Monday, July 27, 2009

4 dead and 12 wounded in Iraq today, KRG elections, and more

Louis Khno is a city councilman whose city is beyond his control. In his barricaded streets are militiamen -- in baseball caps and jeans, wielding Kalashnikov rifles, with the safeties switched off. They answer to someone else. Leaders of his police force give their loyalty to their ethnic brethren -- be they Kurd or Arab. Clergy in the town pledge themselves to the former. Khno and his colleagues to the latter.
"We're far from the conflict, but now we've become the heart of the conflict between Kurds and Arabs," Khno said. "We're now stuck in between them."

That's the opening to Anthony Shadid's "Worries About A Kurdish-Arab Conflict Move To Fore in Iraq" (Washington Post) which attempts to chart the shifting dynamics as potential lines of conflict are redrawn and a long neglected issue (who gets Kirkuk) appears to move closer to center stage as the tensions between Kurds and Arabs replace the usual narrative of tensions between Shia and Sunni. Ben Lando usually reports for UPI; however, he has a piece that went up at Time magazine Friday (one day before the elections in Kurdistan Saturday) entitled "Iraq's Kurds: Time to Prove Their Democracy:"

The Kurdish provinces of Iraq are a world apart from the country inhabited by their fellow citizens. Basic services like electricity and fuel are good and increasingly available to all Kurds. Booming foreign investment has created a business culture complete with plans for a golf course as part of a gated-community outside the capital city of Erbil. There have been no U.S. combat fatalities in the autonomous Kurdish region since the fall of Saddam Hussein, in 2003. But there's one thing the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) can no longer lord over the struggling central government in Baghdad: democracy.
"The KRG has a democracy gap with Baghdad," says Quil Lawrence, author of Invisible Nation: How the Kurds' Quest for Statehood Is Shaping Iraq and the Middle East. "After years of counting on American support because of its pro-Western, secular and, most importantly, pro-democratic image, the Kurdish parliament looks like a rubber stamp shared by the two main parties. Arab Iraq had peaceful provincial elections in January in which some entrenched parties lost and stepped down quietly. The Kurds need to show they can do the same." The Kurds, who speak a different language and are a separate ethnic group from their Arab countrymen, have a chance to do that on July 25, when locals will elect regional members of parliament as well as a new president for the KRG. (See pictures of Kurdish guerrillas operating on the Turkey-Iraq border.)

Quil Lawrence reports for NPR (not mentioned in the article). Anna Fifield (Financial Times of London) also weighed in on Friday with the belief, that carping aside, Masoud Barzani would be re-elected as president of the KRG because "[n]one of the four other candidates for regional president is considered to be a serious challenged to Mr Barzani, while the KDP and PUK are running in coalition in the parliamentary election." The PUK (Talabani's party) is thought to have done poorly in Saturday's election. "Thought to." No one knows. The earliest that results could be released would be Tuesday but US embassy staff thinks that the count might be released Wednesday. Alsumaria reports the PUK kept a previously scheduled meeting yesterday: "Regardless of the elections results, people’s will ought to be respected and whichever party wins, it will form the next government, said Mulla Bakhtyar, PUK political office spokesman. Bakhtyar stressed that the upcoming government will work on achieving major attainments in favor of Kurdistan’s people mainly the application of Constitution Article 140." Article 140 is about resolving the fate of the disputed Kirkuk. (It mandates a census be held and a referendum before the end of . . . 2007. Currently a census is scheduled for this October.) Almost 80% of registered voters are said to have participated in the KRG provincial and presidential elections, polls were required to remain open an additional hour due to the number of voters. Results are not known. Ballots will be counted in Baghdad. "Change" is making allegations of fraud -- most of which have not resulted in people actually filing claims -- and to read the press, you'd think they were the only ones. Other minor groups (minor proportionally) including the Socialist Party have made complaints but, unlike "Change," they don't have the US government to act as their PR advance team. Election observers reject the claims of frauds and already have dismissed the one concrete charge: Barzani violated campaign rules Saturday by speaking to the press immediately after he voted. It was a violation, observers have ruled; however, it had little-to-no impact. The KRG released the following statement on the elections:

Large turnout in peaceful Kurdistan Region elections

Erbil, Kurdistan - Iraq ( -- The Kurdistan Region yesterday successfully held historic parliamentary and presidential elections.

The ballot for the president was the first direct presidential vote in the Kurdistan Region.

The vote has underlined the democratic character of the Region and reinforced the process of peaceful elections through political competition.

The Independent High Electoral Commission of Iraq (IHEC) said the overall turnout was 78 per cent. In Erbil 79 per cent of eligible voters cast a ballot, in Suleimaniah 74 per cent, and in Dohuk 85 per cent.

The election was conducted by IHEC, which was responsible for ensuring free and fair voting. IHEC oversees all Iraqi elections. IHEC Commissioner Mr Faraj Al-Haidari, speaking at a press conference yesterday evening, said the commission was pleased with the conduct of the elections and that any complaints would be studied.

Ballots are being preliminarily tabulated in polling stations and then moved to Baghdad for official tabulation. International observers will accompany the ballots throughout the transfer.

Mr Karim Sinjari, the Kurdistan Regional Government's Interior Minister, speaking at the same press conference, said there had been no security incidents during the elections and a curfew was lifted four hours after voting began as it became clear the situation was normal and the curfew was not necessary.

After casting his ballot, Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani remarked, "We support this election as a chance for citizens to exercise their democratic rights. I am proud to see so many people express their political views through this election, in which we all have an equal opportunity to be part of the decision-making process."

More than 320 international observers from more than 35 organizations were registered by IHEC to monitor the election. This included observers from the United Nations, the European Union, the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, and a variety of other nations and non-governmental organizations. In addition, more than 30 international media outlets were accredited to observe and report on the election.

More than 90 organizations based in Iraq and/or the Kurdistan Region also participated in the observation, with more than 10,000 individuals receiving accreditation badges from IHEC. Political parties were also granted the right to monitor the proceedings, with 47 groups and more than 27,000 individuals accredited for observation.

The Head of the Department of Foreign Relations, Minister Falah Mustafa Bakir, said, "It is important that the outside world is aware of our continued democratic development. We believe democracy is the best system, and we very much welcome the high turnout" Minister Bakir noted that the election is an important step not only for the Kurdistan Region but all of Iraq.

IHEC estimates that official results will be available in the next few days.

Meanwhile violence continues in Iraq today. Reuters reports a Baghdad roadside bombing which claimed 1 life and left four people injured, a Falluja bombing targeting and killing 1 captain in the Iraqi military, a Mosul car bombing targeting and killing 1 "local tribal leader" (wounding his driver), a Mosul roadside bombing which injured six Iraqi soldiers, a Kirkuk roadside bombing which injured one police officer and the corpse of 1 police officer ("shot in the head and chest") discovered in Kirkuk.

Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) reports how the millions in CERP funds have had little-to-no impact. (CERP funds are US tax dollars which are handed out -- with little-to-no documentation -- in Iraq by the US military.) Londono reports:

U.S. lawmakers and the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, which has released a report about the Caravan Hotel, are increasingly scrutinizing the use of CERP and urging the Pentagon to be more vigilant in its selection and oversight of projects.
The success stories and cautionary tales of CERP initiatives in Iraq are shaping the way commanders in Afghanistan use the program as they place greater emphasis on counterinsurgency and keeping the civilian population safe.
Since 2003, the U.S. Congress has appropriated more than $10 billion in CERP funds for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"CERP was meant to be walking-around money for commanders to achieve a desired effect in their battle space," said the office's deputy inspector general, Ginger Cruz. "Slowly, it has become a de facto reconstruction pot of money."

Moving to Iraq's borders, Arab Times reports that Sheikh Mohammed Sabah al-Salem al-Sabah, the Foreign Minister of Kuwait, has stated that Iraq is not respecting the border between it and Kuwait and quotes the foreign minister stating, "Kuwait hopes that the brothers in Iraq will solve a number of issues, starting with the demarcation of the border because there are still Iraqi violations there." The Tehran Times reports that Iran is awaiting a report on the "attacks on Iranian pilgrims" and quotes Hassan Kazemi Qomi, the country's Ambassador to Baghdad, stating, "We hope that the Iraqi government, after (accomplishing) its studies and investigations (into the attacks), informing us of the results in case it achieves any information."

Mia notes this from John Pilger's "Murdoch: A Cultural Chernobyl" (Information Clearing House):

I met Eddie Spearritt in the Philharmonic pub, overlooking Liverpool. It was a few years after 96 Liverpool football fans had been crushed to death at Hillsborough Stadium, Sheffield, on 15 April 1989. Eddie's son, Adam, aged 14, died in his arms. The "main reason for the disaster", Lord Justice Taylor subsequently reported, was the "failure" of the police, who had herded fans into a lethal pen.
"As I lay in my hospital bed," Eddie said, "the hospital staff kept the Sun away from me. It's bad enough when you lose your 14-year-old son because you're treating him to a football match. Nothing can be worse than that. But since then I've had to defend him against all the rubbish printed by the Sun about everyone there being a hooligan and drinking. There was no hooliganism. During 31 days of Lord Justice Taylor's inquiry, no blame was attributed because of alcohol. Adam never touched it in his life."
Three days after the disaster, Kelvin MacKenzie, Rupert Murdoch's "favourite editor", sat down and designed the Sun front page, scribbling "THE TRUTH" in huge letters. Beneath it, he wrote three subsidiary headlines: "Some fans picked pockets of victims"... "Some fans urinated on the brave cops"... "Some fans beat up PC giving kiss of life". All of it was false; MacKenzie was banking on anti-Liverpool prejudice.
When sales of the Sun fell by almost 40 per cent on Merseyside, Murdoch ordered his favourite editor to feign penitence. BBC Radio 4 was chosen as his platform. The "sarf London" accent that was integral to MacKenzie’s fake persona as an "ordinary punter" was now a contrite, middle-class voice that fitted Radio 4. "I made a rather serious error," said MacKenzie, who has since been back on Radio 4 in a very different mood, aggressively claiming that the Sun's treatment of Hillsborough was merely a "vehicle for others".

Bonnie reminds that Isaiah's The World Today Just Nuts "Barack The Magnificent" went up last night. The e-mail address for this site is