Saturday, February 20, 2010

Iraqi elections and the men who misunderstand them

If only they were as smart as they thought they were -- Chris Hill or Anthony Shadid. Hill is an unqualified (to put it mildly) US ambassador that the press refuses to call out (publicly) and Anthony Shadid is a reporter who's been tongue bathed once too often by former journalist Thomas E. Ricks because Shadid 'gets it' -- it being 'battle.' Or at least he 'gets it' enough to get Ricks off. What Tommy never got was that the Iraq War was never just a 'combat battle' and, more and more, Tony Shadid appears as ignorant as his one-time cock knocking best buddy. So much stupidity, so little time.

Let's start with Shadid who now writes for the New York Times. Online today (and in print tomorrow), Shadid offers "The Long, Long Shadow of Early Missteps in Iraq" and if you think the "long, long" seems redundant grasp that it also applies to Shadid's article -- "long, long."

It's a rare thing for so many words to say so damn little: "de-Ba'athification bad. Paul Bemer to blame. Paul Bremer bad."

Search in vain for anything that the paper hasn't printed and reprinted many times before. Strangely enough, they appear to have forgotten Bremer's letter to the editor from the last go round of this: That he wasn't acting on his own, he was acting on orders (see March 28, 2008 snapshot).

Now you can believe that or not (I think it's more plausible, personally -- in part because I loathe Colin Powell and I loathe his cowardly attempts to do whisper campaigns against people that his press friends are more than happy to carry out, Collie's nothing but a Gossip Girl). But Bremer's position always been the same. And it's always been a little unbelievable that if Bush, Powell, et al didn't want de-Ba'athification, they wouldn't have stopped it. (Words I hope I never use again: In fairness to Bush, he's never publicly commented on whether or not Bremer was acting alone nor has he fed the press on the topic the way Gossip Girl Collie has.)

Not only has Bremer's public statements remained consistent and not only did it never make sense that if the administration objected to something Bremer was doing that they wouldn't stop it (didn't they fire Jay Garner for exactly that reason?), but there are other events that have taken place.

So if Shadid wanted to revist this topic, he'd have to do more than stick his hand down the front of his pants and try to tug-start his brain.

Paul Bremer has been a huge topic lately. Not in the US. Not even in Iraq.

But if you're a journalist, you should know. The fact that the US press has ignored it is no excuse if you're a journalist, especially one covering Iraq.

The most cited US official in the Iraq Inquiry's public hearings (from November to this month and to resume shortly) has thus far been: Paul Bremer.

Not George W. Bush. Not Condi Rice. Not Dick Cheney. Not Tommy Franks. All have gotten plenty of shout outs and mentions. But the repeated citation is Paul Bremer. And it usually has to do with de-Ba'athification.

Before we go further, for the two or three people who don't know the term, de-Ba'athification was a policy supposedly targeting only the top layer of Saddam Hussein's party members. Now in 2006, the world was supposed to see de-de-Ba'athification. And, in fact, that would become one of the White House's infamous benchmarks for Iraq -- benchmarks that Nouri would sign off on in 2007. de-de-Ba'athification never took place. Strangely, Anthony Shadid can't tell you that or even mention it.

Apparently, despite the mountains and mountains of press the benchmarks received, it never made it to the 'combat battles' that Tony covered.

He offers this insane statement from Chris Hill that will save for when we address the idiot Hill but right after that statement was the perfect time to bring up the benchmarks that the White House proposed, the US Congress signed off on and that Nouri agreed to. These were supposed to measure progress and they were supposed to be enforced or funding would be cut off -- so said big talkers like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. But those benchmarks that were forgotten the moment Bush left office in January 2009? They never resulted in cutting off funds.

Back to Bremer.

If you followed the Iraq Inquiry -- and you damn well should have -- you're aware that for British civilian and military officials, the de-Ba'athification was a huge, huge mistake. And you should be aware that there was an attempt at British push back on this because they saw it as a mistake. Where did they say the orders came from? Above Bremer.

So it's a little pathetic and a little embarrassing that after reaching in his pants to tug on his brain all Shadid can offer us at this late date is a smelly hand and an article about as 'fresh' as something the paper published in 2005.

Now let's move over to Chris Priss Instant Mocha. Of the de-Ba'athifcation order, Hill is quoted by Shadid as saying, "It's a bitter irony. Iraqis sometimes play back to us with a certain amount of relish, that you made mistakes before, why don't you think you are going to make them again." Can a US ambassador really be that stupid? Were it any other ambassador, I might toss out the possibility that the ambassador was misquoted but having attended Hill's laughable confirmation hearing, I know that sort of stupidity is just up his alley.

He never understood de-Ba'athification, he never understood the region, he didn't get how explosive Kirkuk was as an issue. This was his confirmation hearing -- after, as he bragged, he'd been tutored for weeks. He didn't know a damn thing. He still doesn't.

de-Ba'athification stopped being a "US mistake" around the time it was implemented. And those who paid attention to the Iraq Inquiry know that. They know that Ahmed Chalabi could meet with Tony Blair and George W. Bush when no one else could. Millions and millions around the world took to the streets in February 2003 to protest the impending, illegal war and Tony Blair's flunky was concerned . . . that Iraqi exiles 'voices' might be overwhelmed by the demonstrations so he arranged for Tony to meet in a hotel room yet again with the exiles.

Who wanted the de-Ba'athification? Who pushed for it? If you paid attention to the Iraq Inquiry, you weren't surprised to discover that it, like the war, was an act coveted and desired by the Iraq exiles.

I would love to know which Iraqi politicians toss the de-Ba'athification policy into Hill's face since so very many office holders in Iraq are exiles. The proper response for a US diplomat would be to smile and reply, "Yes, it was a very big mistake to listen to Iraqi exiles who obviously didn't know the mood or tenor of their former country."

But Chris Hill doesn't know a damn thing.

In fact, you have to wake up no later than 11:59 a.m. to pull one over on Chris Hill in the morning.

The February 18th snapshot noted Chris Hill's statements to the press which included:

We're here really to report on where things stand with three weeks to go. I think anyone who follows Iraq knows that there are twists and turns to any destination in Iraq. Certainly, de-Ba'athification was a major issue and a very tough issue, a very emotional issue, but I think we've gotten through that issue.

He also felt the need to declare:

I would be cautious about comparing these elections to those in 2005. You'll recall in 2005 we had a Sunni boycott. There are no signs whatsoever of a boycott by any of the communities at this time. In fact, all of the communities have been urging their voters to -- their members to get out and vote. But I don't think it's really productive at this point to speculate how long it will take, whether it's a few weeks or whether it becomes more than a month. I just don't know at this point, except to say that I think the Iraqis understand the challenge and understand the need to try to put together a government as quickly as they can, but a government that nonetheless is as durable as possible.

Chris Hill always feels the need to start his pressers with a joke (last week's included that there wouldn't be any questions about Korea) but never seems to grasp that the joke actually begins the minute he strides to the podium.

Waleed Ibrahim and Jack Kimball (Reuters) report today that the National Dialogue Front is boycotting the election and, in the words of Haider al-Mulla (party spokesperson), calling "for other poltiical parties to take the same stand as our front. The whole issue is not related to (the candidate ban), rather the unsuitable atmosphere of this election." Fang Yang (Xinhua) adds:

"After the press releases by Ray Odierno (top command of U.S. troops in Iraq) and U.S. ambassador Christopher Hill that the Accountability and Justice Commission is influenced by the Iranian Quds Corps, we can't continue in a political process running by foreign agenda," the statement said.
It referred to last week remarks by the U.S. top official in Iraq about Ahmed Chalabi and Ali al-Lami, the two heads of the Iraqi commission in charge with vetting Saddam Hussein's Baath party members from the political life in Iraq.

You may be thinking, "Well anyone can be wrong." True. But a US ambassador's job is not to make predictions to the press. Chris Hill remains an idiot and if the administration gave a damn about Iraq, they'd have to pull Hill and appoint a new ambassador. And you don't pull the US ambassador to Iraq out of Iraq two weeks before elections. Now I understand what happened, I do. I understand that the White House has grasped how inept Chris is and I grasp that even Barack felt the need for a face-to-face to convey to Chris how serious matters are. But it was the wrong time and it was too late. The Republican response to Hill will be deadly for the US and they will likely attempt to use that response in the 2012 elections. I'll carry that over to Third because this entry's already gone on long enough.

Just yesterday, Hill was again shooting down any possible boycotts at the Foreign Press Center.

Nadia Bilbassy: Thank you. Thank you, Ambassador. I'm sure you are tired by any questions about -- so many press availability you've done so far. It's Nadia Bilbassy with MBC Television. Very often, the Americans complain about interference from neighboring countries, mainly Iran and Syria, in Iraqi affairs. To what extent do you see an influence from both countries on this current election? And as you know, two prominent Sunni politicians have been disqualified from this election. Do you worry that ultimately, that will affect the Sunni votes in the representations in the Iraqi Government in the future?

Chris Hill: Well, first of all, we have expressed our concerns about interference in some of the processes, especially the issue, as I think General Odierno laid out and I have also mentioned -- the issue of Iran. That said, we believe we have a election mechanism that will indeed be free and fair. This has been -- involved a considerable amount of planning in addition to the Iraqi high commissioner -- high commission for the elections, we've had a very active and engaged UN operation in Baghdad. So we are confident that we will have an Iraqi election that will be for and about the Iraqi people. So we're pretty confident we've got a good mechanism and a proper election which will be all about Iraq and not about any foreign country. On the second issue, obviously, de-Ba'athification has been a tough issue to go through. We had, obviously, some concerns about the transparency and the way that this whole process would appear to the Iraqi people. The Iraqi authorities have dealt with this. Their courts have dealt with this. The Iraqi senior politicians have dealt with it. And we really look forward to a good election. I know there continues to be some discussion about this. I know it was a very emotional issue for many people. But we believe the de-Ba'athification problems are, for the most part, behind. And we look forward to them getting on with the election and having the voters make their decisions.

The Ahrar Party issued the following news release today:

Ahrar launches new security plan

Ahrar is the only party to have developed a comprehensive plan to bring peace and security to Iraq, which launches today in Baghdad. The plan was drawn up in consultation with former Generals and security experts, as well as the Iraqi public.

The scheme will end sectarian violence and intimidation by immediately disbanding sectarian militias, and securing Iraq's borders from outside interference. The police and army will be enlarged and improved, and anybody who commits a crime will face the full force of the law.

Ahrar Party leader Ayad Jamal Aldin said: "Security is the number one, number two and number three issue for almost all of us. The government has lost control, but today Ahrar puts forward a real plan to bring an end to the violence and intimidation that blights the lives of all Iraqis."

"With Ahrar, it is the people who hold the power. That is what scares the corrupt and foreign-controlled. Nobody should be above the law. The police and army will be the servants of the Iraqi people - and NEVER the other way around. No more bribes. No more interference from outside. These are the principles of the Ahrar Plan."

To read Ahrar's Security Plan in full, click here.

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.

Diablo Valley College professor Amer Araim offers his thoughts on the election at the Contra Costa Times:

The Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament expressed serious concern regarding the decision of the Iraqi Election Commission to exclude 511 candidates and the inability of the Judicial Committee to resolve the crisis.
The crux of the matter is that the prime minister of Iraq and his allies represented by the Shiite political parties are insisting on banning active Sunni Arab and secular candidates on the pretext that they were sympathizing with the Arab Baath Party, which had ruled Iraq before the change of the regime in 2003.
Banning these candidates would be a major blow to the transformation of Iraq into a peaceful and democratic state. The preposterous accusation of linkage to the Arab Baath Party could not stand in any real court of law. Some of these candidates are present members of Parliament and have been deeply involved in the political process in the last five years, including writing the present constitution.
The list included the present defense minister who is supposed to be responsible for ending violence. Furthermore, as stated by these candidates their relations were severed with the Baath Party even before 2003.

We'll close with this from Sherwood Ross' "SEC Repeatedly Turned a Blind Eye to Valid Complaints of Madoff Fraud" (Global Research):

The SEC’s own Inspector General( OIG) has found that between 1992 and 2008 the SEC received six substantive complaints about fraudster Bernie Madoff’s hedge fund operations yet never conducted a thorough and competent examination of them. The SEC conducted two investigations and three examinations based on credible complaints about Madoff’s operations but never verified Madoff’s trading or conducted a Ponzi scheme probe.
One complaint submitted in 2005 was titled, “The World’s Largest Hedge Fund is a Fraud” and, according to Lawrence Velvel, dean of the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover, “detailed approximately 30 red flags indicating that Madoff was operating a Ponzi scheme, a scenario the complaint described as ‘highly likely.’” Velvel is one of Madoff’s defrauded investors and has made an extensive study of the gigantic swindle.
Another complaint charged Madoff had comingled $10 billion owned by his deceased investor client Norman F. Levy with funds controlled by his firm, and that Madoff kept two sets of records, the more interesting of which “is on his computer which is always on his person.” This apparent insider information also was ultimately disregarded.
“In investigating this complaint,” Velvel says, “the Enforcement staff simply asked Madoff’s counsel about it, and accepted the response that Madoff had never managed money for this investor. This turned out to be false.” When news of Madoff’s Ponzi scheme broke, it became evident that Levy was one of Madoff’s largest individual investors.
Yet another complaint in May, 2003, this one from a respected Hedge Fund Manager, questioned whether Madoff was actually trading options in the volume he claimed and noted that Madoff’s strategy and purported returns were not duplicable by anyone else. The complaint further stated Madoff’s strategy had no correlation to the overall equity markets in over 10 years and that in aggregate his actions were “indicia of a Ponzi scheme.”

The e-mail address for this site is

The slaughtering of Iraqi Christians continues

AFP reports that Adnan al-Dahan has become the fifth Iraqi-Christian killed this week (at least one other has been wounded) and that the shopkeeper's corpse was found today in Mosul. AFP notes the other four victims: 20-year-old Wissam George (Wednesday), 21-year-old Zia Toma (killed Tuesday, Rasin Shmael was also wounded), 40-year-old Fatukhi Munir (Monday) and 43-year-old Rayan Salem Elias (Sunday). And they remind, "In late 2008, a systematic campaign of killings and targeted violence killed 40 Christians and saw more than 12,000 flee Mosul." Spero News reports the mood in Mosul is "fear and shock" and quotes an unnamed Chaldean priset stating, "It is an ethnic cleansing that goes on day after day, in silence and indifference. We are in deep distress as the authorities and the police do nothing to stop this massacre." Vatican Radio spoke with Mosul's Syrian Archbishop Basile Georges Casmoussa about a meeting with Iraqi officials yesterday.

Archbishop Basile Georges Casmoussa: We bishops are from Mosul city went to visit civilian governor and we spoke with him and with the chief of police about the Christian situation in Mosul especially. And we present our message about the [responsibility] of the local government and the central goverment to take care of the security of citizens and officially of Christians.

Meanwhile Zenit News reports that Archibishop Emil Shimoun Nona "is asking for prayers as more and more of his faithful leave Mosul because of a violent intimidation campaign that has brought" multiple deaths. Joan Lewis (Joan's Rome, EWTN) reported from Mosul yesterday on Archbishop Amil Nona:

At 42 he is the yougest archbishop in the Catholic Church and he succeeds the martyred Archbishop Paulos Rahho who was killed in 2008. The youthful archibishop's election by the synod of the Chaldean Church was confirmed by Pope Benedict last November 13. He took possession of his see just a little over a month ago on January 8.
[. . .]
I am once again writing this blog at a late hour and the lights have gone out twice -- though only briefly – since I started this column. Electricity is rationed in Iraq for anywhere from two to 12 hours a day. If you don’t have a generator you have to learn how to ration those hours. The seminary does have a generator, for which I have been thankful countless times every day! Given these conditions I wll briefly describe our meeting today and tell most of the story with some delightful photos.
I firmly believe that Archbishop Nona’s greatest gift to his people is his youth, He is young in age but also in visions and dreams. He is a realist and knows the security issues in Mosul, knows that hundreds of his families have emigrated to safer havens such as Kurdistan but he wants to give them hope and bring them back or, at least, keep families here.

She is part of EWTN and we'll again note their press release in full:

Irondale, AL (February 17, 2010) -- (EWTN) At the invitation of the bishops of Iraq, EWTN Rome Bureau Chief Joan Lewis has begun reporting live from this war-torn country on the plight of Christians in Iraq and the Middle East.
You can hear Lewis' reports exclusively on the EWTN Radio Network until Feb. 28, and read about her findings on her blog, "Joan's Rome," at
Live radio reports begin at 6:05 a.m. ET, Monday through Friday, on "The Son Rise Morning Show" with Brian Patrick, which airs from 6 a.m. ET to 8 a.m. ET, Monday through Friday. She can also be heard live at 9:15 a.m. ET, Wednesdays, on "Catholic Connection" with Teresa Tomeo.
In addition, Lewis will break in at various times on "Open Line," which airs live from 3 p.m. ET to 5 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday, and encores from 10 p.m. until midnight.
To find an EWTN Radio affiliate in your area, click To find out how to get EWTN on satellite radio, click here
EWTN Global Catholic Network, in its 28th year, is available in over 150 million television households in more than 140 countries and territories. With its direct broadcast satellite television and radio services, AM & FM radio networks, worldwide short-wave radio station, Internet website and publishing arm, EWTN, is the largest religious media network in the world.
Contact: EWTN Global Catholic Network AL, 35210 US
Michelle Johnson - Director of Communications, 205-795-5769
Keywords: EWTN, Iraq, Middle East, Joan Lewis
Category: Catholic Organizations

In other news of violence today, Reuters notes a Tikrit bombing claimed 2 lives. DPA reports a Mosul bombing claimed the lives of 3 police officers and left an additional two injured.

The following community sites updated since yesterday morning:

Michelle A. Vu (Christian Post Reporter) reports that a new body of diverse churches has come together in Iraq:

The Council of Christian Church Leaders of Iraq includes all patriarchs, archbishops, bishops and heads of churches in the country from the 14 Christian communities registered in Iraq since 1982. These Christian communities include the Catholic, Eastern and Oriental Orthodox as well as Protestant traditions.
The new council says its aim is "to unite the opinion, position and decision of the Churches in Iraq on issues" related to churches and state with the hope of "upholding and strengthening the Christian presence, promoting cooperation and joint action without interfering in private matters of the churches or their related entities."

This is a press release on the new church organization in Iraq:

World Council of Churches - News release

Contact: +41.22.791.6153 +41.79.507.6363
For immediate release: 19 February 2010


"With great hope and deep satisfaction" the World Council of Churches
(WCC) has welcomed the news that a Council of Christian Church
Leaders of Iraq has been established.

"In our view, it is a development that augurs as much for the future of the
churches in Iraq as it does for Iraq as a nation," the WCC general
secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit wrote in an 18 February congratulatory
message to the members of the new body.

The council includes all patriarchs, archbishops, bishops and heads of
churches in Iraq from the 14 Christian communities registered in Iraq
since 1982, belonging to the Catholic, Eastern and Oriental Orthodox as
well as Protestant traditions.

The aim of the new council, according to its bylaws, is "to unite the
opinion, position and decision of the churches in Iraq" on issues related
to the churches and the state.

The council intends to do so "upholding and strengthening the Christian
presence, promoting cooperation and joint action without interfering in
private matters of the churches or their related entities".

In a press release announcing the creation of the new council, the founders
highlighted the importance of Christian education and of dialogue with the
Muslim community in order to "promote the acceptance of the other".

"Iraqi Christians have never viewed themselves as simply a minority
community who stand for their own interests. They have always shown their
deep rootedness in the history and civilization of Iraq," Tveit wrote in
his message to the founders of the council.

The WCC general secretary congratulated them "for formulating a vision that
is unequivocally committed to the advancement of all Iraqi citizens. From
this standpoint, the council’s plan to engage in promoting ecumenical
initiatives and dialogue and partnership with Muslims is an essential

The WCC letter also expresses the solidarity of churches all over the world
with the Iraqi Christians: "We commit ourselves as a fellowship of
churches from around the world to accompany you in the arduous
tasks that face the Iraqi churches in the rebuilding of your nation."

The formation of the council of church leaders comes at a time when
sectarian violence, including many deadly attacks on Christian citizens
and churches, continues to be a major problem in Iraq and is forcing many
members of religious minorities to flee their homes.

The representatives of the 14 churches that founded the council at a 9
February meeting in Baghdad unanimously elected Archbishop Dr Avak
Asadourian of the Armenian Orthodox Church in Iraq as general secretary.
Archbishop Basilius Guirgis al-Qass Moussa of the Syrian Catholic Church
was elected deputy general secretary.

At a February 2009 meeting in Lebanon co-organized by the WCC, Iraqi church
leaders had "pledged to work together on establishing an ecumenical forum
for all Iraqi church leaders that allows them to speak with a common voice
to religious and political authorities inside and outside of Iraq."

Full text of the letter by the WCC general secretary:
Press release by the Council of Christian Church-Leaders of Iraq:
WCC press release on the 2009 meeting:
The World Council of Churches promotes Christian unity in faith, witness and service for a just and peaceful world. An ecumenical fellowship of churches founded in 1948, today the WCC brings together 349 Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and other churches representing more than 560 million Christians in over 110 countries, and works cooperatively with the Roman Catholic Church. The WCC general secretary is Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, from the [Lutheran] Church of Norway. Headquarters: Geneva, Switzerland.

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thomas friedman is a great man

oh boy it never ends

Friday, February 19, 2010

Iraq snapshot

Friday, February 19, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, the election madness continues, no one is who they seem including Ahmed who's reportedly lined up a post-election deal, Gordon Brown tests the waters, and more.
Today on the second hour of NPR's The Diane Rehm Show, Diane's guests were Karen DeYoung (Washington Post), James Kitfield (National Journal) and Moises Naim (Foreign Policy) and the topic of Iraq's upcoming elections (scheduled for March 7th)  was addressed.
Diane Rehm: Alright and one of our listeners in Intervale, New Hampshire has a question about Iraq. She wants to know what is the current state of play regarding the upcoming March elections in Iraq? Were the 500 suspected Ba'athists candidates re-instated? Will they be permitted to run?  Karen?

Karen DeYoung: Well this started out -- the Iraqi elections are two Sundays from now. They are on the seventh of March, these are national elections, the first ones since Prime Minister al-Maliki was elected in 2005 [Parliamentary elections held December 2005], after a lot of horse trading among Iraqis [Nouri became Prime Minister in April 2006 after the US rejected the Parliament's choice of Ibrahim al-Jaafari]. I think for the United States this is a question of [coughs], excuse me, whether this democratic experiment is actually going to hold there, if they're going to progress to a sustainable democracy.  The -- part of the new constitution which we helped put in place, which we put in place in Iraq, calls for de-Ba'athitication which is removing anyone who had anything to do with the party of Saddam Hussein. The people who control the de-Ba'athification process are considered to be very close to Iran which would like a strong Shia government in Iraq. And so they put out a list, to the surprise of everyone, that had more than 500 people on it who they charged had some kind of ties with the Ba'ath Party and were therefore ineligible to run for elections. These were all people who had been promoted by their parties. Most of them -- the majority Shia but because Sunnis are in the minority there, the number of Sunnis there was seen as a concern. It was seen as an effort to push the Sunnis out of contention. There were -- there was a lot of manuevring. The list has been whittled down to about 120 people. The Americans at least think that the crisis has passed. No one -- none of the major parties, including the Sunni parties, have said they will boycott the elections which was one of the big concerns. But I think everyone is sort of on tender hooks waiting to see if this is actually going to work.
Diane Rehm: James?
James Kitfield: One of the interesting little sidebars to this story is the person which is running the [Justice & Accountability] commission which is totally opaque -- no one understands what criteria is used to how close you are to the Ba'ath Party and what remaining ties you may have to the Ba'ath Party -- is Ahmed Chalabi.  You know, we've been through this story before with this guy. He was put in charge of de-Ba'athification by the Bush administration and Paul Bremer. He did the same thing, trying to clear the field of Sunnis so he could -- his political rivals.  It's not very helpful.
[. . .]
Diane Rehm: Let's go to Chris in Lincolon, Nebraska.  Good morning to you.
Chris: Good morning to you, Diane, I'm a huge fan. I want to say your show makes me a more informed citizen and I can't think you enough.
Diane Rehm: I'm so glad, thank you.
Chris: My question is about James Kitfield's comment about Ahmed Chalabi still being involved in the Iraqi political system.  I was just curious as to how much power this man still has considering his shady reputation?
Diane Rehm: It is a very good question, James Kitfield.
James Kitfield: Yeah, and if you -- if your viewer can get to the bottom of it, I'd love to hear about it. Because it's astounding to me. Clearly the Americans have been -- have been frustrated by this guy forever. He's got -- uh -- we had General [Ray] Odierno was in town this week, the chief US commander saying that he has close ties to Iran.  They've tracked him going to Iran and meeting with senior officials. So clearly this is not a guy uh who has our interest in mind.  But you have to believe he has some sway with Prime Minister [Nouri] al-Maliki otherwise he wouldn't be in this key position.
Karen DeYoung: You know Chris Hill who is the US Ambassador to Iraq has been here this week and made a lot of public statements and he was asked this several times. What is the -- what's the constituency that Ahmed Chalabi has? And he's described it as a sort of way at looking at how the United States needs to be a lot more humble about what it knows about the inner workings of the country. I mean, Ahmed Chalabi, was not only a favorite of the Bush administration and certainly of-of the US Defense Department, he was -- he was thought of as someone they wanted to put in as prime minister.  And he ran the exile organizations here. He was sent there specifically. He was put in charge of this system in '03 and '04, when-when Paul Bremer was there. And so he clearly had a different agenda. And he's been acting on that agenda. And I think that, uh, the question I have had is is as the Iraqis in this electoral process denounce the United States for interfering -- and this is all part of its politics -- you don't hear much denunciation of Iran.
Meanwhile some Iraqi voters don't hear a great deal from the candidates supposedly wanting their votes. Alsumaria TV reports that Sadr City residents are complaining that their candidates have not shown to campaign nor have they bothered to "address people's complaints" regarding sewage and garbage issues. Turning to the KRG,  Delovan Barwari (Kurdish Herald) reports:

In the last elections, nearly all of the Kurdish political parties, along with a number of Chaldo-Assyrian and Turkmen parties, entered the elections under a banner called the Democratic Patriotic Alliance of Kurdistan (DPAK). DPAK secured 53 of the 275 parliamentary seats, became a key player in Iraqi politics, and allowed Kurds to expand their political influence in Baghdad. As a result of DPAK's strong showing in the national parliamentary elections, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) Secretary General Jalal Talabani, became the first Kurd in Iraq's history to become president of the country.                            
However, the political atmosphere in Iraqi Kurdistan has changed quite significantly since then. A new opposition group, known simply as "Change" (or "Gorran" in Kurdish), has emerged in Iraqi Kurdistan as a strong political force. This new group is led by Jalal Talabani's former deputy, Newshirwan Mustafa. The Change List received enough votes to turn heads, winning the majority of votes in the Sulaymaniyah province and receiving nearly 25% of total votes in the Kurdistan region. Many analysts expect the Change List to have a strong showing in the upcoming Iraqi national elections and, as Kirkuk will also be voting, some believe that the Change List will receive an even greater share of Kurdish votes this time around.                   
The new political reality in Kurdistan may weaken the Kurdish position in Baghdad as the fundamental source of Kurdish power has been previously fueled by the united stance of the various Kurdish political groups. Today, there are three major Kurdish political lists entering the Iraqi elections independently. The largest of the three remains the bloc led by the President of Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Massoud Barzani, and the current Iraqi President Jalal Talabani (from the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the PUK, respectively), which will be joined once again by a number of smaller Kurdish political parties. The newly-emerged Change List will be the second largest political bloc that is comprised of a number of important players who formerly identified themselves with the PUK. Another noticeable political power is an alliance between the two Islamic parties in Kurdistan, the Islamic Group and the Islamic Union.

Gorran is fueled by US funds and US interests. And it's turnout wasn't remarkable in the provincial elections -- and that's before you consider how many US dollars were poured into funding the 'grassroots' party. AFP reported yesterday that Goran was claiming that Jala Talabani's forces had shot three of their workers -- this was PUK accused, not related to Talabani being the president of Iraq.
On this week's War News Radio from Swarthmore College (began airing today), Abdulla Mizead reported on one candidate running for Parliament.
Abdulla Mizead: Iraq remains among the world's most corrupt nations.  In last year's edition of Transparency International Corruption Perception Index, Iraq was the fifth most corrupt countries. No one knows more about this problem than Moussa Faraj. He was head of Iraq's Public Integrity Commission until mid-2008, urging Iraqis to get in the business of fighting corruption.
Moussa Faraj: I was the first Iraqi to call for fighting corruption. I joined the anti-corruption committee at the governing council where we drafted the two laws that formed the Public Integrity Commission and the Ministry Inspector Generals. And, in 2004, I was Inspector General for the Ministry of Public Works.
Abdulla Mizead: Though he was considered the country's best Inspector General, several ministers were displeased with is decency. He got moved from one ministry to the other. He says it was hard to stay in one position for more than two months. But when he finally made it to the top of the Integrity Commission, he was overwhelemd by the size of financial and administrative corruption.
Moussa Faraj: When I was the head of the Public Integrity Commission, I said corruption in Iraq was different from any other corruption anywhere else in the world. Why? Because corruption elsewhere is limited to bribery and money laundering and it doesn't exceed millions of dollars a year.
Abdulla Mizead: But in Iraq, he says it's much more complicated.
Moussa Faraj: I warned of the legitimate corruption in Iraq. It's the most dangerous corruption in the world.  Government officials and law makers make laws that steal public money. They protect themselves with the law because they know they can't be tried. Courts only go after illegitimate acts.
Abdulla Mizead: He says the political situation after 2003 was mainly to blame for the increase in levels of corruption.
Moussa Faraj: Why is there corruption?  First, the failures in government performence. Appointing ministers and high officials in the state who lack academic qualifications or have fraudulent certificates, lack expertise and are loyal to their parties rather than the people. Parliament members are loyal to their parties. They take the Constitutional oath to serve the interest of the Iraqi people but instead they serve the head of their bloc in Parliament.
Things are never simple in Iraq. For background on Faraj, September 7,  2007, David Corn (The Nation) reported on the attacks on Radhi al-Radhi which led him to be replaced on Iraq's Commission on Public Integrity:
Regardless of the legality of Rahdi's ouster, Moussa Faraj, who has been named for Radhi's replacement, is an odd pick for the job. He was once a deputy at the CPI -- having been installed at the commission by the ruling Shia Alliance Party.  Accodring to the secret U.S. embassy report on corruption, Faraj regularly posecuted and delayed cases on "sectarian bases." Worse, the report notes that Faraj, a political ally of Sabah al-Saidi (the Parliament leader who has assailed Radhi), once "allowed a Shia Alliance member [charged in a multi-million-dollar corruption case] to escape custody." And after Faraj was dismissed from the CPI, the report says, he stole "literally a car load of case files." An arrest warrant was issued for hi.
Several weeks ago, accordign to Radhi and his investigators, Faraj was arrested, placed in prison, and subsequently released on bail. "How can he be in jail and then be head of the integrity commission?" Radhi asks. Putting the CPI in Faraj's hands, Radhi says, will allow Maliki's office and Saidi to control its actions and prevent the commission from conducting investigations that inconvenience them and their political confederates. It will mean, he claims, the end of any meaninful anticorruption effort in Iraq.
In testimony to the Senate Democratic Policy Committee May 13, 2008, James F. Mattil stated, "After Judge Radhi resigned, the Prime Minister appointed a new acting CPI commissioner, Moussa Faraj, who three weeks earlier had been arrested and jailed on corruption charges. Faraj was out on bail and had yet to appear in court when he was appointed commission of Iraq's lead anti-corruption agency." [PDF format warning, click here for his remarks.]  Meanwhile, Layla Anwar (An Arab Woman Blues) surveys the scene and doesn't see anything to inspire:
Who are these people and where are they leading us ? Every sane Iraqi must ask himself/herself this question. Where the f**k are you ? Have you disappeared in the ether, in communion with the dead or are you patiently waiting for your turn to finally join them -- your easy way out, since the only thing they promised you -- your liberators and your idols, is death...                    
They guaranteed you death, and now you just wait for it, like a terminally ill patient in a doctor's waiting room. He knows he's on his final way out, but he still pays his weekly visit...                  
How did my world shrink to turbans and charlatans and quacks, to a vicious authoritarianism that has suck up every God notion from my vocabulary..did my soul die in this tunnel ?..the idea itself is more murderous than a physical death...                    
We are the soul zombies of the new world order...the soul zombies of the new Middle East...
Perhaps the only meaningful statement in the testimony of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair in front of a committee investigating the war on Iraq, is the one that disclosed that the US wanted in 2003 the elimination of Saddam Hussein's family-Baathist regime. All Blair did, to summarize his testimony before the committee, is become 'convinced' of the viewpoint of the Americans and practically comply with their desires that see the justifications for war as not important as long as the aim is set in advance. 
There was indeed a justification to get rid of a regime that plunged Iraq into three devasting wars. The first with Iran, the second with the international community after committing the crime of invading Kuwait and the third with the United States and its allies, who in 2003 found the right opportunity to finish off an important Arab state and turn it into a state with a lost identity. Saddam's regime did not cause the third war, but did everything to facilitate it; starting by ignoring the regional and international realities to the extreme and its lack of knowledge of the importance of the balance of power in relations between states. All of the justifications put forward by Blair to justify war that are meaningful and are not based on facts or legitmacy. This is why Clare Short, who was a cabinet minister in his government at the time, was pushed to describe him as 'a liar' in her statement a few days abuot the circumstances of Britain's decision to participate in the war on Iraq.  
[. . .]                     
In 2010, targeting political parties was done in the same manner of Ba'ath. The Ba'ath's Revolutionary Commanding Council in March 1980 passed a law on the "prohibition" of Dawa party of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Perhaps the difference is that the there are no mass executions these days, especially since the US military is still present in its bases inside Iraq. The case becomes to retaliate against a vulnerable person here or there, who has no clan protected like Mr. Tariq Aziz, whose only fault was to be a Christian and he responded early to Iran, which tried to assassinate him in 1980 before the start of the war between the two countries as a symbol of a particular regime that allows him to be a Christian and a minister. That the treatment of Tariq Aziz in prison, especially after suffering a stroke and was taken to a US hospital, does not bode well. It indicates a malicious manner in dealing with a man who did not have any power at decision-making levels, as a desire for revenge Saddam's way, no more.
Tony Blair and Clare Short gave their testimony to the Iraq Inquiry in public hearings. The Inquiry, chaired by John Chilcot, is currently in recess but Gordon Brown, the current Prime Minister of England, will appear before the Iraq Inquiry shortly (the date has not been publicly released yet). Eddie Barners (The Scotsman) reports:

Speaking to Tribune magazine, the Prime Minister declared that the real issue had not been the danger of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, but the dictator's failure to comply with UN resolutions that demanded he provide full disclosure to weapons inspectors.               
This, said Brown, was the reason Britain and America were right to send in the troops.                 
Mr Brown's words represent a marked change from the government's main rationale for military action in 2003, when it asked MPs to support invasion. The motion, voted on by MPs, declared first and foremost that the UK should send in troops "to ensure the disarmament of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction".

The comments ring more than a little hollow since Tony Blair sold the illegal war to England with the claims of WMD (specifically, that Iraq could strike the UK with WMD within 45 minutes). Brown may realize how hollow it sounds and may be attempting to publicly craft his testimony -- to test it out before appearing. He's enough trouble in terms of holding onto power and he really can't afford public ridicule but that's all his current idiotic statements invite. It may not be too late for him to save Labour's election chances by announcing his resignation as Prime Minister.  In England, there are many experts on the Inquiry who have followed it and written of it at length.  Near the top of anyone's list should be Chris Ames who has covered it for the Guardian (the Inquiry itself -- he's covered the issues for The New Statesman, the Guardian and many others) and who runs Iraq Inquiry Digest.  In a post today, he notes:
In the light of Gordon Brown indicating (as in this piece yesterday) that he intends to tell the Inquiry that it was "Saddam Hussein's failure to comply with international demands on disclosure that persuaded him that action was necessary", I think it will be necessary to analyse this position on the basis of clear evidence.
[. . .]
This, admittedly, is a brief and simplistic pen-portrait of the situation. I have to admit that these issues are by no means my strong point. So, as I say, this is an open invitation to readers and contributors to provide information as to the extent to which Iraq complied or failed to comply with UNSCR 1441. I would particularly welcome contributions from readers and contributors who believe that there was significant non-compliance and can point to it. My intention would be to make the issue the subject of a new question page.
Again, Chris Ames would be at the top of any list of experts on this topic.  Others wouldn't be and for those who have e-mailed since mid-week, yes, Ava and I will be covering that dabbler at Third.
Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .
 Reuters reports a Kirkuk roadside bombing injured one person and, dropping back to last night.
 Reuters reports 1 police officer shot dead in Tal Afar and, dropping back to last night, 1 man shot dead in Mosul.
The violence continues because the Iraq War continues -- albiet under 'new management' (Barack Obama) and apparently with a new name. Last night Jake Tapper (ABC News) broke the story that the Iraq War will drop Operation Iraqi Freedom and go by the name Operation New Dawn. US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates wrote a memo to CENTCOM's Gen David Petraeus and copied it to Adm Mike Mullen, the Chair of the Joint-Chiefs. [PDF format warning] ABC has posted the memo:


SUBJECT: Request to Change the Name of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM to Operation NEW DAWN         

The requested operation name change is approved to take effect 1 September 2010, coinciding with the change of mission for U.S. forces in Iraq. Aligning the name change with the change of mission sends a strong signal that Operation IRAQI FREEDOM has ended and our forces are operating under a new mission. It also presents opportunities to synchronize strategic communication initiatives, reinforce our commitment to honor the Security Agreement, and recognize our evolving relationship with the Government of Iraq.             

Jake Tapper notes objection to the name change (or the attempt to pretend something's changed) by Brian Wise speaking on behalf of Military Families United. He also notes that "Operation New Dawn" was used for the fall 2004 assault on Falluja. Greg Jaffe (Washington Post) adds, "Since U.S. forces charged across the Kuwaiti border toward Baghdad in 2003, the war has been known as Operation Iraqi Freedom. The new name is scheduled to take effect in September, when U.S. troop levels are supposed to drop to about 50,000." But that wasn't always it's name, now was it? It was Operation Iraqi Liberation at first. Then it became a joke on the White House because the acronym for Operation Iraqi Liberation is "OIL."

That name was used. For those who doubt it, here's the opening statement of the White House press briefing on March 23, 2003 by Ari Fleischer.            

MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. Let me give you a report on the President's day. The President this morning has spoken with three foreign leaders. He began with Prime Minister Blair, where the two discussed the ongoing aspects of Operation Iraqi liberation. The President also spoke with President Putin to discuss the situation involving Iraq. They discussed cooperation on humanitarian issues. They both reiterated their strong support for the U.S.-Russia partnership, and agreed to continue, despite the differences that the two have over Iraq. And the two also discussed the United States' concerns, which President Bush discussed, involving prohibited hardware that has been transferred from Russian companies to Iraq. Following the call, the President also spoke with Prime Minister Aznar of Spain.

All the name change is another wave of Operation Happy Talk. Since the illegal war began, the ones running it have tried to trick you -- usually with the help of a very compliant press.
There is no peace in Iraq but at a time when US reporters seem unable or unwilling to write about the upcoming elections (we'll come back to that), they could be exploring other topics.  For example, David Macary (CounterPunch) explores unionizing in Iraq:
Approximately 70-percent of the Iraqi economy is state-owned.  And because it wasn't until recently that it even became legal to unionize public sector workers, the overwhelming majority of the workforce still remains non-union (as it is in the U.S.).  It will be an uphill battle tapping into that sector.  Still, even with those obstacles facing them, Iraq's unions are on the ascendancy.      
The original IFTU, formed in May of 2003, was and remains affiliated with the Iraqi Communist Party (founded in 1934), and under its new name the GFIW is the only "officially recognized" labor group in the country.  The other two organizations are the Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq (FWCUI) and the Federation of Oil Unions in Iraq (FOUI)--more or less competitors of the GFIW.  All three federations have ties with the Iraqi Communist Party.               
The tendency to view Iraq (or any Moslem country, for that matter) as a religious-cultural monolith is set on its head by the presence of an active communist party.  Yet, given communism's ideological underpinnings (i.e., atheistic dialectical materialism), the notion of doctrinaire Iraqi Marxists capering in the desert with twitchy Islamic fundamentalists is stubbornly counterintuitive.
But counterintuitive or not, it's true.  Secular Iraq has had a significant communist influence since the 1940s, manifested by peasant uprisings, organizing drives, and the progressive leadership of the ultra-nationalist but "benign autocrat," Abdul Karim Qasim, who, in 1958, abolished the monarchy and became Iraq's first prime minister.  One of Qasim's first acts was repealing the official ban on the communist party.  Had Qasim not been overthrown by the Baathists, there's no telling how strong labor could have become. 
And we're back to elections.  I don't think it was in the snapshot yesterday but I'm dictating this quickly and three e-mails swear it was.  (I believe I wrote it in an entry I typed, not yesterday's snapshot.)  I had written something to the effect of the US had walked away from the elections.  That seems a puzzler to some.  Elections will be held in two weeks and where is the US Ambassador to Iraq?  Helping in any way in Iraq?  No. He's in the US.  That doesn't strike you as strange?  Really?  Joe Biden flew in and did what he could and the push back against it was too extreme and there's the fact that Hill's not qualified for his job.  So the US is walking away from the elections and saying things like, 'It's fine now.'  No, it's not fine.  And that will probably become very clear in the battle that follows the election and if French 'gossip'/intelligence is correct, that's when Nouri learns that buddy and pal Ahmed Chalabi cut a deal to become the next Prime Minister -- a deal that Nouri's 'friends' in Tehran not only support but helped orchestrate.   If French 'gossip'/intelligence is correct.

Back to England, Danny Fitzimons is an Iraq War veteran and suffers from PTSD. In August 2009, he went back to Iraq as an employee of AmrourGroup Inc and is charged in the August 9th shooting deaths of Darren Hoare (Australian contractor), and Paul McGuigan (British contractor) and in the wounding of Iraqi Arkhan Madhi. BBC News reports that his father and step-mother continue to work on getting Danny's trial move to the United Kingdom and quotes Liz Fitsimons stating, "Imagine if it was your son or brother who was facing a death penalty. We are setting our hopes on Danny getting a fair trial, a sentence and he is brought back here." AP reports he was in an Iraqi court yesterday and informed that he needed to appear again April 7th. (To be clear, Danny is being held in an Iraqi prison. He's not wandering through the Green Zone.) Yesterday, Amnesty International issued the following:

Responding to news that Danny Fitzsimons' trial on murder charges in Iraq has been delayed until April, Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:
"We've always said that it's right that private military and security contractors are held fully responsible for any alleged wrongdoing when they're working in places like Iraq, but we're seriously concerned about this case.
"Iraq has a dreadful record of unfair capital trials and there is a real danger of Danny Fitzsimons being sentenced to death after a shoddy judicial process.
"At the very least we want to see the Iraqi authorities ruling out capital punishment in his case."
Iraq is one of the biggest users of the death penalty in the world and Amnesty recently revealed that Iraq is preparing to execute approximately 900 prisoners, including 17 women.
The 900-plus prisoners have exhausted all their appeals and their death sentences are said to have been ratified by the Presidential Council, meaning that they could be executed at any time. The condemned prisoners have been convicted of offences such as murder and kidnapping, but many are thought to have been sentenced after unfair trials.

There is a petition on Facebook calling for Danny to be tried in the United Kingdom and not in England. Reprieve is raising funds for Danny's defense.
TV notes. NOW on PBS begins airing Friday on most PBS stations (check local listings):

From the raucous tea party rallies to the painful sacrifices families
are making behind closed doors, voter angst and anger are sweeping the
country like a storm. Directly in its path: the 2010 midterm elections.
On February 19 at 8:30 pm (check local listings), NOW examines the
strong impact this groundswell has already had on electoral politics,
and what we can expect in November. Our investigation uncovers what
motivates people who've come together under the tea party banner, and how a larger dissatisfaction among voters spells trouble for incumbents
in both parties, some of whom have decided to avert the storm by leaving Congress altogether.

Staying with TV notes, Washington Week begins airing on many PBS stations tonight (and throughout the weekend, check local listings) and joining Gwen around the table this week are Gloria Borger (CNN), Jackie Calmes (New York Times), Eamon Javers (Politico) and Alexis Simendinger (National Journal). Two things on Washington Week, first a PBS friend asked me to note that the website has been redesigned again and that they will be featuring many moments of past moments where the show weighed in on historic moments. (Ronald Reagan being sworn in -- the roundtable on that -- is currently offered.) So be sure to check out the website and it's new look and design (and remember the new show won't be posted online until Monday afternoon -- however, if you podcast, you will be able to download it no later than Saturday). Second, look at the line up. It would be great to say that they've had three female guests and one male guest many times before. They haven't. They have, however, had three male to one female. I've repeatedly stated that the chat & chew shows book like 'hot' radio programmed well into the 80s -- limiting women. (As late as 1985, Whitney Houston and other women suffered because many radio stations refused to play two women in a row. They'd play whole blocks of songs with male vocals but they just knew, JUST KNEW, two women in a row would run off listeners. Turns out it wasn't the listeners that were running scared, it was the programmers.) Meanwhile Bonnie Erbe will sit down with Bernadine Healy, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Nicole Kurakowa and Irene Natividad to discuss the week's events on PBS' To The Contrary. Check local listings, on many stations, it begins airing tonight. And turning to broadcast TV, Sunday CBS' 60 Minutes:

Blackwater 61
"Blackwater 61" is the call sign of a plane flown by the embattled government contractor Blackwater that crashed into a mountain in Afghanistan killing all onboard. The widow of one of the soldiers killed - a pilot herself - says the firm was negligent in the way it operated the flight. Steve Kroft reports.

The Bloom Box
Large corporations in California have been secretly testing a new device that can generate power on the spot, without being connected to the electric grid. They're saying it's efficient, clean, and saves them money. Will we have one in every home someday? Lesley Stahl reports.

Ground Zero
It's been eight years since the attack on the World Trade Center and billions of dollars have been spent, yet none of the promised buildings and memorial has been completed in what its developer calls "a national disgrace." Scott Pelley reports. | Watch Video

60 Minutes, Sunday, Feb. 21, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.
Lastly, and sorry that it's "lastly," Trina's "Operation Bottom Dollar" Wednesday reported on  the FTA news conference Jess gave a heads up to with "Consumer scams (Jess)" on Sunday.