Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, April 29, 2014.  Chaos and violence continue, War Crimes past and War Crimes present are discussed, Doctors Without Borders and Amnesty release statements which are embarrassing for their lack of honesty or backbone, the elections get more press attention, fewer voters outside of Iraq filled out a ballot in the overseas elections -- especially when compared 2010's parliamentary elections, and much more.

Today, The New Yorker notes the Abu Ghraib prison scandal which Seymour Hersh broke the news on in 2004 and they highlight this past reporting:

Torture at Abu Ghraib,” by Seymour M. Hersh (May 10, 2004).
The Abu Ghraib Pictures” (May 3, 2004).
Chain of Command,” by Seymour M. Hersh (May 17, 2004).
The Gray Zone,” by Seymour M. Hersh (May 24, 2004).
Exposure,” by Philip Gourevitch and Errol Morris (March 24, 2008).

Primary Sources: Abu Ghraib” (March 24, 2008).

Again, Hersh broke the story.  He continues to break stories, he is an investigative reporter.  Sadly, he is shut out by his peers in the US media and now his investigative work -- exposing the current administration -- runs in The London Review of Books.  That's not an insult to that publication.  Applause for them.  But how sad that no American outlet will touch his reports -- not even The New Yorker. They'll pimp his past work, they just don't want to run his current work because the current American fairy tale must be maintained.  Deutsche Welle interviews Hersh today.  Excerpt.

You really haven't noticed any change, not even under President Barack Obama?

He is more informed (than former President George W. Bush), his domestic programs are in general quite good…But in foreign policy there's not a significant change, no…America would be much better off, if, 30 years ago, we had let Russia continue its war in Afghanistan…The mistake was made by the Carter administration which was trying to stop the Russians from their invasion of Afghanistan. We'd be better off had we let the Russians beat the Taliban. Obama is continuing many of the policies, the war against terrorism...I don't understand why we use drones to kill people when we know that this makes more enemies of us, and we also know that the real problem with many of the jihadists is a lack of jobs, a lack of food, a lack of a real life. And instead of dealing with these problems, we fight. That always seems to me very silly. We're not dealing with the underlying problems that create jihadists.

What happened in the Abu Ghraib prison, what the US military and intelligence agents did?  War Crimes.  Torture, rape, those are War Crimes.

Earlier this month, BRussells Tribunal and others staged a conference on Iraq.  Dahr Jamail reports (here at BRussells Tribunal, here at Truthout):

 Narmeen Saleh and her husband Shawki were detained by US military forces during a violent 2004 raid of their home in Baghdad.
Saleh spent 16 days in prison, where "the interrogations didn't stop for one minute." She was beaten, electrocuted and threatened with rape if she didn't "confess."
"They [US soldiers] tortured and beat me a lot, and when they found out that I was pregnant they told me they would kill the baby in my womb," she was quoted, as her testimony was read at the Iraq Commission conference in Brussels recently. "They then concentrated their beating and electricity on my abdomen area."
Her daughter, who is now 8 years old, has cerebral palsy, and her husband remains in custody of the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for the bogus charge of "illegally entering Iraq."
This shocking testimony was provided to international lawyers, journalists , and activists converged at a conference titled, "The Iraq Commission," held in Brussels, Belgium, April 16 and 17, with the primary aim of bringing to justice government officials who are guilty of war crimes in Iraq.

The conference represented the most powerful and most current organized movement in the world to hold accountable those responsible for the catastrophic invasion and occupation in Iraq, including UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and former US President George W. Bush, along with others in their administrations.

Again, War Crimes.  Most importantly,  War Crimes continue in Iraq.

Nouri attacked Anbar Province December 30th.  He attacked a camp of peaceful protesters.  From that day's snapshot:

 Here are three plain speaking outlets -- two western and Rudaw. Kamal Namaa, Ahmed Rasheed, Alexander Dziadosz and Andrew Heavens (Reuters) report, "Fighting broke out when Iraqi police moved to dismantle a Sunni Muslim protest camp in the western Anbar province on Monday, leaving at least 13 people dead, police and medical sources said."  Rudaw explains, "As Iraqi forces launched a reportedly deadly crackdown on a months-long protest in the city of Ramadi in the predominantly Sunni Anbar province, Sunni MPs reacted by announcing mass resignations as other leaders called on protesters to resist and soldiers to disobey."  Jason Ditz (Antiwar.com) observes, "Today, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki underscored how little he’s learned, responding to a sit-in protest in Ramadi with heavy-handed police action that killed at least 17 people, 12 of them unarmed civilians."
These murders brought to you by the largess of US President Barack Obama.  Mushreq Abbas (Al-Monitor) explains:

Rashid Fleih, a leader of the Anbar operations, told Al-Monitor that the Iraqi army had received US equipment and supplies to be used in the battle against groups affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). The New York Times revealed Dec. 25 that Washington will supply Iraq with a map showing the locations and origins of al-Qaeda in Iraq, besides 75 Hellfire air-to-land missiles and 10 ScanEagle reconnaissance drones. This information was confirmed by the prime minister's spokesperson, Ali al-Moussawi, in a statement released Dec. 27.

Barack arming Nouri with weapons to use against the Iraqi people is in violation human rights agreements as well as the Leahy Amendment.  

In February, Erin Evers (Human Rights Watch) noted:

Clearly Iraq needs to protect its citizens from armed groups’ violent attacks, which can wreak general havoc and cause a humanitarian crisis, as in Anbar. But the government also takes advantage of fears of the terrorist threat to brutally suppress dissent. The violence in Anbar is just the most recent example of how the government’s use of violent measures in the name of counterterrorism has accelerated the country’s crisis: the Anbar fighting began thanks to the government’s attempt to suppress Sunnis’ legitimate protests against abuses. Security forces’ brutal methods are amply documented in today’s report on abuses of women, which frequently occurred during counterterrorism operations.

December 30th, the slaughter began with Nouri lying that he was combating terrorists.

The US government, led by US President Barack Obama, allowed humans to die for the crime of peaceful protest.  Check the snapshot, despite his claims of "terrorists" overrunning the Ramadi protest camp, Nouri didn't capture one in his deadly raid.  Instead, Nouri claimed that the terrorist all managed to flee.  All of them.  Doesn't explain the slaughter of innocents, does it?

Nouri has used terrorism or 'terrorism' as an excuse to attack civilians -- to attack and kill them.

He's claimed it's al Qaeda in Iraq he's fighting and the White House has gone along with that lie.  As Michael Stephens (Al Jazeera) notes today, "The US has blandly repeated the same platitude that it wishes to see a united Iraq operating under the terms of the strategic framework agreement, yet simultaneously the US has been accelerating its Foreign Military Sales programme in recent months by approving the sale of 36 F-16s, 24 Apaches and 500 Hellfire missiles to Iraq to fight al-Qaeda."  Betty offered, "I keep thinking the US is going to send in a team to kill Nouri but they never kill the tyrants -- no, they just kill the good people like Allende in Chile.  If you're a crook or a War Criminal, the US will prop you up forever and a day.  But if you try to help the people, the US government will try to kill you or overthrow you (Castro in Cuba, Chavez in Venezuela)."  Ann shared, "Nouri al-Maliki should be in a prison or a grave. Instead, he's ruining the country."

The most important report today is by Ned Parker, Ahmed Rasheed and Raheem Salman (Reuters).  They explore the attacks on civilians, explain Nouri's use of Shi'ite militias (which Nouri is calling the "Sons Of Iraq" -- the name previously used for Sahwa).  The reporters note that Nouri's operation hasn't had success, not even in the military:

Military personnel and Iraqi officials say several thousand soldiers have deserted; and well over 1,000, if not more, have been killed. The government has yet to release formal numbers.
Soldiers in Anbar speak with desperation. “We are dumped by our military leadership in these deserted houses in the middle of the orchards, without enough ammunition, without night binoculars,” said one soldier from Ramadi.
His battalion has 120 of its original 750 soldiers; most have deserted and he vows to do the same.

One army officer said Iraq’s Special Forces, who have led the fight against the insurgency, are now taking defensive positions to avoid more casualties.

In an executive summary of their report released yesterday, the International Crisis Group notes:

It is too late for steps that might have been taken to reduce tensions before the elections. Any lasting solution requires addressing the deeper roots of Sunni alienation in a country increasingly gripped by sectarian tension. ISIL’s rise is a symptom, not the main cause, of the poor governance that is the principal reason for Iraq’s instability. The government, UN and U.S. should treat ISIL differently from the military council and Falluja as a whole, rather than bundling them together in an indiscriminate “war on terror”.
When in December 2013 Iraq’s central authorities cleared a year-long sit-in in the city that was demanding better treatment from Baghdad, Falluja’s residents took to the streets. ISIL (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) took advantage of the ensuing chaos, moved forces into the city and asserted it had seized control. The claim was greatly exaggerated: while it raised its black flag above some administration buildings in the city centre, locals blocked most of their forays and forced them to retreat to the outskirts.
But Baghdad had a casus belli: it besieged the city, ignored local attempts to mediate an ISIL withdrawal and threatened to attack. Falluja residents held no brief for ISIL, but their hatred of the Iraqi army – seen as the instrument of a Shiite, sectarian regime, directed from Tehran, that discriminates against Sunnis in general and Anbar in particular – ran even deeper. The city’s rebels struck a Faustian bargain, forming an alliance of convenience with ISIL. The jihadis’ military might kept the army at bay, but their presence justified the government’s claim that the entire city was under jihadi control. A self-reinforcing cycle has taken root: jihadi activity encourages government truculence that in turn requires greater jihadi protection.

Falluja’s fighters and Baghdad’s central authorities both are posing as the country’s true patriots, deriding their adversary as a foreign enemy. ISIL has benefited by renewing its base of support in Iraq, which had been shrinking ever since the sahwa (awakening) turned against al-Qaeda in 2006. With a high profile from the fighting in Syria and superior weaponry, they once again have become a magnet for the country’s disaffected. 

Look, some grown ups have joined the discussion.  It's a far cry from the garbage Marie Harf and Jen Psaki swill at the State Dept press briefings.

Nouri has gotten away one War Crime against humanity after another and the same US President who demanded Nouri get a second term as prime minister (despite his State of Law losing the 2010 parliamentary elections) has demanded he be provided with more weapons and with intel to kill Iraqis.

The current assault on Anbar began with War Crimes, the slaughter of peaceful protesters in Ramadi.  It has continued the War Crimes.  In the name of combating so-called terrorism, Nouri bombs the homes of Falluja, he bombs residential areas.  Every day in the last months, civilians have died and been wounded from these bombings.  Where is the international outcry?

Doctors Without Borders issue an alert about the Anbar crisis today but can only muster the courage to mention the refugees created by the crisis, they can't say one word about the killing of civilians by the Iraqi military.  Also cowardly is Amnesty International with their little alert today which lacks the guts and spine to note the daily killing of civilians in Falluja by Nouri's military. Though they can't note the killing of civilians in Falluja, the editorial board of England's Independent can at least call the possible re-election of Nouri "a pity" and write, "Mr Maliki may win the election or stay in office, but more and more of Iraq will be outside his control as the country disintegrates." Even the editorial board of The National Newspaper can point out that "Iraqi security forces have begun employing Shiite militias as shock troops." Hassan Karim ("a university graduate from Baghdad's Shiite Sadr City district") tells AP,  "Al-Maliki has had enough chance to prove himself, but he failed. Iraqis lack security, services and housing. The only two things available in the country right now are corruption and checkpoints."

A few citizens of the world can rightly call out Barack's Drone War and call out the killing of people whose 'crime' it was to attend a wedding.  What about calling the slaughter of people whose only 'crime' it was to be in their homes?

Today, Nouri's continued War Crimes in Iraq left 2 civilians dead today and four more injured as a result of his use of collective punishment in the continued bombing of Falluja's residential neighborhoods.   "Collective punishment" is so basic that even Wikipedia can explain it:

The Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, commonly referred to as the Fourth Geneva Convention and abbreviated as GCIV, is one of the four treaties of the Geneva Conventions. It was adopted in August 1949, and defines humanitarian protections for civilians in a war zone. There are currently 196 countries party to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, including this and the other three treaties.[1]
In 1993, the United Nations Security Council adopted a report from the Secretary-General and a Commission of Experts which concluded that the Geneva Conventions had passed into the body of customary international law, thus making them binding on non-signatories to the Conventions whenever they engage in armed conflicts.[2]
[. . .]
Article 33. No persons may be punished for an offense he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.
Pillage is prohibited.
Reprisals against persons and their property are prohibited.

Under the 1949 Geneva Conventions, collective punishment is a war crime. By collective punishment, the drafters of the Geneva Conventions had in mind the reprisal killings of World War I and World War II. In the First World War, during the Rape of Belgium, the Germans executed Belgian villagers in mass retribution for resistance activity. In World War II, the Germans carried out a form of collective punishment to suppress resistance. Entire villages or towns or districts were held responsible for any resistance activity that occurred in them.[3] The conventions, to counter this, reiterated the principle of individual responsibility. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Commentary to the conventions states that parties to a conflict often would resort to "intimidatory measures to terrorize the population" in hopes of preventing hostile acts, but such practices "strike at guilty and innocent alike. They are opposed to all principles based on humanity and justice."

Additional Protocol II of 1977 explicitly forbids collective punishment. But as fewer states have ratified this protocol than GCIV, GCIV Article 33 is the one more commonly quoted.

Claiming terrorists have taken over sections of Falluja and that this justifies bombing residential neighborhoods is collective punishment, is a War Crime and is, in fact, terrorism against a people.

The White House has elected to embrace, arm and fund terrorism in Iraq.

And, no, it hasn't made things better.  It has only worsened the situation.  A typical incident for Sunnis? Camille Bouissou and Tom Little (AFP) report:

Since soldiers arrested and beat Abu Noor, his son and nephew at their modest house in Baghdad's Adhamiyah neighbourhood, he and his wife have been too scared to leave home.
"I feel sick when I talk about this... I only go to work and I come back," said the 54-year-old, who was too scared to give his real name, remembering the night six months ago when the soldiers arrived.
Like Abu Noor and his wife, many Sunni Arabs complain they are discriminated against by the government of Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who is running for a third term in a parliamentary election on Wednesday.
Umm Noor, a smiling woman in her forties wearing a headscarf, grew angry as she recounted the incident six months ago, when she heard a noise late one night.
Her husband went downstairs to check what was happening, and troops grabbed him, his son and nephew and beat them. 

And when the issue isn't direct abuse, the issue is intimidation.  Jamie Tarabay (Al Jazeera) reports on Falluja:

In that storied city, once again controlled by Al-Qaeda allies, there will be polling centers only in surrounding areas controlled by Iraqi security forces. That means residents like Mustafa Mohammed won’t get the chance to cast ballots.
“I’m not going to vote,” he told Al Jazeera over the phone from Fallujah. “The Iraqi army has closed the roads. There are no negotiations happening [for a truce]. The government wants a military solution, not a political one. We want a political one.”
The United Nations estimates that 400,000 people have fled the violence in Anbar and moved to other parts of the country. Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission says they will still be able to vote for their province, using absentee votes.
That won’t help Mohammed cast a ballot. The Fallujah resident, who said he preferred life under Saddam Hussein, found himself admitting that he longs for the Americans to return.

“If [Prime Minister] Nouri al-Maliki wins again, it’ll be the end for Sunnis in Anbar, Kirkuk, Samarra and Tikrit,” Mohammed said, ticking off other parts of Iraq that are predominantly home to Sunnis and have also experienced much violence. “The Americans were more merciful than the government. They weren’t sectarian.”

Al Jazeera discusses the elections with the author of The Struggle for Iraq's Future Zaid al-Ali.  Excerpt.

AJ: In what way would elections contribute to a decrease or increase in social and political divides?

ZA: It will depend on the outcome. If Maliki is returned as prime minister for a third term, many forces in Iraq - some political, some armed - will react negatively. Some may very well withdraw from the political process altogether, while others will certainly increase their armed opposition to the government. In that context, a Maliki third term can only worsen social and political divides.

If, however, Maliki is removed from office, then that opens some space to repair community relations in the country. Obviously that will partially depend on who replaces him, but whoever it is will automatically, if only by virtue of not being Maliki, open up the possibility of reestablishing strong community relations and repairing the damage that has been caused over the past few years.

He's correct.  We'll come back to it in a moment because we're going to note Zaid al-Ali's column for Foreign Policy first:

There is something truly paradoxical about Iraq's April 30 parliamentary elections. Although there is near unanimity among observers that the past four years have been disastrous for the country, many are still willing to defend Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's tenure -- even going so far as to suggest that there is no one else who is capable of governing the country.
However, the sad reality is that -- given all the developments of his eight years in office -- very few Iraqis are less suitable to be prime minister today than Maliki. Indeed, Maliki's third term would likely be even more disastrous than his second, leading to a deterioration in security and causing the country to relapse into a new authoritarian era.  
[. . .]
There is in fact a serious possibility that Maliki will not obtain sufficient popular support to retain his position. His electoral popularity peaked at around 24 percent of the vote in 2010, when many Iraqis still believed in his nonsectarian and strongman credentials. However, Iraq's complex and dysfunctional parliamentary system has allowed him to negotiate his survival. This election season, Maliki's fortunes will necessarily decline from the previous poll -- the only questions are by how much and how his electoral rivals will react. After the votes are counted, Iraq's future will depend on its leaders' ability to form a post-election alliance without the country's most corrosive elements at its helm.  

Zalmay Khalilzad was the second US Ambassador to Iraq following the 2003 invasion.  At National Interest, he notes, "A new leader, untainted by a record of distrust and broken deals, could offer Iraq a promising way forward."  He's correct,  Zaid al-Ali is correct.

In April 12's "I Hate The War," we explained:

What is termed 'al-Qaeda' in Iraq is actually a group of bodies.  Their only common issue at present is opposting to Nouri's rule.
Want to break them up right now?  Pay attention, Barack -- remove Nouri from power.
That requires no troops.  It only requires an honest election (as took place in 2010) and that the results be honored (which did not happen).
If Nouri is not prime minister for a third term, you're going to see the bond that binds the various groups break away.
Violence, once another person is named prime minister-designate, could actually fall as a result.

In The Third Estate Sunday Review's "Editorial: If the US wants to reduce the violence ...," we continued that point:

No third term for Nouri could provide a brief respite in violence as everyone waits to see what a new leader means.
No third term for Nouri could mean that a loose grouping of rebels, militants and others no longer share a common bond.

If the US could refrain from installing Nouri for a third term -- having already installed him for his first and his second -- Iraq might actually get a moment to breathe and regroup.   Mike noted, "The victims of Anbar are in a violence spiral that Nouri al-Maliki started by attacking the protesters.  Peaceful protesters were attacked, injured and killed repeatedly and the US government did nothing.  The only way to end the current violence is to end Nouri's reign."

By the way, Zalmay Khalilzad's column includes this:

In exchange for remaining Prime Minister after the 2010 elections, Maliki committed to the Erbil Agreement, which called for reform on issues such as de-Baathification, oil revenues, corruption, and federalism. In the absence of sustained U.S. engagement, however, Maliki failed to deliver on his promises. 

Look at that.  He wrote about The Erbil Agreement and didn't get struck dead by lightening.  It can be done.  The US-brokered Erbil Agreement was used by Nouri to get a second term but he refused to honor the promises he made in the legal contract and that's how Iraq ended up where it is right now.

You've taken your half out of the middle
Time and time again
But now I'm damned if I'll give you and inch
Till I get even
-- "Vengeance," written by Carly Simon, first appears on her album Spy (and was one of MTV's early heavy rotation videos)

Ned Parker and Raheem Salman (Reuters) note:

Normally seen behind closed doors and a wall of security, Maliki’s usual message is vengeance for the bombings that have again become a regular feature of Iraqi life and criticism of political opponents, who he says are set on undermining him.
His concentration of power over the past eight years – he holds the Defense, Interior and Security portfolios as well as the premiership – gives him a clear electoral advantage, as does the offensive against the Sunni militants he launched last year.

RT discusses the elections with Eugene Puryear who states, "The fact right now in Iraq is that we see something like confessional system set up by the US occupation. They essentially did everything they could through the invasion to divide the country along ethnic and religious lines, so there is no real national government, even though Maliki is allegedly the head of government of the entire country, it’s clear that there is a number of sectarian and ethnic divides that exist inside of the country that are not bridged to political process."  Reidar Visser offers his thoughts at Epoch Times (remember, Visser is a serial apologist for Nouri al-Maliki -- an analyst who's never called out Nouri's attacks on protesters or his murders of protesters). Matthew Bell (PRI's The World -- link is audio and text) discusses the situation with the BBC's Kevin Connolly.  Terry Gross (NPR's Fresh Air -- link is audio and text) discusses the situation with The New Yorker's Dexter Filkins.  Robin Young (NPR's Here & Now -- link is text and audio) discusses the situation with BBC's Rafid Jaboori.

What does the election mean?

In many ways, Joni Mitchell's "Lesson in Survival" (first appears on For The Roses) captures it:

I came in as bright
As a neon light
And I burned out
Right there before him

That's how it was following the December 2005 parliamentary elections.

That's how it was following the March 2010 parliamentary elections.

Maybe if the White House (first Bully Boy Bush, then Barack Obama) hadn't insisted on naming Iraq's prime minister both times, overriding the choice of Iraqis, maybe then the hope wouldn't have burned out so quickly?

It does appear to have burned out based on one segment of voting in these elections.

Ghassan Hamid and Mohammed Shafiq (Alsumaria) report the Independent High Electoral Commission announced today that 165,000 Iraqis living outside of Iraq have voted in the overseas elections.  Though this is being trumpeted as a large number, it's not.  The last two years have seen an increase yet again in the number of Iraqi leaving the country with some estimates of 250,000 Iraqis having left Iraq since the end of 2011. At the height of the crisis four years earlier, four million Iraqis had left the country.  Not only is 165,000 a small number compared to that, these are post-2003 invasion numbers we're dealing with.  The overseas voting?  One Iraqi profiled by the press left in 1983.  So the voters go back decades.  You probably have around six million potential voters.  (In 2010, it was thought to be as many as 3 million voters, as CNN's Arwa Damon, Jomana Karadsheh, Mohammed Tawfeeq and Zain Verjee noted.) Yet only 200,000 voted in 2010.

And only 165,000 voted in this election.

Granted, Syria's not being allowed to take part in the elections and the last reliable estimate was 300,000 Iraqi refugees in Syria.  Even had Syria been allowed to vote and 300,000 Iraqis there voted, that still wouldn't have brought the number voting to 200,000.  Millions outside of Iraq could have voted.

Not only is the number low when you consider the many who could have voted, it's also low when you consider the 2010 elections.  Rania El Gamal and Ahmed Rasheed (Reuters) reported March 8, 2010, "There were 272,016 expatriate voters, IHEC said, compared to expectations of more than one million."

This is a significant decrease and violence can't be given as the reason in that it is safer to vote, for example, in New Zealand than in Mosul.

Is this low turnout speaking only to refugee issues or does it indicate a disenchantment with the voting process (or the supposed results) that will also be true within Iraq?

At this point, no one knows and everything is a guess.

But in 2010, there were 272,016 Iraqis voting from outside Iraq and this go around it was only 165,000 -- that's over 100,000 less voters than four years ago.

This may reflect only overseas voters.  Or it may reflect only a Sunni aspect.  The press considers the refugee population to be more Sunni than Shia.  Or it may reflect a feeling of Iraqis regardless of where they live.  It could even be something entirely else including the assimilation issues -- and sociology's long noted the third generation of immigrants is the one that tends to return to roots.

But if this is a sentiment Iraqis are beginning to share, you can blame the US government which has insisted it supports democracy while repeatedly overruling Iraqis' right to select their own prime minister.

Xu Ruiqing and Jamal Hashim (Xinhua) quote Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq stating:

The future of Iraq will depend on this election. If Iraqis go to vote, Iraq will change. If they are reluctant and make a wrong choice, Iraq will stay as it is now and will even be worse. [. . .] Our country needs politicians and political blocs who believe in the unity of Iraq and their society, those who raise the national identity and the Arab identity above all other identities, because the sectarian identities will tear up the country.

Wednesday, the Iraqi people vote in parliamentary elections.  The results will determine the make up of their next Parliament.  Their next Parliament is supposed to determine their prime minister but that's never happened.  Not so far.  The December 2005 parliamentary elections?  Those elected wanted Ibrahim al-Jaafari to be prime minister (again) but the White Hose wanted Nouri al-Maliki.  The March 2010 parliamentary elections saw Nouri's State of Law lose to Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya but the White House wanted Nouri to be prime minister (again).

 Osama al-Khafaji and Ghassan Hamid (Alsumaria) have noted that there are over 9000 candidates competing for 328 seats. Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) explains, "Some 277 political entities across Iraq will compete for 328 seats of the Iraqi Council of Representatives the country's parliament."  AFP adds that there are "more than 20 million Iraqis [who] are eligible to vote" on Wednesday. The Latin American Herald Tribune is more specific, "Almost 20.5 million Iraqis are registered to vote in the elections on Wednesday." All Iraq News adds, "The statistics prepared by AIN show that 2607 female candidates compete on 81 seats according to the Iraqi constitution."  Kat noted Diana Moukalled (Al-Arabiya News) report on the female candidates running in the election:

A female Iraqi parliament candidate decided to publish her campaign photos across the country. However in Muslim areas, she published her photos wearing a hijab while in Christian areas, she published them without a hijab.
Though it's funny, it's one of the many trickery dynamics on Iraqi reality. This is not a first time this has happened. A female Iraqi candidate did the same during the 2010 elections.

Days leading up to the elections, Iraq is one big propaganda carnival. This carnival resembles a pattern we've witnessed at many Arab elections: talking about candidates is almost limited to photos and slogans scattered heavily across the country's streets and roads.

Borzou Daragahi (Financial Times of London) observes, "This week’s election is largely seen as a referendum on the performance of Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister who has come to dominate the energy-rich country since he first came to power eight years ago and is seen to have contributed to the country’s dramatic deterioration in security."  Or, as Marcia put it, "It's not a surprise that anyone would turn against Nouri.  It's only a surprise that more people in Iraq haven't already turned against him."

Asharq Al-Awsat reports charges of fraud are emerging:

Candidates have raised questions about the issuance of voter’s e-cards, in addition to calling for investigations into members of Iraq’s military and security forces being pressured to vote for specific candidates. Iraqi military and police personnel began voting on Monday.
In comments to Asharq Al-Awsat independent MP Izzat Al-Shahbandar criticized Iraqi prime minister Nuri Al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition for putting “pressure” on government bodies in order to secure as many votes as possible.
“Violations have taken place in several election centers, and pressure is being put on members of the police and military to vote for a specific candidate.”

Shahbandar, a former member of Maliki’s State of Law coalition, said that the Iraqi prime minister is desperate to win the election outright, without having to resort to forming alliances to secure a third term in office. 

Furthermore, Ayad Allawi tells Mustafa al-Kadhimi (Al-Monitor), "Thousands of electoral e-cards [according to statements by the Independent High Electoral Commission] have been stolen, and 25,000 sent to [the addresses of] dead people in Baghdad. In addition, the cards’ barcode shows who votes for whom, which poses a threat, especially among the armed forces and the internal security forces."  Xinhua notes:

Allawi was born in Iraq's capital city of Baghdad in 1945. A prominent Iraqi political activist who lived in exile for almost 30 years, the secular Shiite Muslim came back to Iraq following the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. He was prime minister of Iraq's interim government from June 2004 to April 2005.
The Iraqiya List, a cross-sectarian alliance led by Allawi, came first in the 2010 elections but failed to form a government. With the breakdown of the Iraqiya List, Allawi leads a much smaller National Coalition to participate in this year's elections.

That's part of Xinhua's overview of the politicians they see as major players in the elections. They offer an overview on various political alliances here. AFP offers "key facts" about the elections here.

Isra'al Rubei'i and Ned Parker (Reuters) report that secular candidates are struggling to get media coverage:

The Civil Democratic Alliance which groups independents and smaller parties has struggled to be seen amid the giant city posters of officials in the current government, women candidates in full hijab, others pancaked in Technicolor makeup, and powerful militia members clad in camouflage who fight in Syria.
The glossy billboards testify to the big money necessary for campaigns in Iraq, with politicians whispering of their rivals’ financiers and slush funds.
One Islamist candidate estimated to Reuters the cost of his parliamentary bid at over a million dollars. The lavish sums testify to how entrenched Iraq’s ruling parties are 11 years after the U.S. invasion ousted dictator Saddam Hussein.

The Civil Democratic Alliance’s members say they can’t afford to buy time on satellite news channels or pay for thousands of billboards.

And it wouldn't be campaigning without a politician or lying -- like the one Al Bawaba reports wants to be all things to all people, "We’ve heard of sly tactics used by politicians, but this definitely ranks at the top. In an unusual step to increase his chances of winning this year’s elections, an Iraqi candidate by the name of Sheikh Eyad al Ashoori put up three different posters around various areas in Iraq - each claiming that he is from a different religion or sect, to please the residents of that specific neighborhood."

The United Nations issued the following today:

Secretary-General Hails Timely Progress towards Polls in Iraq, Condemns

Violence Targeting Leaders, Candidates, Electoral Staff

The following statement was issued today by the Spokesman for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon:

On 30 April, Iraq will hold nationwide Council of Representatives elections and Governorate Council elections in the Kurdistan region.  These elections mark an important milestone in Iraq’s democratic transition and can contribute to greater peace and stability in the country.

The Secretary-General welcomes the progress made by the Independent High Electoral Commission in holding these elections on time and in line with national commitments and international standards.

The Secretary-General strongly condemns the wave of violence and terrorist attacks that has targeted political leaders, candidates and electoral staff ahead of the elections and conveys his deepest condolences to the families of those affected.  He urges all political leaders and personalities to create the conditions necessary to enable all Iraqi men and women to participate in the electoral process and to have their say on the future of their country.

* *** *

The United Nations isn't the only body making announcements today.  Al-Shorfa reports that clerics are making statements today:

"Election is a national duty for every Iraqi who desires to see change, security and prosperity and to overcome all problems in the country," Mufti of Iraq Sheikh Rafi al-Rifai said in a statement.
"Therefore, it is a religious and moral duty to go to the ballot boxes and use the chance as a civilised way to change and express opinion," he said.
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani also called on Iraqis to take part in the elections.

"All Iraqis must seize this chance to elect the right person in the right place to defeat terrorism, establish security and prosperity in an independent, pluralistic and free Iraq where only law and order have authority and influence," said al-Sistani's Karbala representative Ahmed al-Safi. 

Let's note the violence.  Through yesterday, 942 is the number killed from violence this month according to Iraq Body Count.


National Iraqi News Agency reports an armed battle "west of Kirkuk" left 8 rebels dead, 2 bombs going off in a Khanaqin market left 15 people dead and forty-five more injured, and, dropping back to last night, a Dora suicide bomber took his own life and the lives of 2 Federal Police members (with nine more left injured) while an al-Mada'en attack left 5 Sahwa dead and eight more injured. On the Khanaqin market bombing, Cassandra Vinograd (NBC News) reports the death toll increased to 24 dead.  Rudaw quotes their reporter in Khanaqin stating, "People are very confused, men, women, young and children come to look for their loved ones.  One can see blood everywhere on the floor in the hospital, people are screaming, it's quite a chaotic situation."  Alsumaria reports a Mafraq roadside bombing (west of Baquba) left 3 people dead and seven more injured, a Radwaniya roadside bombing left 1 police member dead and two more injured, an Abu Ghraib roadside bombing left 1 person dead and four more injured, and 1 male corpse (30-years-old and gunshot wounds) was discovered dumped in the streets of Hawija.

Yesterday's violence included many suicide bombers.  Trina focused on one, a teenager:

They tried to vote thug Nouri al-Maliki out as prime minister in 2010 and actually did.  But Barack wouldn't let it happen and imposed Nouri on them for a second term.
Their lives have been pure hell.  He's killed protesters, he's attacked everyone.
And now he's trying for a third term.
When voting hasn't worked, when protesting hasn't worked, what are you left with?
How sad that a young, teenage boy became a (dead) suicide bomber today.
And how sad that there's no grown up to realize Nouri is the problem and that the country can't move forward while he's at the lead. 

Ruth and Elaine wrote about the KRG and we'll try to include that tomorrow but there wasn't space for the KRG today.