Friday, March 26, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, Ayad Allawi is thought to be a winner, Little Nouri refuses to go peacefully, bombings slam Iraq resulting in multiple deaths, Cindy Sheehan closes Peace Camp until the summer, Courage to Resist sends out a plea for help and assistance on behalf of Marc Hall and more.
March 7th was the official day of voting in Iraq (early voting began days before with security forces voting on Thursday) and 95% of the results of an unofficial (not yet certified) count has been released. Today, a 100% count is supposed to be released. Muhanad Mohammed, Khalid al-Ansary, Jim Loney and Janet Lawrence (Reuters) report Nouri's 'supporters' are still insisting upon a recount today "hours before officials were due to release the final vote tallies." Katarina Kratovac (AP) reports a laughable move by Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani -- he's insisting that the count not be released, he's insisting it will cause violence. I'm sorry, Jawad, weren't you just insisting Wednesday that "the elections proved the terrorists' days are numbered"? (Yes, he was.) Oh, how quickly things change in Iraq. On the second hour of The Diane Rehm Show (NPR) today, Diane was joined by Daniel Dombey (Financial Times of London), Paul Richter (Los Angeles Times) and Nancy A. Youssef (McClatchy Newspapers).
Diane Rehm: And what about the Iraq election results? What's the latest there, Daniel?
Daniel Dombey: Well we're still waiting for the final results but it's a very interesting story because you have two men who both want to be prime minister who can't stand each other, who have very different profiles, who have both served in that office and virtually neck and neck -- neck and neck. And this is actually a very, very important contest between Ayad Allawi and Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister. Maliki feels very strongly that he's the man who saved Iraq -- that he took on the security problems in Basra and Sadr City and so on. And he has strong Shia support. Allawi has reinvented himself as a more secular kind of figure and gets on much better with the Iraqi neighbors particularly Syria and Saudi Arabia and so on. There's concern some people voiced if Maliki made it it would be seen as a real blow by the Sunni Arabs who would respond accordingly and be bad for relations. On the other hand, Maliki says he has a record of success. So there's an awful lot to pay for and there's always the possibility that someone from outside as happened someone else can come from outside as happened when Maliki who was previously someone you'd never heard of. But it's a very important issue all the more so for the fact that it doesn't get the attention it deserves.
Nancy A. Youssef: I think the other thing is that there's real angst in the streets of Iraq about what happens when these elections -- when the results come out -- which are scheduled for 7:00 p.m. local time in Iraq tonight, which is in the middle of the morning for us in the United States. There's a real angst about how the transition to power will happen and whether it will lead to more violence given that Maliki and Jalal Talabani called for a recount, called the elections fraudulent, whether the elections will be seen as legitimate. And also because these elections really galvanized and re-empowered Moqutad al-Sadr and his bloc. Of all of the -- As we talk about the jostling between Allwai and al-Maliki, Sadr comes out pretty strong in this. He will have more seats than any other member. And that fundamentally changes the dynamic as well. So it's a very interesting time. It will be months before we have this government seated which is a dangerous place for Iraq to be in given the precarious security situation -- all while the United States plans to rpaidly drawdown it's forces from 96,000 today to about 50,000 at the end of August.
Diane Rehm: Paul Richter.
Paul Richter: The comeback of Ayad Allawi is an interesting story. He was prime minister of Iraq early in the American occupation. He left office with seemingly very little public support. A secular Shia, kind of a "strongman," and known to have past ties with the CIA. Now he's possibly back. Intresting personal story.
Nancy A. Youssef: You know the interesting thing is, from the Iraqi persepctive, Allawi is seen as an American puppet and Maliki is seen as the Iranian one. And so it's an interesting dynamic about who is going to emerge and what that means. And what Sadr really represents is the Iraqi movement, in a way. And so those are the three sorts of powers that are vying for their place in the post-America Iraq, if you will.
That was this morning. Results were announced during a lengthy presentation and Ayad Allawi's secular party, National Dialogue Front, has won the most seats in the Parliament. Michael Hastings (True/Slant) offers, "Four big questions that come to mind: Does Maliki, who is calling for a recount, hand over power? Can Allawi find the 72 seats needed to get him to the 163 seats required to form a government? How does Iran–which has close ties to the other large Shiite list–feel about Allawi? Ie, will Tehran give the okay to the Shiite list to join forces with Allawi against Maliki? Finally, how does this impact the security situation, or, how much violence will we see during the government formation process?" Hannah Allam (McClatchy's Miami Herald) notes that 91 of the 325 seats went to Allawi's political party with 89 going to State of Law, Nouri's slate. Anne Barker (Australia's ABC) calls it "an unexpected upset" while BBC News calls it "a surprise result" -- and it certainly is surprising to NPR and Quil Lawrence as well as anyone who depended on NPR's reporting from Iraq to enlighten them. Possibly next time there's an election, before Quil Lawrence and Steve Inskeep declare a winner, they might try waiting until some votes have been counted? Sunday March 7th was the election. Monday March 8th, while pretending to 'report,' Quil Lawrence and Steve Inskeep called the election for Nouri al-Maliki -- despite the fact that no vote tallies had been released. They would continue to make this call daily during the first week even though they were going by less than half of Iraq's provinces and those counts were less than 50% of each province. But they gas bagged and they gas bagged. They didn't report, they didn't enlighten. They were wrong. WRONG. It's not the press' job to call the election. And what Quil and Steve did was not reporting. It was gas bagging and not the sort of thing NPR needs to engage in during what is supposed to be a news report. Rod Nordland and Timothy Williams (New York Times) report that drama queen Nouri took to "national television" to proclaim, "No way we will accept these results." The United Nations' Secretary-General's Special Representative to Iraq, Ad Melkert, hailed the elections as "an historic achievement" and called on everyone "to assume responsibility to lead Iraq to the next stage of democracy, stability and prosperity for all. Whether winning or losing, participation in the elections has been a collective victory." Again, Nouri's reponse on Iraqi TV was, "No way we will accept these results." On behalf of the US State Dept, Philip J. Crowley (Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Public Affairs) issued the following statement:
Today, Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) issued the provisional results of the Iraqi parliamentary elections held on March 7. We congratulate the Iraqi people, the Iraqi government, candidates and coalitions, and IHEC for carrying out a successful election. In support of the election's integrity, IHEC has investigated and adjudicated a number of complaints. International observers and the more than 200,000 domestic observers expressed their confidence in the overall integrity of the election and have found that there is no evidence of widespread or serious fraud. We note the critical role played by the United Nations in supporting this historic election.
We urge all political entities to pursue any complaints or appeals through established legal mechanisms and processes. Following IHEC's release of the results, political entities may file appeals that will be heard by the Electoral Judicial Panel. When these have been resolved, Iraq's Federal Supreme Court will certify the results. Iraq will then move to seating a new Council of Representatives, choosing a President, and forming a new government.
These important steps likely will take months. We call upon all candidates and all parties to accept the results, respect the will of the Iraqi people, and work together cooperatively to form a new government in a timely manner. In this connection, it will be important for all sides to refrain from inflammatory rhetoric and intimidation. It also is important that the Iraqi government continue to provide security and other essential services for its citizens during this period leading to the formation of a government.
The United States will continue to work closely with all Iraqi leaders to build a long-term, multi-dimensional relationship between our two nations.
The results still have to be certified by the country's Superme Court but, as Andrew England (Financial Times of London) points out, "The results mark a remarkable turnaround for Mr Allawi, who served as prime minister in 2004 in the wake of the US-led war to oust Saddam Hussein, and a blow to Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister." The New York Times offers a photo essay including two photos of Nouri's fan club -- one protesting today before the results were announced, the other of them protesting tonight after the results were known -- both photos by Joao Silva. Of Little Nouri's fan club, Richard Spencer (Telegraph of London) reports, "More worryingly, his supporters have openly threatened there would be a return to sectarian violence if Mr Allawi were declared the winner." Alice Fordham (Times of London) reports Little Nouri "responded angrily to the news, which was widely seen as a damaging blow to his crediblity and leadership." And what's the real scoops in the news cycle, Fordham notes, "Sources in Nassariya and Basra told The Times that protests there were orchestrated by State of Law, which rallied supporters and instructed government employees to attend." Just like when the banned candidates from Allawi's parties were unbanned and Nouri got his thugs out in the street to use violence to intimidate in order to change the results. Bobby Ghosh (Time magazine) goes over the numbers and the uncertainties:
It's far from certain that Allawi will get al-Maliki's job. State of Law and other blocs have already indicated they will contest the results and demand recounts. Even if the results announced today hold up to scrutiny, there's a chance al-Maliki will be able to pull together a coalition to form the new government and retain the Prime Ministership. Meanwhile, the main Shi'ite bloc, the National Iraqi Alliance, won 70 seats; the main Kurdish alliance got 43. A simple majority of 163 seats is needed to govern.
Allawi also took to the airwaves, as celebratory gunfire resounded through parts of east Baghdad. In a triumphant speech he said: "Iraqiya [his party] has started a dialogue with other parties already and we will not refuse anyone."
He confirmed he would be his cross-sectarian list's candidate for the prime minister's office, his second tilt at the top job, but a position that Maliki's State of Law list and the conservative Shia Islamic Iraq National Alliance had vowed to block him from taking.
Chulov also quotes Haidar Dakhle of Dora stating, "This is a big step for the future of Iraq. Allawi is the best candidate because Maliki had started to resemble a dictator." Also at the Guardian, Ranj Alaaldin counsels against counting anyone out and notes that the battle for the next prime minister may be a lengthy one. In terms of the results themselves -- which were only on seats in the new Parliament -- Margaret Coker (Wall St. Journal) provides the walk through, "According to the Iraqi electoral process, candidates have a three-day period to lodge complaints. After that, the Supreme Court ratifies the results." Clicking here takes you to a Wall St. Journal video (The News Hub) half of which is Coker discussing the news.
Simon Constable: Meg, I want to ask you, are the losing sides accepting the results? Because I know there's been a lot of challenges about whether the elections were fair or not.
Margaret Coker: Right. Prime Minister Maliki has already had a press conference this evening straight after the election results were announced. He said he is not going to accept the results. And he's going to challenge them through the legal process that-that goes on for the next three or four days whereby the electoral commission will hear new complaints against the process. So Nouri al-Maliki is not a happy man tonight. On the other hand, Ayad Allawi, the challenger, has called for a grand coalition, an alliance to build a stable, new government and he says he's willing to take all comers who want to join a government with him.
Simon Constable: Meg, stay with us, I want to bring in Adam Horvath. Adam, the context of this is pretty important because an alliance has to form because no one party has a majority, right? This is -- what do they call this?
Adam Horvath: A hung Parliament is a possiblity out of it. Right now you have each one of these main contenders has about a third of the seats so they need to build a coalition as Meg said. And the coalition powers in Iraq, some of them are very divided from each other. Uh, no one is a perfect partner for anyone else, you might say. So a lot of kingmaking and a lot of rangling is going to start that could last awhile.
Reuters coverage includes speaking to multiple analysts for their take on the results and we'll note IHS Global Insight's Gala Riani:
"Allawi has achieved what Maliki had hoped and aimed to do. The mission he had was to run a coalition on a non-sectarian platform and secure an election victory on that platform. "Iraqiya (Allawi's bloc) has fared much better across the board than State of Law has, much better in the southern provinces than State of Law did in the north. It puts Allawi in a better place to secure better credibility across the county. "What Allawi has achieved is hugely significant. It's a massive blow to Maliki, to his credibility and to the type of platform he has tried to run."
Reuters offers five facts about Allawi and five about al-Maliki. Stephen Farrell (New York Times) offers the reactions of 8 Iraqi citizens and we'll note Amal al-Jalili (a teacher in Mosul), "This election is the justice which was absent from Iraq for 36 years. It is the right of the people, and it is what brought us real, nationalist, people who defended the country and took it away from sectarianism, and those who pursue sectarianism. The best outcome is to change Prime Minister Maliki." NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams covered the results this evening:
Brian Williams: Richard, you were saying earlier in the newsroom today, people rooting for the US-side of the equation would be dancing in the streets of Baghdad at this result. What did you mean by that?
Richard Engel: This was an incredibly significant day, perhaps the most important one in the last several years in Iraq. Ayad Allawi won these elections. Now he is a Shi'ite, he's secular and he's pro-American and he's very anti-Iran. The current government in Iraq right now is a religious state that leans toward Iran. So if Ayad Allawi can hold on to this position, that he gained today, he still has to form a government and face off challenges by the current prime minister, then we could see a major change in direction in Iraq.
Brian Williams: Dancing in the street with those cement blast walls in the background, kind of a reminder that it's still a dangerous state.
Prior to the announcing of results, CNN reports, Khalis was slammed with two bombing -- one car bombing, one roadside bombing, resulting in the deaths of at least 32 people and sixty-eight more injured. DPA reports the death toll has climbed to 42.
Wednesday, US House Rep John Hall chaired a Subcommittee hearing (House Veterans Affairs' Subcommittee on Disability) and we'll note this from his opening remarks:
I just want to say, I welcome you here in what has been a profoundly historic and important week for the nation and for our veterans. Over the last seven days the Full Committee convened a successful Claims Summit which brought many of you and other dozens of top veterans stakeholders together and from the Summit came a lot of very useful information which we welcome and look forward to working with the VA and all the veterans groups to try to turn into action to solve the problems that we're facing. In a rare Sunday session, Congress passed and the President signed the sweeping health care reform package and I'm pleased that [VA] Secretary Eric Schinseki as well as the Chairman of the full VA Committee (US House Rep Bob Filner] and the full Armed Services Committee [US House Rep Ike Skelton] have signed a letter and sent it to the VSOs stating unequivacly that Tri-Care and VA care will not be effected by the health care legislation. We also passed this week the End Veteran Homeless Act of 2010 to provide funding to help Secretary Schinseki's goal of ending homelessness for America's warriors. The Help Heroes Keep Their Homes Act , the COLA -- cost of living increase for veterans, the National Guard Employment Protection Act.
Those are his verbal remarks. He submitted a written opening statement for the record but we've gone by what he actually said and included it to note that the House VA Committee does work -- and works very hard -- all the time. That's a lot to do in a seven-day period. That was Wednesday and earlier that day, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing. Senator Daniel Akaka is the Chair of the Committee and Senator Richard Burr is the Ranking Member. Chair Akaka noted the homeless rate among veterans continues to alarm. In 2008, Akaka explained, there were 131,000 homeless US veterans (VA estimate) and this month, the VA stated that the number of homeless veterans stood at 107,000 in 2009. Ranking Member Burr noted that from that 107,000 veternas, 1,589 are in North Carolina and he called out the delays in Congress being supplied with requested information.
Ranking Member Richard Burr: [. . .] Unfortunately, I've been disappointed about the Administration's collaboration with us so far. Last October, the Committee held a hearing on comprehensive homeless legislation, S. 1547, but received no official views from VA on the bill. In the absence of any views, the Committee marked up the legislation in January with expectation that VA would be providing us with a greater understanding of how it fits in with the Secretary's plan. Five months and multiple inquiries -- and we received the views last night, giving my staff no opportunity to do a thorough analysis of the information. Of course, this is not the first time VA waits until the 11th hour to provide responses to inquiries they have had for months. This is also not the first time I have had to raise this problem. And I will continue to do it. I don't understand the delay. Why does it take VA five months to provide Congress with the crucial information we need to do the best job we can for our veterans?
That's all we have room for on Congress. In peace news, Cindy Sheehan (Peace of the Action) explores the pluses and minuses of Peace Camp which has closed ("not for long") and includes praise for the many college students who took part:
By the way, not only was our demand to meet with President Obama not granted -- three of our Camp OUT NOW volunteers (including myself) have been given stay away orders from the White House.
We tried to get into the Senate Appropriation's Committee meeting today at the Capitol and we were followed and harassed the entire time and in the transparent age of Obama, the hearing was closed to us citizens, anyway. I was able to watch the rerun on C-SPAN 3 and I can tell you all one thing, these wars are planned to continue indefinitely. I am not okay with that.
To take advantage of the energy and enthusiasm of our young people, we are planning on returning in June to set up Camp and start our actions again.
So we will be keeping the spirit of the Camp alive until the students get out of school and, hopefully, we can make a go of it in the summer.
More information and essays on the importance of peace can be found at Cindy's Soapbox (including links to her radio program). We've covered Marc Hall many times. He's the service member 'guilty' of 'rapping.' Courage to Resist has sent out the following on the latest development in the military persecution of Hall:
Donate to help defend Marc - 146 people have given $5,408. Because the Army kidnapped Marc to Kuwait for trial, we will need to raise at least $10,000 to provide a civilian defense lawyer. Critical expert witnesses to could be another $5,000, in addition to the $4,600 already spent.
Courage to Resist. March 25, 2010
US Army Specialist Marc A. Hall sits in a military brig at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, facing an imminent court martial for challenging the US military's Stop-Loss policy in a song — his pre-trial hearing was held last week on March 17. Yet it was not the hip-hop song he wrote criticizing the Stop-Loss policy that landed him in trouble. What put the 34-year-old New York City native in the brig were his persistent assertions of inadequate mental health care that culminated in a Dec. 7 complaint to the Army Investigator General. Just five days later Hall was charged with violating "good order and discipline" at Fort Stewart, Georgia, and was shipped out of the country.
Hall's court martial is likely to occur late April or early May.
The jailing occurred a full five months after Hall wrote a rap song protesting the Stop-Loss order that halted his discharge after he served his country for 14 months of combat in Iraq. Hall was charged with 11 counts of "communicating threats" related to the song and has since been charged with violating Article 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Conduct. All the alleged violations occurred between last July and December, yet not one warranted warning, counseling, or non-judicial punishment at the time.
On Feb. 20 Hall wrote, "A charge that was not a threat before, but all of a sudden became a threat now. I communicated a need for mental evaluation -- not a threat."As if that were not enough the military took the nearly unprecedented step of moving Hall overseas for court martial, instead of putting him on trial in Georgia where the alleged threats occurred. On Feb. 26 Hall was put on plane to Iraq and transferred to Kuwait for pre-trial confinement. This put him out of reach of his civilian legal defense team, friends, and family. It will also make it extremely hard for defense witnesses to appear at trial on his behalf.
TV notes. NOW on PBS begins airing Friday on most PBS stations (check local listings):
In the debate over energy resources, natural gas is often considered a
The Case Against Nada Prouty
The Russian Is Coming
60 Minutes, Sunday, March 28, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.