such crimes become unthinkable in future has risen again. That is a small but significant contribution to peace.