Monday, April 07, 2014

Iraq snapshot

April 7, 2014.  Chaos and violence continue, Nouri's assault on Anbar continues, campaigning picks up steam, Moqtada al-Sadr's political retirement was short lived, Nouri sees defections in his State of Law coalition, Tony Blair thinks the world still needs to hear from him, NSA whistle-blower Ed Snowden wins an award, and more.

Iraq is supposed to hold parliamentary elections April 30th.  The outcome is supposed to determine who the prime minister is.  Supposed to?  Following the December 2005 parliamentary elections, the US government imposed Nouri al-Maliki on Iraq as prime minister.  Following the March 2010 parliamentary elections, the US government imposed Nouri al-Maliki on Iraq as prime minister.  Kurdistan Tribune's Kamal Chomani tells Joel Wing (Musings on Iraq), "What makes the elections more interesting is that all political parties, including Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds, are unanimously trying to put an end to PM Maliki's authoritarian wishes, but it is very much clear that Maliki will win. The whole elections will be about Maliki. The elections are like a referendum on Maliki as in Turkey it was on Erdogan."

But the elections in 2010, the ones Nouri's State of Law lost to Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya?  Those were a referendum as well even if US President Barack Obama chose to spit on the Iraqi voters by installing Nouri (via The Erbil Agreement) for a second term he didn't win.  As Jason Ditz ( noted last month, "Which is to say the US forced a puppet government into power before it left, despite Prime Minister Maliki losing the last election, and put in place an election system so crooked that even the Maliki-appointed election commission resigned en masse yesterday rather than take part in April’s planned vote."

Will the pattern of the US government insisting Nouri be prime minister repeat or will Iraqis finally be able to determine for themselves who they want as a leader?

That may be the biggest news to come out of the election.

In 2010, Nouri decided he was too good to run with his political party (Dawa) so he created his own coalition: State of Law.

Being stupid and physically ugly doesn't make you an automatic member of State of Law, but it doesn't hurt. Reidar Visser (Gulf Analysis) offered yesterday that State of Law was witnessing a number of defections and he identifies two as being the most potentially damaging:

Firstly there is list 228, headed by Izzat Shahbandar as candidate no. 1 in Baghdad. It is also running in Wasit, Basra, Dhi Qar and Karbala. The list also includes former Iraqiyya member Abd al-Khadar Tahir, reflecting perhaps the fact that Shahbandar was formerly one of the Maliki aides considered most sympathetic to the idea of cooperating with Sunnis and secularists. Judging from the make-up of his list, though, the successes in this respect north of Baghdad remain limited, even after the split from Maliki.
Second there is list 211, associated with Sami al-Askari. It will run in most Shiite-majority governorates as well as in Diyala. Another leading figure on the list is Najaf governor Adnan al-Zurfi. Given the connection to Najaf, the list has links to Shiite religious circles in Iraq’s holy cities. At the same time these are politicians with a record of dialogue with the Americans and the West, perhaps more so than some of the more Iran-sympathetic circles within State of Law.

As the date looms, many interesting developments occur.  Sunday's developments revolved  around cleric and movement leader Moqtada al-Sadr.  For example, All Iraq News reported:

The head of the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council, Ammar al-Hakim, and the head of Sadr Trend, Muqtada al-Sadr, discussed the political situation and the next elections.
A statement received by All Iraq News Agency cited "Hakim met Sadr in Najaf province on last Saturday night."
"Hakim confirmed the necessity of adopting national unified stances and to consolidate dialogue among the political sides," the statement added.

Moqtada and al-Hakim have been close, working partners since the summer of 2013.  Al-Monitor's Harith Hassan tells Joel Wing (Musings On Iraq), "Although Pro-Sadr block and Hakim’s coalition are running separately, it is very likely they will ally after the election, especially if they feel this move will help blocking Maliki’s attempt to win a third term."  Moqtada had another high profile discussion Sunday.  NINA noted:

Kurdistan leader Massoud Barzani discussed on Sunday with head of the Sadrists bloc cleric Moqtada al-Sadr the political and security situation in the country.
A statement by the presidency of the Region today, said that Barzani and al-Sadr held a telephone conversation during which they stressed the need to hold parliamentary elections as scheduled in a stable and quiet atmosphere.

Interesting since Moqtada was 'out of politics.'  Clearly, that's not the case.  He wouldn't be talking elections today with Ammar al-Hakim and with KRG President Massoud Barzani.

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.

Clearly, Moqtada has not stepped away from the political scene.  Things might be easier for Nouri if he had.

Who was it that got Moqtada to return?  Who should Nouri blame for that?

From 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.

That's right, Moqtada returned because Nouri attacked him on French television.  Alsumaria notes that a State of Law MP denounced Moqtada and Barzani's conversation.  State of Law is clearly upset by Moqtada's return.  They need to remember Nouri is the reason Moqtada is back.

Kitabat reports on a new rumor that Moqtada, Ammar al-Hakim and Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi have a secret agreement to band together to form a coalition government after the election -- one that would leave Nouri in the dust.

Campaigning officially kicked off April 1st.  Baghdad Invest Tweets:

  • This is what elections look like in Iraq! Karrada, Baghdad

  • This is what elections look like in Iraq! Karrada, Baghdad

  • Mustafa Habib (Niqash) reports:

    Within hours of the official start of campaigning for Iraq’s general elections, due to be held at the end of the month, the streets of every major city were, quite literally, full of campaign posters. It seemed as if the various parties were not just in a race to win votes, they were also racing to occupy the most visible parts of each city with their campaign materials.

    The general elections, the first to be held since US forces left the country, will take place on April 30 and will see around 9040 candidates competing for 328 seats in Baghdad’s Parliament, within 39 major coalitions, with Shiite Muslim, Sunni Muslim and Kurdish being the main flavours.  
    The most vital places for politicking seem to be public squares and the entrances and exits to bridges – because many locals use these whether they are driving or walking. Additionally election campaigners are doing their best to get permission to hang posters on the largest buildings and biggest bridges.  
    “The emphasis is always on the wealthier areas – especially in Baghdad,” Samad al-Qadi tells NIQASH; he’s been contracted to distribute campaign materials for one of the country’s larger political parties and he’s employed 50 other people to help him. “Areas like Karrada, Mansour and Sadoun are most popular to hang posters and banners in Baghdad.”

    Omar al-Jaffal (Al-Monitor) adds, "There is an undeclared war among the political blocs, as [some candidates] tear down their opponents’ posters in some areas. Moreover, there are claims that some blocs have hired youth to tear down posters and disfigure image."  Still on the subject of the campaign posters, Iraq's always useless Ministry of Women (headed by a woman who doesn't believe women should have rights) is having a fit.  Kirkuk Now reports males are taking photos of themselves kissing the posters of some female candidates.  If there's a problem with this it would be that it may be (or may be interpreted) as ridiculing female candidates.  But the Ministry of Women?  It's "immoral," they say.  It's kissing a poster.  Again, the Ministry's headed by Nouri's hand picked anti-women woman.

    "For every seven Shi'ites killed, we want seven Sunnis [killed] in their place."  Who snarled that while banging on a table?  Diana Moukalled (Asharq Al-Awsat) explains it was State of Law MP Hanan al-Fatalwi

    An Iraqi parliamentarian has dismissed the authority of the constitution and the law to declare that the time has come to implement the principle of “an eye for an eye” to manage the sectarian conflict that is currently raging in Iraq.The media uproar which followed the Iraqi MP’s comments did not deter her or encourage her to retract her comments, and the echoes of her statement remained loud in the public arena. To top it off, Fatlawi is a member of the State of Law parliamentary coalition led by Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki.
    The Iraqi MP’s TV moment of error ignited a firestorm on social media, worsening the sectarian discourse in the country and intensifying its hate campaigns. It is language that encourages the shedding of blood, which is what is taking place in Iraq and in many surrounding countries.
    In fact, the Iraqi MP did not depart from the line taken by the prime minister himself two weeks ago when he declared the principle of “blood for blood” in the case of the killing of journalist Mohammad Al-Bdaiwi at the hands of a Republican Guard officer.

    The killing of the journalist was exploited in a manner which has not been seen in other daily killings taking place across the country. It is an incident which took place at a time which suited the current circumstances, and which, in turn, Maliki tried to benefit from.

    Nouri did try to use that death.  He wasn't the only one.

    The US State Dept has not made a point to note a single journalist killed or attacked in Iraq since Barack was sworn in as president.  But they noted that one.  Marie Harf announced it before she took questions.

    Because they care so damn much?

    Get real.  Saturday saw another attack on the press in Iraq.  The Journalistic Freedom Observatory in Iraq notes that Al-Ghadeer reporter Karim al-Qaisi was attacked Saturday morning.  The fifty-year-old reporter was severely beaten on the orders of Diyala Province Governor Amir al-Majamyi. Karim explains the governor ordered his security detail to grab him and they beat him in the face and dragged him fifty meters while journalists looked on. Those who attempted to film the assault were threatened with violence.

    Today, the State Dept didn't note it at all.

    They only pretend to care.

    Which is why Nouri's able to kill civilians in Anbar every day with the US government never objecting.

    Yang Lina (Xinhua) reports the latest outcome of the Iraqi military shelling residential neighborhoods in Anbar:

    Separately, artillery and mortar shelling on several neighborhoods in the besieged city of Fallujah left a civilian killed and nine others wounded, a medical source from the city hospital said.
    Meanwhile, several mortar rounds landed on the town of Garma near Fallujah, damaging several houses and wounding four civilians, including a child, a local police source said.

    National Iraqi News Agency reports 1 mayor was assassinated in Baquba, a Ramadi suicide bomber took his own life and the lives of 3 Sahwa (with four more injured), an Arijiah suicide bomber took his own life and the lives of 4 more people (wit three left injured), 1 Shabak was shot dead in Mosul, 1 corpse was discovered in Mosul ("signs of torture"), Dr. Mohamed Jumaa ("Dean of the Faculty of Imam Adham in Samarra) was shot dead outside his Samarra home, 1 police member was shot dead in Meshahda, the Ministry of the Interior announced they killed 1 suspect in Anbar, and Joint Special Operations Command announced they killed 6 suspects in Anbar.  Alsumaria reports 1 civilian was shot dead in Sadr City, a Mosul bombing left 4 dead and three wounded, 1 corpse was discovered dumped in the street in Sadr City, and a Samarra suicide truck bomber (oil tanker) took his own life and the lives of 3 other people with ten more left injured.

    The violence continues.  And yet no one wants to take responsibility, especially not War Hawk Tony Blair. Matt Chorley (Daily Mail) reports the latest on War Criminal Tony Blair:

    Public opposition should not stop Britain embarking on new foreign invasions, Tony Blair has claimed.
    The former Prime Minister insisted domestic resistance to military intervention does not ‘invalidate the necessity to intervene’.
    If you caught NBC's Today show last week, you saw Jenna Bush Hager interview her father Bully Boy Bush who had a little exhibit at his library of paintings.  This included one of Tony Blair and when Jenna asked what Tony thought of the portrait, Bully Boy Bush stopped snorting and guffawing and mentioned he'd told Tony about it but Tony didn't seem interested.

    Hard Times For War Hawks.

    But outside of doing a favor for his daughter, Bully Boy Bush largely remains under his rock.  He knows he can't help his political party and any war he might champion would only sour due to his endorsement.

    Yes, stupid Bully Boy Bush has more intelligence (and less vanity) than Tony Blair.

    Reaction to Blair's ego tripping includes:

  • Friday, the US Embassy in Baghdad issued an "Emergency Message for the U.S. Community in Iraq:"

    April 4, 2014

    U.S. Embassy Baghdad

    Warning regarding Baghdad International Airport

    Due to specific threat information, U.S. government and U.S. Embassy-affiliated personnel have been prohibited from using the Baghdad International Airport through April 8, 2014. Out of an abundance of caution, U.S. citizens are warned to avoid traveling through Baghdad International Airport. If you have an emergency, please call the American Citizen Services emergency line at 0760-030-4888 or 0770-443-1286.

    The U.S. Embassy recommends that U.S. citizens in all areas of Iraq, including the IZ, maintain a heightened sense of security awareness and take appropriate measures to enhance personal and operational security at this time. U.S. citizens are advised to keep a low profile; vary days, times, and routes of travel; and exercise caution while driving and entering or exiting vehicles.

    U.S. citizens traveling and residing abroad should enroll in the Smart
    Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)
    . U.S. citizens without internet access may enroll directly at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate at their destination. By enrolling, U.S. citizens make it easier for the Embassy to contact them in case of emergency.

    U.S. citizens may contact the U.S. Embassy, located in the IZ, via e-mail to In the event of a U.S. citizen emergency please contact: 0770-443-1286 (from Iraq) or 011-964-770-443-1286 (from the United States).

    U.S. citizens traveling abroad should regularly monitor the U.S. Department of State's, Bureau of Consular Affairs website, where the current Worldwide Caution, Travel Warnings, Travel Alerts, and Country Specific Information can be found. The U.S. Embassy also encourages U.S. citizens to review Traveler's Checklist which includes valuable security information for those living and traveling abroad. Follow us on Twitter and the Bureau of Consular Affairs page on Facebook as well. In addition to information on the Internet, travelers may obtain the latest information on security conditions by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada, or outside the United States and Canada on a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

    In other news, Rebecca Shabad (The Hill) reports, "Edward Snowden has won this year’s Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling, the organization announced Monday. Organizers will try to show Snowden remotely at the awards ceremony Apr. 30 at the Washington Press Club."

    Ed Snowden is an American citizen and whistle-blower who had been employed by the CIA and by the NSA before leaving government employment for the more lucrative world of contracting.  At the time he blew the whistle, he was working for Booz Allen Hamilton doing NSA work.  Glenn Greenwald (Guardian) had the first scoop (and many that followed) on Snowden's revelations that the US government was spying on American citizens, keeping the data on every phone call made in the United States (and in Europe as well) while also spying on internet use via PRISM and Tempora.  US Senator Bernie Sanders decried the fact that a "secret court order" had been used to collect information on American citizens "whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing."  Sanders went on to say, "That is not what democracy is about.  That is not what freedom is about. [. . .] While we must aggressively pursue international terrorists and all of those who would do us harm, we must do it in a way that protects the Constitution and civil liberties which make us proud to be Americans."  The immediate response of the White House, as Dan Roberts and Spencer Ackerman (Guardian) reported,  was to insist that there was nothing unusual and to get creaky and compromised Senator Dianne Feinstein to insist, in her best Third Reich voice, "People want to keep the homeland safe."  The spin included statements from Barack himself.   Anita Kumar (McClatchy Newspapers) reports, "Obama described the uproar this week over the programs as “hype” and sought to ensure Americans that Big Brother is not watching their every move."  Josh Richman (San Jose Mercury News) quoted Barack insisting that "we have established a process and a procedure that the American people should feel comfortable about."  Apparently not feeling the gratitude, the New York Times editorial board weighed in on the White House efforts at spin, noting that "the Obama administration issued the same platitude it has offered every time President Obama has been caught overreaching in the use of his powers: Terrorists are a real menace and you should just trust us to deal with them because we have internal mechanisms (that we are not going to tell you about) to make sure we do not violate your rights."  Former US President Jimmy Carter told CNN, "I think that the secrecy that has been surrounding this invasion of privacy has been excessive, so I think that the bringing of it to the public notice has probably been, in the long term, beneficial."  Since August, he has temporary asylum status in Russia.