Monday, August 11, 2014

Iraq snapshot

Monday, August 11, 2014.  Chaos and violence continue, Nouri goes insane and orders troops to surround Baghdad, the White House pulls support for Nouri, Iraq's president names someone other than Nouri to be prime minister-designate, this only makes Nouri crazier, and much more.

If someone refused to step down from office when their term was over, most people would call the man or woman "insane."  AFP goes with the softer sounding "defiant" to describe Nouri al-Maliki.

In a scene similar to what many of us on the left in the US feared might happen in 2008, a leader is refusing to leave office.  In fairness to Bully Boy Bush, he remains in Dallas and did vacate the White House in January 2009.  But the man he insisted (in 2006) become prime minister, the same man that US President Barack Obama insisted (in 2010) remain prime minister just doesn't want to take the hint and go.

The chief thug and outgoing prime minister of Iraq doesn't want to leave office.

The Associated Press is calling it a "foreign policy crisis."

What is the foreign policy crisis?

US President Barack Obama explained this evening from Martha's Vineyard, "Today, Iraq took a promising step forward in this critical effort.   Last month, the Iraqi people named a new President.  Today, President Masum named a new Prime Minister designate, Dr. Haider al-Abadi.  Under the Iraqi constitution, this is an important step towards forming a new government that can unite Iraq’s different communities."

Nouri, the man who brought the Iraq government to a standstill in 2010 when he refused to step down as prime minister after losing the election to Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya, began acting strangely -- even for him -- last week though most only noticed his strangeness last night.

Nouri had a tantrum yesterday when the President of Iraq, Fuad Masum, refused to name him prime minister.  As Loveday Morris (Washington Post) reported:

In actions that had all the markings of a political coup, Maliki gave a defiant late-night speech in Baghdad saying he would lodge a legal case against the country’s president, who has resisted naming him as the candidate for another term as prime minister.
Tanks rumbled onto major bridges and roads in the capital as security forces were put on high alert, with militiamen also patrolling Shiite neighborhoods. The special forces teams surrounding the Green Zone were taking orders directly from the prime minister, security officials said.

The Guardian quotes from a statement by US State Dept spokesperson Marie Harf:

The United States fully supports president Fuad Masum in his role as guarantor of the Iraqi constitution.  We reaffirm our support for a process to select a prime minister who can represent the aspirations of the Iraqi people by building a national consensus and governing in an inclusive manner. We reject any effort to achieve outcomes through coercion or manipulation of the constitutional or judicial process.

Also yesterday, the State Dept's Brett McGurk Tweeted:

Nouri's most recent crazy had included threatening that the "gates of hell" would open if he didn't receive a third term as prime minister, he bullied the President of Iraq to the point that Masum publicly stated he would not be bullied into naming a prime minister-designate.

So yesterday's stunt, his last minute crazy rambles on state television and his stationing forces around Baghdad appeared to be the last straw.  As Ahmed Rasheed (Reuters) explained, "Washington seems to be losing patience with Maliki, who has placed Shi'ite political loyalists in key positions in the army and military and drawn comparisons with executed former dictator Saddam Hussein, the man he plotted against from exile for years."

This morning, Lolita C. Baldor and Julie Pace (AP) reported that the White House  decided to send weapons directly to the Kurdistan Regional Government,  bypassing the central government of Baghdad.  This was about the loss of patience and trust with Nouri and all his crazy which has destroyed Iraq for years now.

Finally, the US government is walking away from him.

A White House friend asked what I was going to cover?  Meaning there's a Saturday remark by Barack (Ava and I covered it in "Media: Barack Lies, Cher Tweets and Martha Plays (Ava and C.I.)" on Sunday) that needs examination -- in that piece, it's also noted that Martha Radditz would be addressed here.  She will be -- tomorrow.  But the friend's concern was Barack.

As I said on the phone: Relax.

There will be time this week to talk about the history and everything else but right now I just want to be happy that the US government is no longer backing Thug Nouri.

The Iraqi people are strong.  But the fact that they have survived and can survive so much is no reason to inflict Nouri on them for a third term.

This evening, Barack declared:

Earlier today, Vice President Biden and I called Dr. Abadi to congratulate him and to urge him to form a new cabinet as quickly as possible -- one that’s inclusive of all Iraqis, and one that represents all Iraqis.  I pledged our support to him, as well as to President Masum and Speaker Jabouri, as they work together to form this government.  Meanwhile, I urge all Iraqi political leaders to work peacefully through the political process in the days ahead.
This new Iraqi leadership has a difficult task.  It has to regain the confidence of its citizens by governing inclusively and by taking steps to demonstrate its resolve.  The United States stands ready to support a government that addresses the needs and grievances of all Iraqi people.  We are also ready to work with other countries in the region to deal with the humanitarian crisis and counterterrorism challenge in Iraq.  Mobilizing that support will be easier once this new government is in place.

These have been difficult days in Iraq -- a country that has faced so many challenges in its recent history.  And I’m sure that there will be difficult days ahead.  But just as the United States will remain vigilant against the threat posed to our people by ISIL, we stand ready to partner with Iraq in its fight against these terrorist forces.  Without question, that effort will be advanced if Iraqis continue to build on today’s progress, and come together to support a new and inclusive government.

Today was a hopeful day for Iraq.  I will offer praise for Barack for today:  It took courage to pull the support from Nouri.  I believe this will be seen as a transformative moment for Iraq and Barack's decision -- and, yes, action -- will be a key moment in not just the history of Iraq or the United States but in world history because Barack just pulled US government support for a despot and a tyrant.

Historically, when a US president -- or any world leader -- does that, it's only after a near universal cry around the globe.

With Iraq, the cries came from the Arab world, from a few NGOs, certainly from Human Rights Watch but that's really it.  In terms of non-Arabic press?

Ned Parker deserves huge praise.  Tim Aragno is someone I have no problem applauding.  Liz Sly deserves applause (and it's a shame she's covering Syria right now -- Loveday Morris has not anything bad but I'm just not seeing applause for her).  I'll even give Dexter Filkins a round of applause for his late-in-life turn around.  (Yes, I have so much joy I can even give Dexter a round of applause.)  I'll applaud Dahr Jamail, of course. But in terms of reporting, that's really about it.

If you include editorial boards, I think you have to praise the New York Times and The Economist. I'm long picturing on this -- I say that because I haven't read an opinion piece in the Times in probably two weeks.  But those two editorial boards were not afraid to call out Nouri.  It's a shame so many others were silent.

Worse than silent?  How about the enablers who lied for Nouri?  I'll boo and hiss Jane Araf, McClatchy Newspapers (their Iraqi staff always knew Nouri's number, it was just the American staff that was so very eager to spin), the radio yokel Scott Horton who loved him some Nouri, the woman at WSWS who never should have been allowed to write about Iraq and those pieces are as embarrassing as Horton's radio broadcasts, and so many more.

So many.

So Barack doing what he did was big.

It happened before a tidal wave of global outrage forced it.

Nouri's ordered the targeting of Iraq's LGBTQ community, he's had protesters targeted, he's targeted journalists for torture, his Cabinet pushed the notion that 'women' should have the 'right' to marry at 9-years-old and younger, he's bombed the civilians in Falluja for 8 months now . . .  His rap sheet is lengthy.

But the Jane Arrafs of the press ensured that, for example, the world wouldn't know about the rape of Iraqi women and girls in Nouri's prisons -- established prisons and secret ones.

If the world had paid attention to this and so much more, detractors might be able to say, "Well, the public forced Barack to break with Nouri."

But that's not what happened.  Barack could have continued his and the US government's policy of backing Nouri.

It's too his credit that he didn't.

It's a rare example of the US government walking away from a tyrant before global outrages forces them to do so.

So, yes, I will offer Barack praise for his decision and action with regards to Nouri.

And, by the way, tomorrow's snapshot, it will call Barack out for various things.  It will also defend him from Hillary Clinton's stupidity.

I have no problem with Hillary breaking from Barack (Al Gore had his break from Bill when he ran for president in 2000), it doesn't shock me, it doesn't appall me.  But if you're going to break on something, break smartly.  Hillary's as idiotic in her remarks to The Atlantic as Martha Raddats was on This Week Sunday.

So it's a new day for Iraq.

Which means Hadier al-Abadi is a saint and . . .


He's not.

He's as flawed as anyone else.

He could, if he can form a Cabinet, end up as one of Iraq's best leaders or as another Nouri.

That'll be up to him.

But he is a reset, he is a chance to start over.  He can be a break with the past and a bridge to an Iraq for all Iraqis.

He'll probably fall somewhere in between saint and sinner -- as most of us do.

But hopefully he will not be another Nouri.

And hopefully the Iraqi people will be able to dream and hope again of a country that is their own -- free of invading forces, to be sure, but also free from 'leaders' who betray the Iraqi people.

A strong public works program could finally improve Iraq's faltering and failing infrastructure, could create jobs (which the country sorely needs and which can also put people into the paid workforce vesting them into the society), could do so much.

There are so many things that could be done and right now Iraq can hope that al-Abadi will be a leader very much for the people of Iraq, for all the people of Iraq, one who can move the country forward and let go of the vengeance and hatred that led Nouri to see the position as a way to settle old scores.

National Iraqi News Agency reports:

The MP, of the Watania coalition, Maysoon al-Damluji said the outgoing Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki cannot stick to power again, but he will hinder the formation of the government.
She said in a statement to the National Iraqi News Agency / NINA / "Maliki is rejected by the other political blocs and even from within the state of law, so he could not cling to power again."
Damluji added, "Maliki has failed in the political, security and economic files, so he has to step down and make way for the most efficient and best suited to manage these files." 

Maysoon al-Damluji is a prominent Iraqi politician and one of the few women with a national platform -- another would be MP Susan Said.

As the spokesperson for Iraqiya, al-Damluji regularly challenged Nouri publicly and demonstrated that Iraqi women are part of the political process -- so does Susan Said who comes from a different political perspective than does al-Damluji.

Like Senator Patty Murray and Senator Kelly Ayotte in the US, the two women have different constituencies and that's a good thing because it demonstrates and underscores "Iraqi women are strong" -- not just "Iraqi women who agree with me are strong."  Like Murray and Ayotte, they're two potential role models that blaze trails for the future.

And good for al-Damluji for speaking up again.

The Prime Minister of Iraq needs to be someone who loves the country and loves the people and wants to provide opportunities for all.

AFP reports, "Abadi is a low-key figure who spent time in Britain. Educated at the University of Manchester, Abadi served as the head of parliament's finance committee, a political adviser to the prime minister and minister of communications. His Facebook biography says his favourite quotation is 'the key to leadership is tolerance'."

At today's State Dept press briefing in DC, spokesperson Marie Harf outlined where things stood now with regards to al-Abadi.

QUESTION: By your statement, do I understand that the United States is recognizing Dr. Abadi as the --

MS. HARF: Nominee.

QUESTION: -- the nominee, or do you think he is going to be the next prime minister?

MS. HARF: Well, he’s the prime – prime minister-designate, excuse me. There’s a – Prime Minister Maliki is still the prime minister, as of right now. He is still legally the prime minister. I know there’s a lot of confusion about this. The President charged the prime minister nominee to form a new cabinet. The nominee now has 30 days to present a new government and national program to parliament for approval that will address the needs and aspirations of all of Iraq’s diverse communities. So there’s still a process here, but this is an important step in the process, one that we absolutely welcome.

QUESTION: So what would hold up Dr. Abadi from becoming the fully recognized prime minister at this point?

MS. HARF: Well, he now has 30 days to present a new government. There’s a process, an internal Iraqi process there.

QUESTION: Okay. Does the United States believe that the Iraqi National Alliance has the authority to nominate Dr. Abadi even though the Dawa party has not?

MS. HARF: Well, without going too deep in the weeds of Iraqi constitutional politics --

QUESTION: But it’s so fun.

MS. HARF: Isn’t it though? We can leave that up to them to talk about. But in general, look, the Shia bloc nominated Dr. Abadi, a bloc that includes Prime Minister Maliki’s party. There was overwhelming support for Dr. Abadi. We think this is part of the process as it has played out under the constitution. I don’t have any reason to believe otherwise.

While so many look to the future, Nouri -- as usual -- clings to the bitter past.  NINA reports:

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki accused on Monday the United States of supporting those who breach the Constitution in naming the biggest bloc and its candidate to head the next government
He said in his speech this evening that "the United States revealed its support for those who breach the constitution, and it is the first democratic state is supposed to be supportive tothe Constitution and abide by it. 

Poor, insane Nouri.

Well it's hard to hide from
Eyes that are all over you
That only some
Make you lose your composure

"Well it's hard on my heart"
Said, "Well open your eyes"
"It gets harder every day"
Said, "I need to know now"

 Soon you will be gone
Take your violet and blue mornings with you

-- "Violet and Blue," written by Stevie Nicks who first recorded it for the Against All Odds soundtrack.

Yes, Nouri, take your violet and blue mornings with you.

Tim Arango, Alissa J. Rubin and Michael R. Gordon (New York Times) report:

Secretary of State John Kerry, in Australia, warned that Mr. Maliki must back the constitutional process and not attempt to circumvent it by using his powers as commander in chief to stay in office. He said that any extralegal effort to cling to power would bring a cutoff of international aid.
“There should be no use of force,” Mr. Kerry said in remarks to reporters in Sydney, where he was meeting with government leaders, “no introduction of troops or militias into this moment of democracy for Iraq.”

What Nouri does next is yet again the question on many minds.  Yochi Dreazen and John Hudson (Foreign Policy) survey a number of people including Douglas Ollivant:

Douglas Ollivant, who formerly served as the top Iraqi policy official on the National Security Council, said there was "very little" the United States could do to push Maliki out of power, but said he didn't think the Iraqi leader would resort to violence to stay in office.
"I really think its all done but the shouting," Ollivant said. "He's going to talk tough and play out his last legal card, but he doesn't want to be an international pariah. If we pull away, his only friends would be Iran and Syria, and even Maliki doesn't want that." 

We'll close with more from the State Dept press briefing today:

QUESTION: Has any senior U.S. official in the last 24 hours spoken to Prime Minister Maliki?

MS. HARF: I can check. I don’t know the answer to that.


QUESTION: Vice President Biden.

MS. HARF: To Prime Minister Maliki?


MS. HARF: Okay. I can --

QUESTION: Not Maliki. To – sorry.

QUESTION: No. I’m asking about Maliki.

MS. HARF: Right. She’s asking about Maliki. But thank you for trying to help me out though. I’ll check on Prime Minister Maliki. I don’t know the answer to that.

QUESTION: Okay. I wonder if there’s any intent to at this point.

MS. HARF: I can check.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: Marie --

QUESTION: Could I just phrase it a different way?

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: What do you consider Prime Minister Maliki now? You say he’s still the prime minister, but --

MS. HARF: He’s still the prime minister legally under the Iraqi constitution.

QUESTION: But do you consider him a lame duck? Do you consider him on his way out? Do you consider him still a person you would work with?

MS. HARF: Well, certainly we will continue working and engaging with him given that he’s still the prime minister of Iraq, absolutely. And Iraq is facing a very dire situation right now. But we’ve said that in order for Iraq to better confront ISIL going forward, they need an inclusive government in place as soon as possible. There’s a process for that government to be in place, and what you saw today was just another step in that process.

QUESTION: Would you say he has a mandate democratically to still make decisions?

MS. HARF: Prime Minister Maliki?


MS. HARF: He’s still the prime minister legally under the constitution.

QUESTION: Marie --

QUESTION: So Marie --

MS. HARF: Yeah, Said, then we’ll go around.

QUESTION: Marie, what is happening now? You probably addressed this before I came. I’m sorry I was late.

MS. HARF: That’s okay.

QUESTION: Now that he’s deploying tanks and security forces and so on, you don’t think that’s in a way some sort of a coup?

MS. HARF: Well, how can it be a coup if he’s still the prime minister? That seems a strange word to use.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, he’s deploying --

MS. HARF: But he’s still the prime minister.

QUESTION: He’s still the prime minister but he’s --

MS. HARF: So by definition, coup would not be --

QUESTION: Yeah, but he’s --

QUESTION: He’s protecting against a coup, no?

QUESTION: He’s using these forces to consolidate his power and sort of disenfranchise others.

MS. HARF: I think that’s making a number of assumptions about Prime Minister Maliki’s intentions. I don’t want to speak for him. I would note (a) that there’s a huge security threat right now from ISIL even in Baghdad, so (a); but (b), look, there’s a process in place here. Prime Minister Maliki’s party, which is part of this bloc, nominated someone new to be prime minister.


MS. HARF: And it’s the Iraqi people speaking up and choosing their own future. So let’s – we’re watching the situation on the ground, but there’s been no, in our view, discernible change in the security picture in terms of the kind of resources you’re talking about him deploying.

QUESTION: Okay. So are you supporting Haider al-Abadi as a prime minister? Is he someone that is known to you?

MS. HARF: Vice President Biden spoke with him today.


MS. HARF: Congratulated him on his nomination and called to – call on him for very quickly, as soon as possible, to form a new government and develop a national program. The prime minister-designate expressed his intent to move expeditiously to do so, and the Vice President and he had a conversation today. Obviously, we support the process. We have never supported any one person or one party here.

QUESTION: Okay. But you know the fact that the Vice President spoke to him, that’s like a ringing endorsement, isn’t it?

MS. HARF: Well, it’s not about who we speak to on the phone. It’s about who the Iraqis choose through their process, which they’ve done today, to be their next prime minister. That’s how this gets chosen here.