Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, March 25, 2014.  Chaos and violence continue, the board of the Independent High Electoral Commission announces their resignations, Nouri and the US government continue to try to (mis)use a death to create havoc in Iraq, an 'analysis' embarrasses herself, and much more.

Anadolu Agency reports a bombing targeted 3 Iraqi MPs.  3 bodyguards were killed in the bombing with another four wounded; however MPs Raad al-Dahlaki, Mohamed al-Khaldi and Abd al-Jabouri all three survived.  All are members of Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi's Motahedoum coaltion.  All three had planned to run in the upcoming elections; however, in a sign of the state of Iraq, surviving an assassination attempt doesn't mean you've now survived the last obstacle.

They were luckier than others today.  National Iraqi News Agency reports  Ghaidaa Hussein Khader was shot dead in Mosul (she belonged to the Alfadheelah Party).

But while Iraq is set to hold parliamentary elections on April 30th, that may not happen. Despite the assurances Sarbast Mustafa (head of the Independent High Electoral Commission's board) offered to All Iraq News yesterday that elections would take palce and be held "in every area in Iraq" and that "It is difficult to set a new mechanism to postpone the next elections in any area of Iraq including Anbar," those statements are now in doubt.

Today, AFP reports, "All of Iraq’s election commissioners presented their resignations to parliament Tuesday in a collective protest over political and judicial 'interference' in upcoming legislative polls, sources have said."  What sort of interference?  An attempt to strip them of their powers via a little noticed clause in a bill Nouri's Cabinet wrote and Parliament passed into law.  BBC explains:

A clause approved last year allows for the exclusion of candidates considered not "of good reputation".

Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, who is seeking a third term, has been accused of using the law to prevent his political enemies from standing.

Jason Ditz (Antiwar.com) provides context,  "IHEC’s complaints roughly mirror those of the last election, that the Maliki government is trying to use the electoral law’s ban on candidates of “ill repute” to ban potential rivals en masse."  AFP's Prashant Rao Tweets:

  • Five weeks before legislative polls, Iraq's election commission has resigned. This country is astounding.

  • Indeed.

    Al Mada reports that the Dawa Party was specifically accused of exploiting the judiciary to settle scores with political rivals.  Dawa, for those who don't know, is Nouri's political party, State of Law is his coalition.  Al Mada notes that the commission felt wrongly accused of bowing to Nouri's wishes to dismiss his political opponents, especially when the decisions were coming from the Baghdad judiciary.

    In a statement the IHEC posted to their website, they insist the move was due to a need to protect the IHEC's integrity and that they await the approval of their resignations.  Raheem Salman and Robin Pomeroy (Reuters) observe, "IHEC's sudden move further complicates the outlook for a vote already clouded by violence across the country where Sunni Islamist militants have regained momentum over the past year."

    Staying with this topic, let's drop back to Friday's snapshot:

    The editorial board of Arab News argues voting should be postponed and they recap some of the events since the 2010 parliamentary elections including this from December 2011:

    [. . ] Al-Maliki began the effective demolition of the National Unity government he headed by having an arrest warrant issued for Vice-President Tareq Al-Hashimi, a Sunni. Hashimi was accused of involvement in death squads. Helped by Kurds, he fled the country, only to be tried in his absence and found guilty.
    Al-Maliki pretended at the time that the prosecution was important because no one should be able to escape punishment for past crimes. But this argument was fatally weakened by the presence in his government of Shiite politicians who were equally suspected of involvement in the inter-communal violence that had threatened to tear the country apart. Besides, however terrible the crimes committed by all parties in Iraq, the country’s future could only be ensured by reconciliation. Iraq desperately needed to put its dark past behind and look to a brighter and more prosperous future.
    Unfortunately Al-Maliki hardly tried to convince skeptical Sunni politicians and voters that the prosecution of Hashimi was not motivated by the fact that the vice-president was a Sunni. That this was indeed the reality has since become even more apparent as Shia legislators have moved to exclude former and serving Sunni politicians, including former Finance Minister Rafie Al-Issawi from standing in next month’s elections. Former interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, a Shiite, and leader of the National Iraqi Alliance, has himself warned that in the light of these moves against Sunni politicians, as well as the deteriorating security situation in the country, the vote cannot go ahead.

    How did Rafea al-Isawi and others get banned?  Niqash attempts to explain it:

    The Independent High Electoral Commission, or IHEC, the authority that is supposed to prepare Iraq for elections and run electoral procedures, such as voter registration and the actual voting, recently decided to ban a number of politicians from competing in the elections. These were independent Shiite Muslim MP, Sabah al-Saedi, Shiite Muslim MP, Jawad al-Shuhaili, who is aligned with the Sadrist bloc, MP Haider al-Mulla from the mostly-Sunni Muslim Iraqiya bloc, MP Rafea al-Isawi, also a Sunni Muslim from the Iraqiya bloc and one of the country’s most senior Sunni Muslim politicians as well as a former MP, Mithal al-Alousi, who made headlines in 2004 as one of the first Iraqi politicians to visit Israel and who previously headed the de-Baathification commission.
    IHEC says the reason for the ban on these politicians is because they have violated the rule about good conduct. However there are clearly some problems with this clause – many local legal and constitutional experts have already said that it is too general and that it could be used in myriad ways by the unscrupulous.
    Iraqi lawyer Munir Haddad, who is perhaps best known outside the country for his time as a judge, presiding over the trial of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, told NIQASH: “Iraqi MPs should have been more careful when they voted on this article. It’s not clearly formulated enough.”
    “This paragraph is very general and it can be interpreted any way a person wants,” adds judge Abdul-Raheem al- Ukaili, who formerly worked with Iraq’s Commission on Integrity. “Unfortunately IHEC has interpreted this paragraph in an arbitrary way and it has been used against politicians who are well known for opposing the government.”
    Indeed it seemed to many that the “bad behaviour” these MPs had undertaken simply involved publicly criticizing Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki or his allies.
    “Politicians who speak about corruption in the government are now people with bad reputations,” one of the banned MPs, al-Alousi, complained to NIQASH. “There is a deliberate plan to silence al-Maliki’s opponents and to ruin democracy in Iraq. We are going to file a lawsuit at the Supreme Federal Court to defend our rights and we hope this court won’t bow to political pressure,” he argued.

    At some point, IHEC is going to have to be asked about the Niqash report.  AFP reports:

    Several candidates have been barred in recent weeks on the grounds of alleged ties to now executed dictator Saddam Hussein's Baath party.
    But a greater source of frustration for the IHEC board has been the exclusion of scores of hopefuls on the basis of what critics say is a vague provision in Iraq's electoral law that requires that parliamentary hopefuls be "of good reputation".

    Those barred, who include former finance minister Rafa al-Essawi, a Maliki opponent, have no obvious avenue of appeal against the judicial panel's decision.

    So was the IHEC a fall guy or were they going along?  Niqash's report was important last week, today's actions only made it more important.

    Maliki may be the primary reason for the radicalization of the Sunnis and growing sectarian reflexes, but the Anbar standoff is not likely to weaken him electorally. Indeed, renewed violence over the last three months, the absence of Sunni unity (some tribes are even calling for a boycott of the elections), and the fragmentation of the Shia political landscape (Moqtada al-Sadr announced his withdrawal from politics in February) all create favorable conditions for another term for Maliki. This will be even more the case if the elections are marked by low turnout from the Sunnis because of their disillusionment with the transition. In a context of security vacuum, Maliki depicts himself as the only viable and legitimate leader for the country, the “strong man” that Iraqis need.
    Nouri's State of Law underperformed in the 2013 provincial elections.  Which is a nice way of saying that, as with the 2010 parliamentary elections, they lost.  Among those who did well in the 2013 elections?  Many were surprised by how well two young leaders ran their parties -- Ammar al-Hakim (Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq) and cleric and movement leader Moqtada al-Sadr.

    The two are Shi'ite.  The two are rivals of Nouri al-Maliki's.  There's also Nouri original blood rival, the man Nouri loathes but must pretend to respect: Ibrahim al-Jafaari.

    That's the man who should have remained prime minister.

    Following December 2005 elections, the Parliament wanted to have al-Jafaari as prime minister for a second term.  The US government said no.  The public reason was that Iraq was too new to have incumbents hold several terms, it might create a new Saddam Hussein.  Instead, the US government insisted that Nouri be named prime minister (the safe reason given in whispers to some journalists was that Nouri didn't have his own militia, the real reason was the psyche profile the CIA did on Nouri -- paranoid and pliable).  Ibrahiam al-Jafarri is a Shi'ite, a powerful one, and he remains in charge of Iraq's National Alliance coalition.

    Ayad Allawi is a Shi'ite.  He has stood with mixed coalitions.  The previous mentioned stand with Shi'ite coalitions.

    While you might leave Allawi out of the mix (despite the fact that his winning Iraqiya in 2010 also received Shi'ite votes), you can't leave Hakim, Moqtada and Ibarhiam out of the mix.

    They are very powerful Shi'ite leaders of Shi'ite coalitions.

    And there members have not flocked to Nouri.  Not in the 2009 provincial elections, not in the 2010 parliamentary elections, not in the 2013 provinical elections.

    So what crazy pill did you take that led you to believe this election would be different?

    Nouri's actions frustrate and worry me and I'm an American in the United States.  Try to grasp what they do to the Shi'ites who don't support him.

    It's not just Sunni opinion that's hardening against Nouri.

    Shi'ites see the continued violence, actually the violence that increased when Nouri got a second term.  They see the nonsense of his "I have a four billion dollar weapons deal with Russia!" followed by "No, I don't!  It's corrupt but it is not due to my son who set up a sweet side deal during negotiations!"  They see the lights out, the lack of drinking water, the lack of jobs, they see all of this.

    And they don't rally around Nouri.

    That's especially true of the National Reform Trend which is damn well aware that Parliament was blocked from naming their own Ibrahim to lead the country in 2006.
    Shi'ites are not a monolithic group but there's always some simpleton or racist in the press or speaking to it which attempts to portray Shi'ites as such. Despite acknowledging Shi'ite divisions, Myriam Benraad dismisses it when it comes to voting.

    The National Reform Trend  will not be voting for Nouri.  Ammar al-Hakim's group also won't be voting for Nouri.  They stuck with his late father Abdul Aziz al-Hakim and, in the fall of 2009, many decided to stick with Ammar as the new leader.  As the 2010 elections demonstrated, some chose to leave.  But that had actually been evident in the 2009 provincial elections and may have resulted from Abdul Aziz al-Hakim's inability to provide direct oversight of the party and politicians due to his illness (he'd die in the fall of 2009 from cancer).  Frances Romero (Time magazine) noted Septemeber 4, 2009, "Ammar al-Hakim was confirmed as the Iranian-backed SIIC's next leader this week and will begin his work promoting Shi'ite policies throughout the country."  That only gave him six months to take on the leadership tasks and steer the political party before parliamentary elections were held.

    His 2013 wins and post-election wins suggest the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq may see their best parliamentary election performance since the 2005 elections.

    His supporters are not Nouri's supporters.  This was even more evident in July of last year when he joined with Moqtada in publicly calling for Nouri al-Maliki to resign.

    Moqtada al-Sadr announced his political retirement February 15th.  February 18th, he delivered a speech --  CounterPunch posted the speech in full  -- emphasizing his decision. February 26th,  NINA noted the rumors that Moqtada left Iraq, "The sources noted in a press statement that Mr. Muqtada al-Sadr left today's afternoon the city of Najaf heading to the Islamic Republic of Iran in order to complete his religious studies and stay away from the political scene as he officially announced for all Iraqis."  Yet March 14th, Moqtada returned to Iraq.

    Why did Moqtada return?

    We covered this in the March 14th snapshot:

    Background. Nouri's big mouth ended up tanking his own two-day conference.  For those who missed it, Nouri's fat mouth was flapping last Saturday insulting many as he spoke to France24.  France 24's Mark Perelman interviewed (link is text and video) Nouri for a half hour broadcast which aired Saturday.  In the interview, Nouri's well noted paranoia was on full display as he repeatedly declared, in the very first two minutes, his alleged 'victory' over those attempting to turn Iraq and Syria into one country ("there are goals to create a one state," "create a state -- one part in Syria and one part in Iraq").  He continued to gab and began accusing other countries of supporting terrorism (he was supposedly going to reveal proof of his gossip in the conference but, as usual, his fat mouth made empty promises).  He also insulted Moqtada.

    And let's note what the US and western press didn't, what happened on Saturday March 15th.  Moqtada returned to Iraq because of Nouri's insults and to lead the protest against them.

    That's Dar Addustour.

    That's Alsumaria.

    That's Al Mada.

    See the turnout?  Does it appear Moqtada's faded?

    No, it does not.

    It's curious that an 'analysis' of the elections would miss the above especially when the analyst takes the time to note the France24 interview but avoid the remarks about Moqtada.

    In fact, here's Myriam Benraad's 'analysis' of Moqtada's impact in full, "[. . .] and the fragmentation of the Shia political landscape (Moqtada al-Sadr announced his withdrawal from politics in February) all create favorable conditions for another term for Maliki."

    How can you be so stupid?  She's so stupid she must require someone to follow her around reminding her to breathe.

    Not only is there what we've charted above, there's more -- in Nouri's Iraq, there always is.  NINA reports conflict between Nouri's forces and Sadr followers in Sadr City.  A witness tells the news agency, "A group of followers of the Sadrist movement entered into a verbal altercation with the federal police force in the Sadrain checkpoint at the entrance to the area, which led the police to shoot fire in the air to disperse the group. The region has been shut down by the police and helicopters flight in low level has been seen over the area."  These Sadrists are voters for Nouri al-Maliki?  No, they're not.  That's even more the case in the Sadr strong-hold of Basra.

    No where in her 'analysis' is anything as fundamental as this by Jason Ditz (Antiwar.com):

    The previous election saw the Sunni-dominated Iraqiya Party win the largest plurality, with Maliki’s State of Law faction eventually retaining power in a “power-sharing” deal imposed on them by the US. Maliki reneged on virtually all power-sharing, and retains the position of Prime Minister, Defense Minister, Interior Minister, and Chief of Staff for the military.

    Maybe next time, Carnegie should just ask Jason Ditz to write the analysis?

    FYI, I'm being kind by assuming she's dumb.  She might be another lie, another whore, another Quil Lawrence.  It's much kinder just to assume she's stupid.  And, no, Quil, we haven't forgotten you or what you did.  Next month, we again acknowledge your role in corrupting democracy in Iraq.

    Violence continues across Iraq.  National Iraqi News Agency reports an armed battle "between Taji and Tarmiya" left 4 Iraqi soldiers dead and fifteen more injured, the Ministry of the Interior announced they killed 2 suspects in Baiji, 1 police officer was shot dead in Tikrit,  Joint Special Operations Command announced they killed suspect Abdul-Jabbar Majid in Samarra, a Baquba bombing left 1 woman and 1 child dead (and three more people injured), an attack "on a civilian car on the road to the Hanarh resort in Arbil" left 2 women dead and three people injured, 1 corpse was discovered northwest Baghdad ("handcuffed with gunshot wounds in his head"), 1 federal police member was shot dead and one soldier left injured at "the entrance to the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Mosul," an an Ein al-Ijel Village attack left 5 Iraqi soldiers, a Ramadi battle left 1 police officer dead, a Balad Ruz bombing left three people injured, an attack on a Jalawla military checkpoint left two Iraqi soldiers injured, an al-Muthanna Bridge truck bombing left ten people injured (and the update on the bridge bombing is 6 dead and twenty-nine injured), and last night a Sensal Village battle left 1 rebel dead.

    In addition, Nouri's continued assault on Anbar continues.  His shelling of residential neighborhoods in Fallujah today has left 6 civilians dead and ten injured (the injured include two children).

    Throughout the assault, which began December 30th, Nouri's shelling of Falluja has killed and wounded many.

    But not one word from the US State Dept despite the fact that these are War Crimes.

    Yesterday, we noted the Saturday incident in which a Peshmerga (Kurdish military) shot dead Mohamed Bedewi who had worked for years for the US propaganda outlet Radio Free Iraq (which is to Voice of America what Phyllis was to The Mary Tyler Moore Show).  We noted how the US government and Nouri al-Maliki were engaging in dangerous behaviors and statements intent upon creating a crisis in Iraq.  IANS reports today:

    The Kurdish regional government Tuesday accused the central government in Iraq of stirring up political trouble with the Kurds by politically exploiting the killing four days ago of an Iraqi journalist by a Kurdish officer in Baghdad.
    "It's regrettable that the Iraqi prime minister used strange and inconvenient words like "blood for blood" after the incident, which is outside law, state governance and the culture of coexistence and democracy," said the office of Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), in a statement.

    Middle East Monitor points out that the US government has insisted upon calling the death a "murder." Rudaw reports:

    The Kurdistan Region Presidency has warned of attempts by Iraqi leaders, among them Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to take the death of journalist Muhammad Bidaiwi out of its judicial context and using it to settle political scores with the Kurds.
    “It's regrettable that the Iraqi prime minister used the strange and ugly phrase of "blood for blood" after the incident,” said the office of President Massoud Barzani in a statement. “This is outside the law, governance and the culture of co-existence and democracy.”
    The statement expressed condolences to the family of Bidaiwi, an Iraqi academic and journalist who was shot dead by a Kurdish presidential guard in Baghdad on Saturday.

    All Iraq News quotes MP Latif Mutafa ("member of the Parliamentary Legal Committee") stating, "The Iraqi constitution assure the independence of the judiciary and no other authority should interfere in the performance of the judicial authority where the interference must be rejected according to the Iraqi Punishment Law No. 11 in 1969.  Since Bidaiwi's murder, we witness the interference by the key officials, MPs and Maliki in particular to affect the judicial decision over this case where Maliki should adhere to the oath that he made over preserving the independence of the judiciary."  The KRG Presidency issued a statement which announced sorrow and regret over Mohamed Bedaiwi's death (which they term "an unfortunate accident" -- and it well may have been) and dencounces Nouri al-Maliki's statements which are "inappropriate and strange" and a wide stretch from the rule of law that the Iraqi government is supposed to embrace and practice. 

    Yesterday, the House Veterans Affairs Committee issued the following:

    HVAC Webpage To Track How VA Stonewalls the Press

    Mar 24, 2014

    WASHINGTON, D.C.— Today, Chairman Jeff Miller launched VA Honesty Project, a new web component of Veterans.House.Gov designed to highlight the Department of Veterans Affairs’ lack of transparency with the press, and by extension the public. View the page here.

    Because the Department of Veterans Affairs is a taxpayer funded organization, it has a responsibility to fully explain itself to the press and the public. Unfortunately, in many cases, VA is failing in this responsibility, as department officials – including 54 full-time public affairs employees – routinely ignore media inquiries.

    VA Honesty Project documents nearly 70 recent instances in which VA has failed to respond to reporters’ requests for information or refused to answer specific questions. The department’s apparent disregard for the press has become an object of reporters’ scorn, leading some to openly accuse VA of “thumbing their nose at us” and others to write entire articles focusing on VA’s stonewalling tactics. VA Honesty Project will be continually updated with new examples of VA refusing to respond to the press as they arise.
    Following the launch of VA Honesty Project, Chairman Miller issued the following statement.

    “With 54 full-time public affairs employees, VA’s media avoidance strategy can’t be anything other than intentional. What’s worse, the tactic leaves the impression that department leaders think the same taxpayers who fund the department don’t deserve an explanation of VA’s conduct. VA Honesty Project is dedicated to showing America’s veterans, American taxpayers and department leaders how VA’s media avoidance strategy is doing the public an extreme disservice while damaging VA’s reputation in the process. By keeping a running record of VA’s attempts to stonewall the press, we hope to convince the department to put a renewed focus on being responsive and transparent with the media so America’s veterans and taxpayers can get the answers they deserve.” – Rep. Jeff Miller, Chairman, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs