Tuesday, March 02, 2010

The elections, the bribes, the violence

Iraq is preparing to go to the polls in an election that will be turning point for the country, for better or for worse.
The security situation in Iraq and the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis still living in exile, mean the battle for votes extends far beyond its borders.

The above is the opening to Dominic Waghorn's "Iraqis Prepare For Vital Elections In Exile" (Sky News) on the voting (or decision not to in at least one case) that will take place among the Iraqi refugee population in Jordan. Jordan is one of 16 foreign countries that voting will take place in. Voting begins March 5th and ends Sunday March 7th. In Iraq, Patrick Martin (Globe and Mail) says that "fear has become the currency of this campaign" and how it is thought to be unlikely that any single political party will win enough seats in the Parliament to appoint a prime minister without entering into coalition sharing agreements with other political parties. Martin informs that Nouri al-Maliki states publicly that he will form an alliance with the Iraqi National Alliance after the election but that's news to them:

"Impossible," was all that Sheik Jalal Eddin al-Saghir said when asked how likely it was that Mr. al-Maliki would be returned as prime minister.
Sheik al-Saghir, the imam of the venerable Bharatha mosque in Baghdad, is a leading member of the INA. While he says his Shia bloc is open to joining with any party, when it comes to the State of Law, the leader himself, Mr. al-Maliki, will have to go.
"There can be no dictator in a true coalition," Sheik al-Saghir says.

Andrew Lee Butters (Time magazine)reports from Diyala Province:

Inside the fortified government headquarters, Diyala Governor Abdul-Nasser al-Mahdwe is relatively optimistic that the elections -- the fourth poll since the U.S invasion brought democracy to Iraq -- will go smoothly. "The country is getting better at elections," he tells TIME. "In the first, the fraud was about 40%. In the second, let's say 20%. Now it's not going to be that much at all."
But the governor worries that as the U.S. begins to withdraw its soldiers from Iraq later in the year, Iraqis could revert to settling their political disputes in the streets. "The problem is the police," he says. "The police are all local, so the local parties can manipulate them." For now, though, al-Mahdwe, who belongs to a Sunni party that opposes Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Shi'ite-led governing coalition, is more worried about an élite counterterrorism unit run by Maliki's office, which he accuses of arresting scores of opposition politicians and government critics in Diyala. Two months ago, they took the deputy governor, Mohammad Hussein al-Joubouri, and nothing has been heard since about his case. "Of course it's totally political," says one of the governor's aides. "If he is really a terrorist, why didn't they arrest him before he was elected?"
(See pictures of life inside a Baghdad prison.)Rebecca Santana (AP) reports on Kirkuk where election excitement/frenzy appears to be at a peak within Iraq as people stand in the streets waving flags and campaign paraphernalia while Gabriel Gatehouse (BBC News) reports, "With less than a week to go until the Parliamentary vote, the streets of Baghdad and other Iraqi cities have become crowded with election posters."

Meanwhile Iraq's Sunni vice president Tarek al-Hashemi is in Syria. For those who have forgotten, al-Hashemi vetoed (as a member of the presidency council) an early election law in late 2009 citing the fact that it did not take into account Iraq's large refugee population. Alsumaria TV reports that he "thanked Syria for its 'historic' stand of embracing refugees despite bilateral political rows." Iran's Press TV notes that he "is also expected to meet with representatives of hs countr's expatriates" while in Syria. In Iraq, Marc Santora (New York Times) reports on bribery which the paper prefers to see as 'gifting' and 'gifts':

Across the country, voters are reaping a windfall as candidates in Sunday's parliamentary elections offer gifts like heating oil and rice. When a candidate recently showed up in a poor village outside Baquba to distribute frozen chickens -- in literal homage to the political slogan "a chicken in every pot" -- so many people rushed to get the free birds that many left disappointed after the supply ran out.

Today on NPR's Morning Edition, Quil Lawrence discusses various issues of the election with Renee Montagne. We'll note the section where Renee Montagne asked Quil Lawrence about whether any Arab-Kurd tensions are emerging and he responds, "Absolutely, it's almost part of the campaign, particularly in the province of Nineveh, the capital of which is Mosul, in northern Iraq, there is an extremely Arab nationalist governor up there and he won his election essentially by stoking ethnic tensions and we had the same thing break out last month [. . .]" Reuters reports a Mosul "school doubling as a voter center" was the target of a grenade attack today and 2 Iraqi soldiers were wounded -- also in Mosul, 1 person was shot dead today. KPCC offers another report from Quil Lawrence which includes:

The race even includes a prominent cleric running with his own strictly secular party. Ayad Jamal al-Din studied at the world's most famous Shiite religious schools in Najaf and the Iranian city of Qom. The black turban he wears indicates that his family descends directly from the Prophet Muhammad. But Jamal al-Din says this doesn't mean he wants an Islamic state.
Iran and the theocracy there have hijacked the Shiite turban, he says, adding that he believes the vast majority -- even among clerics -- thinks that Iranian-style government has been a failure. What people in Iraq want is very simple, he says.
"The Iraqi on the street wants security and services. [He] does not think of a secular or religious government, just services and security," Jamal al-Din says.

Ayad Jamal Aldin is the leader of the Ahrar Party and their most recent press release was:

At the start of a week that has been dominated by news of the continuing and expanding 'de-Baathification' programme, Ahrar 374 Leader Ayad Jamal Aldin noted that the issue continues to distract voters' attention from the Maliki government's failure to deliver on jobs, public services and security. He urged voters to send the government a message and participate in Sunday's election.
De-Baathification is intensifying. Over the past five days, professors at the University of Karbala and Iraq's Southern Oil Company have been targeted. The level of fear-mongering has reached such a fever pitch that large numbers of highly competent professionals that Iraq desperately needs to run government and industry, are afraid for their lives and livelihoods. Just yesterday, it emerged that that violence had surged by 80 percent last month, when compared to January.
Ayad Jamal Aldin - leader of Ahrar 374 - said today, "It is clear what is happening here; the government is attempting to bully the people away from the ballot box. We should not accept it. Where we see these bullying tactics, we must see them for what they really are: an attempt to divert the Iraqi people's focus from the government's chronic failure to deliver jobs, running water and real security."
"The only answer can be to stand up to bullies. And this week, we have the best possible response to them - to take part in this election and vote for change."
For further information, contact:
Ahrar Media Bureau
Tel: +964 (0)790 157 4478 / +964 (0)790 157 4479 / +964 (0)771 275 2942
About Ayad Jamal Aldin:
Ayad Jamal Aldin is a cleric, best known for his consistent campaigning for a new, secular Iraq. He first rose to prominence at the Nasiriyah conference in March 2003, shortly before the fall of Saddam, where he called for a state free of religion, the turban and other theological symbols. In 2005, he was elected as one of the 25 MPs on the Iraqi National List, but withdrew in 2009 after becoming disenchanted with Iyad Allawi's overtures to Iran. He wants complete independence from Iranian interference in Iraq. He now leads the Ahrar party for the 2010 election to the Council of Representatives, to clean up corruption and create a strong, secure and liberated Iraq for the future.

Hassen Jouini (AFP) reports on another candidate vying for votes, Sharif Ali bin Hussein who is a relative, on his mother's side, of Iraq's King Ghazi who rulled from 1933 through 1939. Hussein now heads the Constitutional Monarchy Party in Iraq. Jouini notes, "The realities of Iraq have hampered any effort at campaigning for most would-be MPs, however - violence in the country remains high, despite having fallen markedly from its peak from 2005 to 2007, and candidates fear political assassinations. Sharif Ali is no different. While he has some posters scattered across the capital and conducts interviews with television news stations in his home, he is not organising public rallies or distributing flyers on the street." While the candidates cannot move freely, the drones will. Alsumaria TV reports that drones will be used to patrol throughout the elections. Meanwhile Afif Sarhan (IslamOnline.net) reports on Christian candidates in Mosul where Christians are being persecuted with some being murdered (at least 12) and many more fleeing. Candidate Kammar Bashar tells Sarhan, "The only loser in all this violence is our minority which, although representing only 5 percent of the parliamentary seats, is being the first choice for extremists and militants in the northern region."

Independent Catholic News reports, "Pax Christi International have submitted a written intervention for the 13th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva which opened yesterday. In the [document], Pax Christi highlights the desperate situation of Iraq's minorities which are in danger of being wiped out." Yesterday's snapshot included:

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) issued a [PDF format warning] four-page report entitled "Iraq Displacement in Mosul, Situation Report No. 1" which notes the 683 families who have fled Mosul between Feb. 20 and 27, and notes that 12 Iraqi Christians have been killed during this time period. (At least one other was wounded but survived a shooting.) The displaced have scattered but the largest number, 331 families, have settled for now in Qaraqosh.

OCHA has released [PDF format warning] "Iraq Displacement in Mosul Situation Report No. 2" which notes the total number of Iraqi Christians fleeing Mosul has now reached 4,320 (720 families -- a 5% increase)

The 720 displaced families are in the two Ninewa districts of Al Hamdaniyah and Tilkaif (204 families) and have also crossed over to Erbil and Dahuk governorates (17 families in Dahuk and 23 families in Ainkawa in Erbil governorate). The number of IDPs in Qaraqosh in Al Hamdaniya district has increased to 278 families (1,668 people) and 35 families (210 people) have moved to Namrood, while the number of IDPs in other Al Hamdaniya districts remains the same as reported on 28 February, i.e. 60 families (360 people) in Bartalah; 66 families (396 people) in Bashiqa; and 22 families (132 people) in Krmales.
Those in Tilkaif town in Talkaif district have decreased from 40 to 16 families; Batnay has increased to 63 families (378 people); Tal Usquf has increased to 91 families (546 people); and Alqosh has increased to 84 families (504 people).
There are protection concerns for the Christian families who have remained in Mosul. Unconfirmed reports indicate that many individuals cannot move freely beyond their homes, such as going to work or attending university, out of fear for their safety. At present, it remains unclear how many Christian families were residing in Mosul before the displacement. Furthermore, the motives for and perpetrators of the killings of 12 Christians during January and February 2010, which triggered the recent displacement, are still not clear.

Meanwhile Marina Benjamin (Tablet Magazine) reports on researching her families roots and visiting Baghdad in 2004:

I visited both the synagogue and the cemetery when I was in Iraq. The former turned out to be a stupendously grand edifice; two stories high and occupying a full housing block; it had clearly been built to hold a substantial congregation. The central chamber, containing the ark and bimah, was hung with giant chandeliers, while thick Persian rugs lay on the pews. The ark once held the sum of Baghdad's Torahs, each encased in carved silver, but on my visit there were only 13 scrolls left. The rest had been stolen in an impromptu raid by the secret police in the 1980s and most likely ended up among the haul of Jewish artifacts found by the allies in 2003 -- artifacts that had been left to languish in a sewage-filled basement at secret-police headquarters.
The cemetery was where I felt most at home in Iraq, surrounded by the silent and comforting presence of my ancestors. The brick tombs were being repaired with funds that came, circuitously, from the Jewish Agency, and their Hebrew engravings, many of which had been badly eroded, were being airbrushed, chemically fixed, and preserved. I presumed that my grandfather was likely buried there, though I quickly gave up trying to find his grave after I recalled that the Jews used to bury several bodies in vertical graves. Instead, I sat down beside an anonymous grave and wondered at the miracle that allowed a fragment of my heritage to remain.
The remaining Jews of Baghdad could not be said to constitute a community. They were merely a tiny remnant of a once-great people, and they now find themselves marooned in a sea of anti-Jewish hostility -- isolated, frightened, and largely forgotten. Meeting and talking with them, I found it difficult to believe that Jewish people had joyfully thrived in Iraq. Even in the middle of the last century, when their number had fallen from an historic high of several million to just 150,000, Jews still made up one-third of the population of Baghdad.

In Iraq today, rumors swirl that Muqtada al-Sadr will be arrested if he steps foot in Iraq (Nouri denies the rumors).

Turning to England where Robert Winnett (Telegraph of London) reports Tony Blair experienced a fleeting moments of reality according to Andrew Rawnsley's new book which paints the Poodle as blanking out while taking questions from Parliament, waking up with night terrors and considering resigning in 2004 -- all over the Iraq War. May those conditions return, increase and plague him until his dying day. Michael Savage (Independent of London) reports on papers the Iraq Inquiry has but has not yet released to the public:

A policy of "regime overthrow" is proposed, but roundly condemned. In an eerily portentous assessment of the consequences of taking military action, it states: "Such a policy would command no useful international support. An overt attempt to be successful would require a massive military effort, probably including a land invasion: this would risk considerable casualties and, possibly, extreme last-ditch acts of deterrence or defiance by Saddam."
The mandarins add: "It would also be illegal. Covert attempts, on the other hand, seem very unlikely to succeed and run the risk of fragmenting Iraq, which runs clearly contrary to our wider interests in the region." Iraq descended into violence in the wake of the March 2003 invasion. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were killed in the aftermath, as well as more than 100 British troops.
The document also calls into question Mr Blair's claim that using troops to bring down Saddam Hussein was only discussed after the 9/11 terror attacks on New York – and will increase pressure on the inquiry to call Mr Blair back to give further public evidence this summer.

At the Financial Times of London, Jim Pickard runs through
the "frenemies" Gordon Brown and Tony Blair in preparation for Brown's testimony to the Iraq Inquiry this Friday.

The previous entry noted a Chris Hedges piece excerpted at OnTheWilderside, Zach notes it's at Information Clearing House in full (which we will link to):

The timidity of the left exposes its cowardice, lack of a moral compass and mounting political impotence. The left stands for nothing. The damage Obama and the Democrats have done is immense. But the damage liberals do the longer they beg Obama and the Democrats for a few scraps is worse. It is time to walk out on the Democrats. It is time to back alternative third-party candidates and grass-roots movements, no matter how marginal such support may be. If we do not take a stand soon we must prepare for the rise of a frightening protofascist movement, one that is already gaining huge ground among the permanently unemployed, a frightened middle class and frustrated low-wage workers. We are, even more than Glenn Beck or tea party protesters, responsible for the gusts fanning the flames of right-wing revolt because we have failed to articulate a credible alternative.

A shift to the Green Party, McKinney and Nader, along with genuine grass-roots movements, will not be a quick fix. It will require years in the wilderness. We will again be told by the Democrats that the least-worse candidate they select for office is better than the Republican troll trotted out as an alternative. We will be bombarded with slick commercials about hope and change and spoken to in a cloying feel-your-pain language. We will be made afraid. But if we again acquiesce we will be reduced to sad and pathetic footnotes in our accelerating transformation from a democracy to a totalitarian corporate state. Isolation and ridicule-ask Nader or McKinney-is the cost of defying power, speaking truth and building movements. Anger at injustice, as Martin Luther King wrote, is the political expression of love. And it is vital that this anger become our own. We have historical precedents to fall back upon.

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