Friday, September 24, 2010

Preaching to the choir doesn't end the stalemate

Alsumaria TV reports, "US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Iraqi leaders to form a new government after six months of stalling." Last night, State Dept spokesperson Philip J. Crowley spoke on the topic:

Hey, thanks everybody. Good evening. I know it’s late. Many of you are calling from suites, perhaps other establishments, so let me run through a couple of things real quick. The Secretary did have her two bilaterals this evening, one with Foreign Minister Zebari of Iraq and the other with Foreign Minister Rassoul of Afghanistan. Let me briefly run through the topics of discussion. With Foreign Minister Zebari and Iraq, as you might imagine, the major topic of discussion was where Iraq stands on the formation – government formation. The Secretary and minister agreed that this is becoming of critical importance and that we don’t want to see Iraq drift and have a security vacuum result. They talked about the importance of Iraq’s leaders stepping up and making decisions and forming a government. Ambassador Jim Jeffrey is significantly engaged in Baghdad in this effort. As you may recall, Assistant Secretary Jeff Feltman has been to the region for multiple meetings, as has the Vice President. But the Secretary solicited some ideas from the foreign minister about how the United States will be helpful while making clear that ultimately, this has to be Iraq’s decision to come to an agreement on forming a new government. They went through a handful of bilateral issues, but also finished the meeting by briefly touching on the peace process. The foreign minister commended the Secretary on the U.S. engagement on the Middle East process and hoped that a solution can be found so the parties will continue to pursue the direct negotiations that we started three weeks ago.

How effective her words were? Not at all. Zebari's been making the same statements himself. For months. I believe it's called preaching to the choir.

March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board noted last month, "These elections were hailed prematurely by Mr Obama as a success, but everything that has happened since has surely doused that optimism in a cold shower of reality." 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. They are claiming they have the right to form the government. In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister. It's six months and seventeen days with no government formed.

That's reality. Fantasy is the way Jalal Talabani (President of Iraq) attempted to spin before the UN General Assembly [click, PDF format warning, here for his speech in full]:

This year has also witnessed the success of legislative elections held on 7 March 2010, with considerable Arab, regional and international interest. The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq as well as the observers of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the League of Arab States, the international community and civil society organizations all expressed their convictions that the elections had been transparent and fair. The principal political parties have been in continuous communication in order to hold a fruitful session of the Iraqi Council of Representatives, which will vote to elect a Speaker for the new Council of Representatives which will vote to elect a Speaker for the new Council of Representatives and President of the Republic of Iraq, after which, according to the Iraqi Constitution, the elected President will request the new Prime Minister to form the government. It is our hope that this new government will be formed as soon as possible, as any delay in its formation will negatively affect the security situation, reconstruction and prosperity.

Though Iraq may be considered 'new' to elections, the KRG is quite familiar with them (and has continued voting with relative ease since the start of the Iraq War) so Jalal Talabani (who is Kurdish) does know that an election is not judged merely by the balloting. The balloting is actually the first step. For voting to be a success, something more than marking your preference on a piece of paper is required: The successful installation of the winners of the election. That has still not happened and how sad Jalal thought he could insult the intelligence of the UN Assembly (and the world) with that stupid speech. As noted earlier, his main interest was in getting Iraq out of 'receivership' and felt that was Iraq's most pressing issue. That's the talking point the UN Assembly and Security Council here every year from the Iraqi officials. It's never true but they do love to repeat it. (The tag sale on Iraq's assests cannot really take place until the UN allows the puppet government complete autonomy.)

Meanwhile Alsumaria TV reports, "Pollution in Iraq is soaring due to increasing toxic waste from industries and some ministries and institutions in addition to the US Army waste."

TV notes. On PBS' Washington Week, Naftali Bendavid (Wall St. Journal), Jackie Calmes (New York Times), Tom Gjleten (NPR) and Nancy A. Youssef (McClatchy Newspapers) join Gwen around the table while Dan Balz (Washington Post) files a report from Des Moines on the speech Sarah Palin makes to Iowa's GOP. Gwen now has a weekly column at Washington Week and the current one is still "Who Exactly Are the Bums?" This week, Bonnie Erbe will sit down with Debra Carnahan, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Leslie Sanchez and Tara Setmayer on the latest broadcast of PBS' To The Contrary to discuss the week's events. And this week's To The Contrary online extra is on college tuition -- its cost and its worth is debated. Need To Know is PBS' new program covering current events. This week's hour long broadcast airs Fridays on most PBS stations -- but check local listings -- and it explores US combat in Afghanistan, the US role in institutionalizing Afghan corruption; abuse and mistreatment of US seniors at home-based senior centers, Jon Meacham discussing "superlativism" and more. Turning to broadcast TV, Sunday CBS' 60 Minutes offers:

A Relentless Enemy
Lara Logan's report takes viewers to the border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan, where she and her crew came under enemy fire from fighters who the U.S. military says keep coming from their sanctuary in Pakistan.

Islamic Center
Scott Pelley looks at the national debate that has flared up around Ground Zero in New York City over opposition to building an Islamic center and prayer room nearby.

Cool Brees
Steve Kroft profiles Drew Brees, the MVP quarterback who led the New Orleans Saints to their first-ever Super Bowl victory, just a few years after the city was nearly destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

60 Minutes, Sunday, Sept. 26, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

Radio. On today's The Diane Rehm Show (airs on most NPR stations and begins streaming live online at 10:00 am EST), Katty Kay sits in for Diane and for the first hour (domestic news) her panelists are Dante Chinni (Wall St. Journal), Greg Ip (Economist) and Karen Tumulty (Washington Post) and for the second hour (international news) her panelists are Daniel Dombey (Financial Times), Anne Gearan (AP) and Kevin Whitelaw (Congressional Quarterly).

Jim Loney (Reuters) reports, "Since President Barack Obama declared an end to combat operations in Iraq, U.S. troops have waged a gun battle with a suicide squad in Baghdad, dropped bombs on armed militants in Baquba and assisted Iraqi soldiers in a raid in Falluja. Obama's announcement on Aug. 31 has not meant the end of fighting for some of the 50,000 U.S. military personnel remaining in Iraq 7-1/2 years after the invasion that removed Saddam Hussein." And we'll close with this from Amy Goodman's "Torture Continues in Iraq Unabated" (Union):

Combat operations in Iraq are over, if you believe President Barack Obama's rhetoric. But torture in Iraq's prisons, first exposed during the Abu Ghraib scandal, is thriving, increasingly distant from any scrutiny or accountability.

After arresting tens of thousands of Iraqis, often without charge, and holding many for years without trial, the United States has handed over control of Iraqi prisons, and 10,000 prisoners, to the Iraqi government. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

After landing in London late Saturday night, we traveled to the small suburb of Kilburn to speak with Rabiha al-Qassab, an Iraqi refugee who was granted political asylum in Britain after her brother was executed by Saddam Hussein.

Her husband, 68-year-old Ramze Shihab Ahmed, was a general in the Iraqi army under Saddam, fought in the Iran-Iraq War and was part of a failed plot to overthrow the Iraqi dictator. The couple was living peacefully for years in London, until September 2009.

It was then that Ramze Ahmed learned his son, Omar, had been arrested in Mosul, Iraq. Ahmed returned to Iraq to find him and was arrested himself.

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