Friday, March 05, 2010

Gordon Brown chats with the Iraq Inquiry

The Iraq Inquiry is hearing from Gordon Brown, England's current prime minister. John Chilcot chairs the Inquiry. Andrew Sparrow (Guardian) is live blogging the testimony. Andrew Sparrow has regularly live blogged the testimonies to the Inquiry. Iain Martin has also regularly live blogged and written of the Inquiry -- being the only correspondent for a US outlet who can make that claim. At the Wall St. Journal today, he explains he's going to skip live blogging to try to detect emerging trends in the testimony and write of that later today. At this Sky News webpage, there are multiple options on Brown's testimony including Glen Oglaza once again live blogging testimony. James Macintyre (New Statesman) writes this morning:

As I said yesterday, the key question for Brown is not about funding but about whether, as a key member of the Cabinet and prime-minister-in-waiting, he backed the war. After this morning's performance, no-one can be in any doubt that he did, passionately.
Sir John took the unprecedented decision to ask a direct question at the start (he may or, um, may not have read my blog yesterday on "the key question"): was the war the right thing to do? Brown: "It was the right thing to do and done for the right reasons."
Here was another early statement: "In my view the international community was justified in taking action...where international obligations were not being honoured."

Alice Tarleton (Channel 4 News) offers an early look at how Brown's statements to the Inquiry differ from those made by his predecessor Tony Blair. In 2007, Blair handed off to Brown as Isaiah noted in this July 1, 2007 comic entitled "The Quotable Bully Mama:"


The Inquiry is currently on a break (lunch) and testimony will resume shortly. CNN reports of the testimony thus far:

The decision to go to war in Iraq "was the right decision and it was for the right reasons," British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Friday in his first response at the Iraq War Inquiry.
Brown was answering a question from the chairman of the inquiry, John Chilcot, about whether he thought taking military action in March 2003 was the right decision, especially given that it led to such a great loss of life among military personnel and civilians.
The prime minister said he pays respect to members of the armed forces "who served with great distinction in Iraq" and lost their lives, and to civilians who died.

The words (believable or not) were undermined by the impression Brown's entrance made today. Jovial, joshing, entering as though it were a sporting event. Says one friend (reporter) who was present, "Chilcot should have the cameras going before the call to order." Alan Cowell covers the testimony for the New York Times.

Gordon Brown's incredibly lucky to be testifying today when much of the attention a country's sitting leader testifying on any matter must compete with news of Iraq's elections. Last night, Jim Lehrer (PBS' The NewsHour -- link has video, audio and text) spoke with Iraq's former deputy ambassador to the UN Feisal Istrabadi and with the Center for American Progress' Brian Katulis about the elections and the violence:

JIM LEHRER: Sure. Well, in general, what -- what's at stake in this election? How do you see it?

FEISAL ISTRABADI: I wish I were as sanguine as -- as my colleague about the possibility of returning to 2006 and 2000 levels of violence. I think that is at stake.

JIM LEHRER: You think it's possible?

FEISAL ISTRABADI: I do think it's possible, on a -- maybe as high as 50/50. I think that the odds of it recurring increased when -- it being the violence -- increased when the de-Baathification order came through, because the message that was sent to the Sunni of Iraq -- look, there are Shia in power or in the corridors of power in Iraq today who were powerful and influential members of the previous regime. That is...

JIM LEHRER: Saddam Hussein. They worked for Saddam Hussein.

FEISAL ISTRABADI: That's correct. They're very close to the levers of power today, some of them. The message that went out with the de-Baathification order that your prior piece discussed is that, if you're a Sunni, the fact that -- I mean, the sitting minister of defense was de-Baathified. The current minister of defense was de-Baathified. Current members of parliament were barred from running for office. The message is, if you're a Sunni, your loyalty is always under scrutiny. Your having participated in the political process today and your desire to participate tomorrow doesn't immunize you from having your loyalty tested. And what we have ended up with is a system very similar to Iran's, in which the -- the government decides who its -- quote, unquote -- "legitimate opposition" can be.

JIM LEHRER: And you don't think the election -- or do you think the election could possibly cleanse this situation in such a way that could prevent violence?

BRIAN KATULIS: I'm not certain this that this election will bridge these divides, in and of itself. I think this election is the ultimate stress test of Iraq's political system.

JIM LEHRER: The ultimate stress test?

BRIAN KATULIS: Yes. Just like a cardiologist puts a patient on a treadmill and checks his vital signs, I actually think this election, and, importantly, the post-election period, how the leaders deal with the coalition-building and others, it tests how viable Iraq's political system is. We have a myth of our surge of U.S. forces in 2007 and 2008. Clearly, that helped lead to a decline in violence. But the other part of the rationale for the surge, let's help Iraqis bridge these divides, I would argue today, the key factions are still as divided.

Meanwhile Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) looks at the approximately 3 million young, first-time voters in Iraq who express frustration and note that their lives have been plagued by violence, unemployment and lack of basic services. The Iraq War started in March 2003 and that's seven years ago. 20-year-old Iraqis were 13 when this illegal war started. Arraf reports:

This should be an exciting threshold to a new future for young people. But a broad range of interviews reveal that for this generation, born into a decade of trade sanctions and raised in war, there is an overriding sense of frustration, fears about security, and the struggle to find their place in a country still emerging from conflict.
"A lot of [young people] say, 'What would it matter if I did vote?' " says Adel Izzedine, director of the Voice of Fallujah. "They don't understand that their choice will define the future of this country."
There is concern that young, educated Iraqis will not vote; and that in the longer term, they will opt out of playing a role in remaking the country, says Abdul-Rizak Kathim, a sports professor at Baghdad University and a parliamentary candidate. His small party, Scientists and National Qualified Professionals, is campaigning on using Iraq's oil wealth and its technical competence to help rebuild Iraq and provide jobs for young people.

Among the first time voters is Nada Hatem Farhan and Jane Arraf examines what the elections mean to her and her life: Not much at all. She's like to be an attorney or journalist but instead states she must become a teacher which is about it in terms of 'respectability' for women in her area -- but that's if she's able to go college. There is a push for her to get married to her cousin as soon as she finishes high school.

From the young voters to the very young. John Simpson (BBC News) reports on the birth defects stemming from the illegal war and weapons used in it (some exploded, some still not exploding) which have contaminated the country:

We went to a house where three children, all under six, were suffering from birth defects.
Two boys were partially paralysed, and their sister clearly had serious brain damage.
Like all the other parents we spoke to, their mother had no doubt that the American attacks were responsible.
Outside, a man who had heard we were there had brought his four-year-old daughter to show us. She had six fingers on each hand, and six toes on each foot.
She was also suffering from a number of other serious health problems. The father told us that the house where they still lived had been hit by an American shell during the fighting in 2004.
There may well be a link with drinking-water, especially in al-Julan.
After the fighting was over, the rubble from the town was bulldozed into the river bank, and most people in this area get their water from the river.

Ben Leach (Telegraph of London) adds, "The level of heart defects among newborn babies in the city is now said to be 13 times higher than in Europe.Some doctors have reported they are seeing as many as two or three cases a day, mainly cardiac defects." Alex Sundby (CBS News) notes the issue here.


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oh boy it never ends