Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, December 14, 2010.  Chaos and violence continue, Iranian pilgrims are targeted in Iraq, Iraqi Christians get some US press, Allawi's got an announcement, a rally against the wars takes place in DC this week, and more.
"Can Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki create unity in Iraq?" wondered Marlam Saleh on Middle East Today (Press TV) this weekend where she was joined by Iraqi political analyst Bassem Abu Tabeekh, the National Alliance's Intifad Kanbar and Notre Dame University's Eugene Dabbous. Excerpt:
Marlam Saleh: What has allowed for this deadlock to somehow end?  We have all three leaders being named but now Mr. Maliki has a lot on his hands.  Can we say that the issue of civil war was a major threat before? And do you think now it does still exist?
Bassem Abu Tabeekh:  Well hello to you, to your TV, your guests and thank you for inviting us today.  Actually all this now, the new situation in Iraq.  And the elected the speaker man for the Parliament and the prime minister and the minister of Iraq -- the president of Iraq.  All this been agreed in Kurdistan which is whole package.  Before they went to the Parliament, they agreed who's going to be in which.  Now Alawi having been elected to have the strategic council in Iraq now the problem is going to be Alawi can be given order or only advise the government? This is the only situation now.  He trying and doing -- He tried to break the agreement which is all the members of all the politicians and the prime minister and the president of Iraq and the chairman all agreed on all the deal in Kurdistan, northern Iraq, that is all accepted Now Allawi try to break it to get more benefit and more advance -- advance for him.  Now this civil war, now, there's some politician, they try to raise the voice, tojust give signal to the Iraqis is going to be a problem and give pressure to al-Maliki and others that no civil war will be.  We had the situation. America tried to do that but they failed. and another neighboring country,  they don't want to beat Iraq back into -- international community tried to make civil war in Iraq.  Everybody happy and they don't want to beat Iraq.  There is a law in Iraq and with the law --
Marlam Saleh: Allow me -- allow me to get Mr. Intifad Kanbar's take because he is in Baghdad of course.  He could give us a general perspective.  Mr. Intifad Kanbar, what can you tell us about the talks taking place right now?  We've heard Mr. Maliki's bloc.  They're saying that they have made concessions in order to let this work.  And you heard Mr. Bassem Abu Tabeekh saying that, no, actually Mr. Allawi could be standing in the way of an agreement. What do you think?
Intifad Kanbar: Well this is going to be -- we were trying to make it -- a partnership, a national partnership, government which we are hoping and working very hard to include, not excluse everyone in this government including Al Iraqiya.  However, some of the demands by some factions within Iraqiya are quite unacceptable by some -- by the Iraqi National Alliance and others; therefore, it's making it more difficult to have full participation of Iraqiya.  But I'm cautiously optimistic that Iraqiya will participate on a large scale in the government. I think the question 'What is the fate of Mr. Ayad Allawi?'  I think his position will be in question.  Specifically on the issue of the formation of the Council of Higher Policies which may contradict the Constitution and may require an amendment in the Constitution which takes two years.  All that will be formed in a way that is going to have an advisory role, not an executive role.  Something that I'm not sure Mr. Allawi will accept.
Marlam Saleh: Yes, now some would say that the Kurdish president is a barrier to the Iraqi Arab identity.  What do you think about that?
Intifad Kanbar: The -- Iraq in it's majority, the majority of the population in Iraq, yes, is Arab.  But Iraq is a mix and we don't believe in the idea of minority.  Every number of people in Iraq have equal rights and there's no rights for the majority and rights for the minority. Therefore Iraq is a country that has a combination of Kurds, Armenians, Chaldeanians, Assyrians and all -- Mandaeisms, Yazidians and those people have equal rights in accordance with the Constitution that has been ratified and approved by the Iraqi people.  Thererfore, Iraq identy -- Iraq has an Arab side but there is a distinguished Iraqi identity which represents all this moasic of the Iraqi identitiy.
Today Alsumaria TV reports that the Iraqi Parliament has yet again delayed a session. They were supposed to deliberate today but they've postponed it until Saturday -- not that they were up for hardest working legislative body or anything before the latest move. The big agenda item being pushed back? The issue of the National Council for Strategic Policies which is supposed to be headed by Ayad Allawi. If it is not an independent body with independent powers, Allawi has stated he will walk out on the government. As noted yesterday, Omar (Iraq The Model) has offered an English translation of the (or a) bill proposing the creation of the NCSP. Lara Jakes (AP) reports Allawi's spokesperson states he will be joining the government being put together.
March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board noted in August, "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. November 10th a power sharing deal resulted in the Parliament meeting for the second time and voting in a Speaker. And then Iraqiya felt double crossed on the deal and the bulk of their members stormed out of the Parliament. David Ignatius (Washington Post) explains, "The fragility of the coalition was dramatically obvious Thursday as members of the Iraqiya party, which represents Sunnis, walked out of Parliament, claiming that they were already being double-crossed by Maliki. Iraqi politics is always an exercise in brinkmanship, and the compromises unfortunately remain of the save-your-neck variety, rather than reflecting a deeper accord. " After that, Jalal Talabani was voted President of Iraq. Talabani then named Nouri as the prime minister-delegate. If Nouri can meet the conditions outlined in Article 76 of the Constitution (basically nominate ministers for each council and have Parliament vote to approve each one with a minimum of 163 votes each time and to vote for his council program) within thirty days, he becomes the prime minister. If not, Talabani must name another prime minister-delegate. In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister-delegate. It took eight months and two days to name Nouri as prime minister-delegate. His first go-round, on April 22, 2006, his thirty day limit kicked in. May 20, 2006, he announced his cabinet -- sort of. Sort of because he didn't nominate a Minister of Defense, a Minister of Interior and a Minister of a Natioanl Security. This was accomplished, John F. Burns wrote in "For Some, a Last, Best Hope for U.S. Efforts in Iraq" (New York Times), only with "muscular" assistance from the Bush White House. Nouri declared he would be the Interior Ministry temporarily. Temporarily lasted until June 8, 2006. This was when the US was able to strong-arm, when they'd knocked out the other choice for prime minister (Ibrahim al-Jaafari) to install puppet Nouri and when they had over 100,000 troops on the ground in Iraq. Nouri had no competition. That's very different from today. The Constitution is very clear and it is doubtful his opponents -- including within his own alliance -- will look the other way if he can't fill all the posts in 30 days. As Leila Fadel (Washington Post) observes, "With the three top slots resolved, Maliki will now begin to distribute ministries and other top jobs, a process that has the potential to be as divisive as the initial phase of government formation." Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) points out, "Maliki now has 30 days to decide on cabinet posts - some of which will likely go to Iraqiya - and put together a full government. His governing coalition owes part of its existence to followers of hard-line cleric Muqtada al Sadr, leading Sunnis and others to believe that his government will be indebted to Iran." The stalemate ends when the country has a prime minister. It is now nine months, seven days and counting. Thursday November 25th, Nouri was finally 'officially' named prime minister-designate. Leila Fadel (Washington Post) explained, "In 30 days, he is to present his cabinet to parliament or lose the nomination." Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) added, "Even if Mr. Maliki meets the 30-day deadline in late December -- which is not a certainty, given the chronic disregard for legal deadlines in Iraqi politics -- the country will have spent more than nine months under a caretaker government without a functioning legislature. Many of Iraq's most critical needs -- from basic services to investment -- have remained unaddressed throughout the impasse." Jane Arraf (Al Jazeera) offered, "He has an extremely difficult task ahed of him, these next 30 days are going to be a very tough sell for all of these parties that all want something very important in this government. It took a record eight months to actually come up with this coalition, but now what al-Maliki has to do is put all those people in the competing positions that backed him into slots in the government and he has a month to day that from today."

As the stalemate continues, David Ignatius (Washington Post) reports:

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met here Monday with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and urged him to start planning now for a "long-term strategic partnership" in which the United States will continue training the Iraqi military and police, and providing other, unspecified security assistance. Mullen said later that Maliki seems to want such a relationship, "but the direction hasn't been worked out."
The biggest story about Iraq may be what hasn't happened. There were widespread fears that when U.S. troops pulled out of Iraqis cities in mid-2009, the country would slip back toward civil war. That didn't happen. The same fears were expressed when the last combat troops departed this summer. It didn't happen then, either.

He goes on to offer a balance portrait of Nouri (that is balance when you're describing a thug) but surprisingly, he seems unaware of the rumors that there's a scramble to curry Tehran's favor among numerous Shi'ites. Ahmed Chalabi is only the one with the loosest lips who is supposedly stating that if Nouri fails at the 30-day deadline, Jalal Talabani will be naming him (Chalabi) as the next prime minister-designate. Since Chalabi is also angling for a key post in Nouri's cabinet, it's surprising how many are repeating this rumor. Ibrahim Jafari is also mentioned as someone in contact with Tehran as an alternative to Nouri.  Today the White House issued the following:
Vice President Biden and National Security Advisor Tom Donilon met today with General Lloyd Austin III, Commanding General of the United States Forces-Iraq (USF-I), to review political and security developments in Iraq.  They discussed the progress Iraq has made toward providing for its own security. Tomorrow, the Vice President will chair a United Nations Security Council High-Level Meeting on Iraq, the purpose of which is to recognize and reinforce the tremendous progress that the Republic of Iraq has made and to discuss ways in which Members can continue to support Iraq's government and people.  On Friday at the White House, the Vice President will chair his monthly Principals meeting on Iraq.
In today's reported violence, Reuters notes a Baghdad roadside bombing which claimed the life of 3 pilgrims with eighteen more injured and a Khalis bombing which injured fourteen pilgrims.
This as Jack Healy (New York Times) notes 4 Shi'ites were killed Monday as they were "observing the religious holiday of Ashura." Press TV reports, "Following the recent terrorist attacks against Iranian pilgrims to Iraq, Iran is calling on its nationals to seriously refrain from traveling to the neighboring country unless as part of a registered tour." Yesterday on All Things Considered (NPR, link has text and audio), Kelly McEvers reported on the targeting of Iraqi Christians:

Kelly McEvers: In one short week, these two sisters went from middle class to the edge of desperation. Before the attacks, they owned a building in Baghdad, where they rented apartments to other Christians. Their husbands worked government jobs. But then a husband and a son were caught in the church siege.

Now, says one of the sisters, who only wanted to give her first name, Ban, she is ready to leave her country for good.

Ms. BAN: I hate being an Iraqi because what they do to us.

McEVERS: Without any income, the family of nine is living off of savings. We ask how long they have until the money runs out.

Ms. BAN: (Speaking foreign language).

McEVERS: Two months, three months, Ban says, no more.

Ms. BAN: (Speaking foreign language).

McEVERS: Swiping her hands together to show there is nothing between them, Ban repeats the same word over and over: finished, finished, finished.

The latest wave of attacks on Iraqi Christians began October 31st with the assault on Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad in which at least seventy people were killed and another seventy injured. Since then, Baghdad and Mosul especially have been flashpoints for violence aimed at Iraqi Christians with many fleeing -- and many fleeing to the KRG. On the latest Middle East Today (Press TV), Bassem Abu Tabeekh floated the idea that Saudi Arabia was behind the attack on the Church and insisted one of the attackers was from Saudi Arabia. 
Marlam Saleh: So you're accusing Saudi Arabia of being behind that?
Bassem Abu Tabeekh: Of course, of course
At YouTube, the New York Times' Stephen Farrell files a video report on the latest wave of attacks on Iraqi Christians.
Stephen Farrell: Two of Iraq's ancient Christian communities, one in Baghdad praying for mercy, the other in Nineveh, giving up on it. Here in the Chaldean Ministry of the Virgin Mary in Qosh, dozens of Iraqi Christians have sough sanctuary in its cloisters after fleeing their homes in nearby Mosul because of death threats.
Intissar Daoud: I came because of the circumstances. We left because of the situation in Mosul. There are many dangers.
Stephen Farrell: Iraqis of all religions have been killed in large numbers since the 2003 invasion unleashed sectarian violence but particularly vulnerable are the small minorities such as Christians.  Also Yezidis -- an ancient monothestic faith -- and Sabean Mandeans who revere John The Baptisist.  Iraq's Jewish population is all but gone now, reduced to single figures  in Baghdad and fragments of Hebrew at sites around Iraq reputed to be the tombs of Old Testament prophets.
So the starting point to understanding the lessons of the recent Iraqi Christians exodus is to not allow the religious extremists -- neither Muslim nor Christian nor any other faith -- to exploit the attacks and present them out of context as a "clash of civilizations," that self-fulfilling prophecy coined by the late Harvard University historian, Samuel Huntington. 
A glimpse of the writing on the wall can be seen along the black alleys in the Iraqi Christian neighborhoods of Baghdad and Mosul. That's where a militant fringe has for years been scribbling anti-Christian hatred in the form of graffiti.
A particularlly ominous anti-Christian bit of graffiti, which I first saw spray-painted on walls at least 12 years ago in Egypt when Islamic fundamentalists were targeting Coptic Christians, has reportedly resurfaced in Iraq in recent months. The translation from the Arabic slogan is this: "First the Saturday people, then the Sunday people."
The phrase is an overt threat intended to say that Muslims, who worship on Friday, have already pushed many Jews, who worship on Saturday, out of the Middle east and that now they will do the same to Christians.
Catholic News Agency reports Nouri has a new 'plan,' "concrete walls up to 10 feet high"! Yes, wall off the areas, the way he's walled off Baghdad. And that didn't stop the violence. The editorial board of the Watertown Daily Times weighs in:

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in May faulted
the government's failure to protect Christians and other minorities.
"The violence, forced displacement, discrimination, marginalization and
neglect suffered by members of these groups threaten these ancient
communities' very existence in Iraq," the commission said.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has called for tolerance of Christians and other minority faiths. His government, though, needs to do more to ensure the
protection of religious minorities.
The United States has devoted much to help Iraq build a better country.
Religious persecution is a step backward.
UPI notes, "President of the European Parliament Jerzy Buzek said it was time for
the Iraqi government to make sure Christians in Iraq enjoy the same protection and
status as Shiites and Sunnis" and quotes him stating, "The European Parliament is
very concerned about these developments and is a strong defender of human rights, including freedom of religion."
The US military reports of Adm Mike Mullen (Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) and Nouri al-Maliki's meeting yesterday that the two discussed Iraq and the US military after December 2011: "No substantive discussions have taken place about what a relationship would look like because Iraqi politicians have been haggling since the country's March 6 elections to form the new government. Maliki now is in the midst of forming the government and has promised that it will include all groups in the country. Mullen said he fully expects the Iraqis to have the new government in place by the Dec. 25 constitutional deadline." Meanwhile The Perspective notes, "The anti-war movement in the United States is lying dormant.  With Bush's exit from office, opposition to Obama's wars has largely diminished. The public de-escalation of the Iraqi War and the Obama administration's rebranding (to the more romantic name 'Operation New Dawn'), has left progressives with the misconception that the war is over.  The acceptance of this partial withdrawal has allowed an army of private contractors to take control of Iraq's security."  This Thursday, December 16th, a rally against the wars will take place in DC. and will feature Peace Mom Cindy Sheehan, Chris Hedges and David Swanson among others:

Rally at Lafayette Park, Washington, D.C., at 10 am
March to the White House for civil resistance action

Details of the action
Wednesday night
Thursday morning
Ride board

War resister John Heuer (War Is A Crime) explains his reasons for attending:
Today, my two sons, both of military age, are facing the prospect of "service"
in their generation's wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and who knows where next.
The toll, just in Iraq, should be sufficient to inform citizens: Thousands of US Servicemen and women killed; tens of thousands wounded and maimed; hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed; millions displaced from their homes.
This horrific toll is the fruit of what we now know to be intentional lies about WMD's and Iraqi links to 9/11 from members of the Bush/Cheney
administration and their sycophants in the media. In his excellent new
book "War Is a Lie," David Swanson unravels the myths about "good" wars,
"just" wars and "necessary" wars. The hope that President Obama would be
better than "Bush Lite" (stop bragging about torturing detainees) has
dissipated like the morning mist. Obama has demonstrated that he is more
the servant to the military machinery than its master.

From WWI to WWII to Viet Nam to Afghanistan and Iraq, to . . . Iran?  This
war madness will not end until it makes planet earth unlivable, or until we
put an end to the madness.
Mareesa Nicosia (Saratogian) reports that Linda LeTendre and Pete Looker are
planning to be there and quotes Linda LeTendre explaining, "I'm frankly appalled by
these wars. We're wasting an incredible amount of human lives . . . and it's an
incredible waste of our national resources."
Meanwhile the US Justice Dept is targeting activists.  Friday, September 24th FBI
raids took place on at least seven homes of peace activists -- the FBI admits to raiding seven homes -- and the FBI raided the offices of Anti-War Committee. Just as that
Boghosian's [PDF format warning]
"The Policing of Political Speech: Constraints on Mass Dissent in the US." Heidi and  Michael S. Smith and Michael Ratner  covered the topic on  WBAI's Law and Disorder Radio including during a conversation with Margaret Ratner-Kunstler which you can hear
at the program's site by going into the archives and the program has also transcribed their discussion with Margaret and you can read it hereNicole Colson (US Socialist Worker) spoke with Michael Ratner about the raids and you can also refer to that.  Earlier  Matthew Rothschild (The Progressive) reporteds that when the FBI rifled through Joe Iosbaker and Stephanie Weiner's home September 24th, they went through Joe and Stephanie's "son's T-shirt drawer" to divide the son's t-shirts into two piles: "controversial" and those that weren't.  The FBI had to pause from the serious and dangerous duty to deliberate over whether the "Hell Boy" t-shirt qualified as "controversial" or not? Rothschild notes the Committee to Stop FBI RepressionJeremy Gantz (In These Times) reports that over
20 FBI agents rifled through Joe and Stephanie's home:
Ten hours after their arrival, as television news crews filmed and activist supporters stood on the sidewalk, the agents drove away with nearly 30
boxes of material, including t-shirts and a photograph of Malcolm X. By that
time, Iosbaker and Weiner had been served subpoenas to appear before a
grand jury investigating "material support" for "foreign terrorist organiza-
tions." And they knew theirs wasn't the only home invaded that day. More
than 70 FBI agents had raided seven residences in Chicago and Minneapolis
and questioned activists in Michigan, California and North Carolina, serving subpoenas to 11 people. A few days later, the Justice Department
subpoenaed members of the Minnesota Anti-War Committee (AWC), whose
office was also raided on September 24, raising the number to 14.
On the Law and Disorder Radio broadcast that began airing November 22nd, hosts
Heidi Boghosian, Michael Ratner (click here for an ISR interview with Michael) and
Michael S. Smith noted what to do when questioned by government agents.
Michael S. Smith: Heidi, congratulations, I'm holding in my hand this beautiful red and white and yellow pamphlet "You Have The Right To Remain Silent." Congratulations on getting this out.  This National Lawyers Guild pamphlet is going to come in very handy.
Heidi Boghosian: Thanks, Michael, it's actually a Know Your Rights guide for law enforcement encounters and we designed it specifically so that it could fit in the rear pocket of someone's jeans or pants. It has basic know-your-rights information: what to do if the FBI comes to your door, what if you're not a citizen, I think there's something about rights at airports, if you're under 18.  It's free of charge [to download] at www.nlg.org/ and if you want to get bulk amounts we will send you fifty free of charge and then we just ask for shipping & handling for orders above that. 
Michael Ratner: It's interesting that it fits into your pocket because you know, Michael and I  and you -- well you're not as old as us -- but when we used to give advice to people at demonstrations, we used to tell them to sew their pockets up so you couldn't plant -- the cops couldn't plant -- marijuana in their pockets.  So you'd go to demonstrations with all your pockets sewn up.  But at least -- Maybe they don't do that as much.  You can carry this little book with you instead of writing the whole thing on your arm.
Heidi Boghosian: I'm speechless.
Michael S. Smith: She's speechless.
Heidi Boghosian: That's fascinating.
Michael Ratner: And about pockets, that's also interesting, my daughter once had to an assignment about clothes for boys or girls when she was a little girl.  And, of course, what you notice is that girl's clothes have no pockets.
Heidi Boghosian: I know. I hate that.
Michael Ratner: It's terrible.
Heidi Boghosian:  I only buy things with pockets.
Michael Ratner:  And it's a weird sexual discrimination.  Boys are supposed to carry all these things but girls --
Heidi Boghosian:  I know they have to have a pocket book.
Michael Ratner: But back to the pocketing Guild pamphlet called?
Michael Ratner: Now Michael's going to say something about the substance of it.
Michael S. Smith: If you receive a subpeona call the NLG national office hotline at 888-NLG-ECOL I'll repeat 888-654-3265.
Michael Ratner: Or if the FBI starts to question you, don't answer even the first question. Just say "I don't want to speak to the FBI" or refer them to your lawyer. [laughing] And that's H-e-i-d -- No, no.  But in any case, you should refer them to your lawyer or just say you're not talking to the FBI.  And it's such a short little pamphlet, it's perfect for taking to demos, it doesn't have our basic position about the FBI which is: Once you start talking to the FBI or Homeland Security or any of these so-called law enforcement or police intelligence there's the potato chip example.  Once you start eating potato chips, you can't stop.  It's the same for talking.  Heidi's waiving her arms.
Heidi Boghosian: Michael, that's a great point. And, in fact, we do have a section called "Standing Up For Free Speech."  I just want to quote one sentence or two. "Informed resistance to these tactics and steadfast defense of your and others' rights can bring positive results. Each person who takes a courageous stand makes future resistance to government oppression easier for all."  So just to remind listeners, if you'd like a copy or multiple copies, it's called "You Have The Right To Remain Silent: A Know Your Rights Guide For Law Enforcement Encounters" and it's available through the National Lawyers Guild, www.nlg.org/.
And lastly, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee issued the following:


WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the U.S. Senate passed the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Improvements Act of 2010 (S. 3447), a bill sponsored
by Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii)
to improve educational assistance for those who served in the Armed Forces
after September 11, 2001.

"Today the Senate reaffirmed our commitment to assisting veterans
pursuing education, for the benefit of the young men and women in the
armed servicesand as an investment in the future of our nation," said
Senator Akaka, a World War II veteran who attended college on the original
GI Bill.

As passed by the Senate, this bill would, among other things:

•Provide for a streamlined, less complex, and more equitable program for veterans who have served on active duty since September 11, 2001;
•Expand opportunities for training and education by paying benefits for on-job
and vocational training; and
· Make service members eligible for an annual book allowance.

Chairman Akaka was a principal cosponsor of the legislation that established
the new GI Bill program in 2008. Based on VA's year-long experience with the program, Chairman Akaka and members of the committee worked with the Department of Veterans Affairs and numerous veterans service organizations
to craft the improvements contained in this bill.
This bill now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.

The committee report for S.3447 can be found here. For more information

on the GI Bill, please visit http://www.gibill.va.gov.