Saturday, March 06, 2010

The elections, the violence, the futility

On the eve of Iraq's national elections, U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill told American diplomats and U.S. troops that the stakes are high for both the U.S. and Iraq in Sunday's vote.
"This election is big. It is simply enormous," Hill said during a visit to this U.S. base near the north-central city of Tikrit. "If this goes well … and if the government formation goes well, this could usher in a whole new beginning for this country and also U.S. relations with Iraq."
USA TODAY accompanied Hill as he visited U.S. Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) stationed in six Iraqi cities on Saturday, just one day ahead of the national election to choose 325 Parliament members.

The above is from Aamer Madhani's "U.S. official: Election of 'enormous' importance to Iraq" (USA Today). It's already Sunday in Iraq (and the current temperature is 57 degrees) and voting is underway in the last day of voting. These are the first Parliamentary elections since December 2005. Martin Chulov (Guardian) states, "Attitudes in Iraq to the poll during a fortnight of campaigning have been mixed. Memories remain vivid of the 2005 election – which heralded three years of violence, largely because of a Sunni boycott that led the already disenfranchised minority to lose further status in post-Saddam Iraq." An Iraqi correspondent for McClatchy writes at Inside Iraq, "Al Qaeda in Iraq announced, Friday, a curfew on March 7 - Elections' Day, in all of Iraq! And that all God fearing people - especially in the Sunni neighbourhoods, will be expected to observe these instructions and stay at home. The way I understand this is that anyone outside their home on Sunday will be considered an infidel – No? And in their (al Qaeda's) instructions' book, you go to heaven if you gun down an infidel – No? Bad news. God preserve us."

Saturday saw more violence in Iraq. Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing left three injured, a second Baghdad roadside bombing which injured three police officers and a Najaf car bombing which claimed 3 lives and left fifty-four people injured. Reuters drops back to friday to note a Kirkuk shooting in which seven people were injured. Kadhim Ajrash (Bloomberg News) reports that the Najaf death toll rose to 7.

Deng Shasha (Xinhua) offers a look at some of the major players in Iraqi politics. Elizabeth Palmer (CBS News -- link has text and video) examines the women running for office:

At a Baghdad Women's Day lunch, Ishtar, Iraq's answer to a girl band, played traditional music.
The guests - housewives, students and professionals - included Maysoun Damlouji, an architect and member of parliament who is running for re-election Sunday.
She's one of 2,000 female candidates who hit the campaign trail for this election, an unprecedented showing in this male-dominated society.

Among the parties vying for votes is the Ahrar Party:

Ayad Jamal Aldin: What you do today really matters

Ayad Jamal Aldin, leader of Ahrar 374, has urged all Iraqis to get out and vote this weekend in order to build a new Iraq.

In a final rallying cry to supporters broadcast across Iraq in advance of Sunday's parliamentary elections, he said: "What you do today at the polling station really matters. Now is the time for the Iraqi people to unite and change Iraq for the better. I encourage every Iraqi, regardless of sect or religion, to vote for a better future and a united and safe Iraq.

"There is violence on our streets and outside our homes. But if we want a better future, we must not be intimidated. We must summon the strength to stand against the outsiders and corrupters who would divide us. This violence exists because this government has lost control. The militias incite this violence because they know that tomorrow we have all the power and they are trying to intimidate us. Remember this: YOU have the power.

"Tomorrow, the Iraqi people have their chance to say no to those that preach death, hatred and division. Instead, we have a unique opportunity to build a united Iraq with security, jobs and fresh, clean running water for all.

"Let us show the world that our land is the land for all people - Muslim, Christian, Kurd and Arab. Imagine the Iraq you want your children to live in - and let us, together, start building that Iraq tomorrow.

"Iraq's future is in your hands - Only a vote for Ahrar 374 is a vote for a genuinely secular, independent future and jobs, electricity and security for our people. And when you vote today, remember how precious your vote is."

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.

On today's Weekend Edition (NPR -- link has audio and text), Quil Lawrence spoke with voters:

Quil Lawrence: The nightmare for the Americans is the Sadr Movement, says a Sadr supporter named Abu Haidar. And he means that as a compliment. He proudly recalls that even Muqtada al-Sadrs father, a revered cleric, was anti-American. Abu Haidar and many people in this poor Shiite slum on the east side of Baghdad say they think the continuing violence in Iraq is engineered by the Americans as a pretext to stay. Another Sadrist, Ali Abu Aqil, chimes in. [. . .] The American spider web covers the entire Arab world, he says, and they're aiming to keep a base in Iraq forever. Its a popular theory among Sadrists. Sadr's candidates are allied with the religious Shiite parties following a bargain they struck in neighboring Iran. If the Shiite list wins, its not clear who their prime minister would be. Some of their members are friendly with the U.S. But their list also includes Ahmed Chalabi, who over the years has fallen out with the CIA, the U.S. State Department, the Pentagon, and the White House. Chalabi is about the only candidate in the elections that U.S. officials have gone out of their way to slam, accusing him of ties to Iran. But among moderate Iraqis at least, the message behind the American silence may be getting across. In the mixed Baghdad neighborhood of Yarmouk, Juad Kadam Hussain(ph) drives a taxi.

Sunday, we didn't note an article by Arab media which referred to things in the SOFA that weren't in the SOFA:

We're ignoring an Arab media report that a number of people have e-mailed. It is incorrect about what the SOFA says. What becomes increasingly obvious is that not only do most not understand the SOFA, most have never bothered to read it. But they hear this or that in the media and think, "Oh, it says that!" I don't have time to do a link. On Thanksgiving Day 2008, we dealt with the SOFA when all the alleged 'peace' types couldn't be bothered. They'll air their "Columbus slaughtered the New World and enslaved the Native Americans" specials but you'll notice they'll take that holiday off. (I believe the Native Americans were enslaved. I'm not questioning that. But I don't grand stand in front of a microphone the day before every Thanksgiving and then take the Thursday and Friday off.) So pull up that week's archives and, when you do, you'll also found the SOFA because we posted it on Thanksgiving Day as well. And to be clear, we're not talking about a misreading of what the SOFA does or does not do, we're talking about a claim that X is covered in the SOFA when X is never mentioned in the SOFA.

For those too busy to read the SOFA, Karen DeYoung (Washington Post) puts you wise:

The pullout agreements -- including a July 2009 deadline for turning urban security over to the Iraqi military and the departure of all U.S. military forces by December 2011 -- were signed two months before Obama's inauguration. In one of his first major foreign policy decisions, Obama inserted an interim withdrawal date, pledging to remove all designated U.S. "combat" forces by August this year, with 50,000 troops remaining to carry out training, diplomatic security and select counterinsurgency missions with Iraqi counterparts for 16 months.

The dropping down to any number in August is not, NOT, in the SOFA.

Meanwhile WISN (link contains text and video) notes, "Hundreds more Wisconsin National Guard troops are getting ready to head to Iraq. Ceremonies were held across the state Saturday, including one in Medford." We'll close with this from Nadia Hijab's "HIJAB: A Tale of Two Richards" (Global Agency):

They hail from opposite parts of the globe, but they have much in common: Jewish; experts on and passionate defenders of international law; and pummeling bags for Israel and the Palestinian Authority. And the future of the law of war lies at the heart of the campaigns against them. Read More…

The e-mail address for this site is

Gordon Brown washed away like the trash he is

The message was clear. This was a man who did not drive the decision to invade Iraq but would not shirk his responsibility for it. This was a leader who would always back the armed forces, telling the troops in Helmand that the government would do "everything we can to support you with the equipment necessary and the resources you need".
The effect was rather different. The prime minister no doubt believes his performance at the Chilcot inquiry tiptoed neatly between loyalty to Tony Blair and making sure everybody knew who was responsible for invading Iraq. The question remains as to why such a powerful figure was apparently so marginal. Either Mr Brown understated his role or he deliberately absented himself, Macavity-like, knowing this was one to keep clear of.

The above is from the Times of London's "Gordon Brown fails to convince in the war of words" about Gordo's appearance at the Iraq Inquiry yesterday. For those who expected some sort of confession from Gordon Brown or a break with Tony Blair, John Rentoul (Independent of London) reminds his testimony was the same craven behavior Brown's always exhibited:

Whenever required, Brown has delivered full support for the Iraq invasion and 100 per cent loyalty to Blair in his judgements. He did it on the eve of the vote in the House of Commons that authorised military action. He did it a week before polling day in the last election campaign. And he did it last week. Each time, the formal robustness of the words was qualified by the long silences in between, but the idea that he might give voice to the words that everyone reads into those silences remains a figment of anti-war wish-fulfilment. Thus he said on Friday that it was "the right decision and made for the right reasons". That is the thing about collective Cabinet responsibility. Even if you want to have a go at Blair for undermining cabinet government, the principle of collective responsibility still applies: if you didn't resign then, you cannot pick and choose now. Although at one point Brown did try to have it both ways by saying: "We have learnt lessons from the informality of the former procedures."

Brown got very lucky in terms of timing. His testimony is swept aside by the focus on Iraqi elections. Pamela Falk (CBS News) offers a look at the elections and we'll excerpt this on the UN:

The U.N.'s role in the vote is dictated by a Security Council Resolution which requires the world body to advise the Iraqi Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) and to work with Iraq's political leaders to prepare for elections, but the U.N. will not be monitoring the elections.
"Monitoring is done by other parties; since the U.N. provided technical support for the elections, we couldn't credibly monitor them (which would, in effect, amount to monitoring ourselves)," Farhan Haq, a spokesman for the Secretary General tells CBS News.
Some of the biggest controversies took place before campaigning even began, with the selection -- and disqualification -- of candidates. Many were removed from the ballot because of links to Saddam Hussein's Baath Party. In response to criticism, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki planned to bring 20,000 Hussein-era military officers into the Iraqi Armed Forces.
The U.N. Secretary-General's Special Representative for Iraq, Ad Melkert, briefed the Security Council last month on the controversial "de-Baathification" process, saying the U.N. Mission in Iraq has consistently emphasized the due-process requirements and refrained from judging the outcomes.
"What will matter most is the acceptance by the Iraqi people of the election result," Melkert said. The Security Council is playing a role by laying the groundwork to lift sanctions imposed under Saddam's rule.

Since Friday morning, the following community sites have updated: isn't a community site but since it's in the midst of them, we'll go ahead and leave the link in. On links, on the permalinks -- the f-word? Gets you pulled. Now that the permalinks list the title of a site's most recent post, if you're using the f-word in your headline, you're gone. We've dumped one magazine already because of it and tonight we dump a website because of it. Work-safe policy. I don't feel sorry for dumping either of those two. And I think it's rather telling that one of them, the website, wants to whine about how ill mannered people are in a post where the author makes fun of the disabled and uses the f-word repeatedly.

We'll close with this from Tim King's "Facebook or Hatebook? Social Network Used as a Call for Violence in Israel" (Salem-News):

I told you a few days ago about the Palestinian owner of a cafe-restaurant in Haifa, who was at the center of an international debate over a policy of not serving uniformed soldiers or police[1].
In the beginning the Haifa Police specifically said that this cafe had a right to enforce a dress code, noting that the 20-year old Israeli soldier who complained about the established policy, was welcome to return in civilian attire.
Now Israeli's are calling for death against the owner and demolition of the business; it is a shameful event but another clear reminder of the calls for blood that emanate from Israel any time its pride is bruised.
Mobs of right wing militaristic Israeli's are calling for a protest on Monday, and they are using Facebook as a hate platform.

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thomas friedman is a great man

oh boy it never ends

Friday, March 05, 2010

Iraq snapshot

Friday, March 5, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, campaigning for elections continue, birth defects are on the rise,  Gordon Brown appears before the Iraq Inquiry, we are not your sin eaters, and more.
This morning on the second hour of The Diane Rehm Show (NPR), Susan Page (USA Today) guest hosted for Diane and she spoke with the panelists Tom Gjelten (NPR), Susan Glasser (Foreign Policy) and David E. Sanger (New York Times).
Susan Page: Well Iraqis -- most Iraqis who are going to vote, go to the polls on Sunday, the first national election in five years. David Sanger, what seats are up?
David Sanger: Well an amazing number of candidates are up. Uh there are going to be 6127 candidates for 325 seats. So you could see a fair number of people who come in with one, two and even three votes if they, you know, get Moms and spouses to vote for them. You'll also see uh about 50,000 polling places. And I guess they must have all read those books about uh how Lyndon Johnson conducted polls in Texas in the 40s and 50s because not only are they writing this on special paper and numbering the ballots but the ballots then go into clear plastic boxes so that it gets a little bit harder to fiddle with. That said, the ingenuity of Iraqis with fiddling with uh ballots now may be as good as Americans have had at various points in our history.  Uh, I think what you need to think about for this election are two things. First is it could be a long time before we see a serious result. When this happened in 2005, it took about five months to put the government together. Here it may not take as long but it could be a few months.  And the second big question is: Does anything come up out of this that gets in the way of the American withdrawal strategy? And that is all linked to the divisions of Sunni and Shia, the levels of violence and so forth. For President [Barack] Obama who has already said that he's not out to make a Jeffersonian democracy and either Afghanistan or Iraq the big question is can he just stay on schedule.
Susan Page: Well what do you think, Susan, will he be able to stay on schedule with the withdrawal of US troops over the next two years or do you think that's in some peril?
Susan Glasser: Uh, well, you know, if I had a crystal ball for this one, we-we could all go home. But I do think that the election will be an intersting indicator. And what comes after it, as David mentioned, of just how riven is the political space in Iraq right now. There have certainly been some uh disturbing signs in the weeks leading up to the election that this is a highly polarized, highly sectarian environment going into the elections. Uhm, you know, there are signs of levels of divisions between Sunni and Shia that have probably reached their highest level of the last two years in the context of this campaign. So will renewed violence break out? What does it do to the potential unraveling of political space in Iraq? How much is the current prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki -- what is he willing to do to hold onto power over the next few weeks and months?
Susan Page: Tom, is there someone the US hopes emerges as the new leader of Iraq?
Tom Gjelten: No, I-I think what the United States hopes is simply stability. Uh, as David said, I think the, you know the prospect of divisions following this election is so unnerving that the United States would basically settle for any candidate that's able to keep the country more or less, uh, uh, on track and stable. I mean there seem to be -- You know, the good news is that all sectors of the Iraqi political spectrum are-are represented in this election. The bad news is that all sectors of the Iraqi political spectrum are represented in this election including some very violent, anti-American militia members. Moqtada al-Sadr who's responsible for a lot of the attacks even though he's currently living in Iraq, we think. His-his party is well represented. We've got an alleged former death squad leader who's represented. We have Sunni religious groups represented, Sunni secular groups, Shia religious groups, Shia secular groups. So everybody is represented but what that also does is it really is a recipe for what Susan and David are talking about, the kind of, the warring factions in the aftermath.  
Susan Page: But I wonder if, to look on the bright side maybe, a second democratic election in five years, since the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime, does it indicate democracy or an Iraqi form of democracy is really taking root? Or do you think that goes too far, David?
David Sanger:  It represents an Iraqi form of democracy. We've had other moments in Iraqi history, including in the 1950s, when there were similar forms of democracy and they didn't last. I mean, Iraq is a place that, at various moments, has gravitated towards strong-man leaders and that could well happen again.
Echoing that thought are Ernesto Londono and Leila Fadel (Washington Post) who explain, "After the ballots are cast and counted, voters will have provided the first conclusive evidence of what kind of democracy is likely to take root in the heart of the Middle East -- if one does at all." Charles Levinson (Wall St. Journal) reports, "Iraq's leading candidates made final appeals to voters and an influential anti-U.S. cleric unveiled a unqiue election-day strategy, on the final day of campaigning for Sunday's national polls."  Iraqi refugees will vote in the US, Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Egypt, the UAE, Lebanon, Iran, Canada, England, Denmark, Australia, Germany, Austria, Sweden and the Netherlands. And in Iraq,  Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) looks at the approximately 3 million young, first-time voters in Iraq who express frustration and note that their lives have been plagued by violence, unemployment and lack of basic services. The Iraq War started in March 2003 and that's seven years ago. 20-year-old Iraqis were 13 when this illegal war started. Arraf reports, "This should be an exciting threshold to a new future for young people. But a broad range of interviews reveal that for this generation, born into a decade of trade sanctions and raised in war, there is an overriding sense of frustration, fears about security, and the struggle to find their place in a country still emerging from conflict." Among the first time voters is Nada Hatem Farhan and Jane Arraf examines what the elections mean to her and her life: Not much at all. She's like to be an attorney or journalist but instead states she must become a teacher which is about it in terms of 'respectability' for women in her area -- but that's if she's able to go college. There is a push for her to get married to her cousin as soon as she finishes high school.  At Inside Iraq, an Iraqi correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers notes that all the candidates are decrying foreign influence and foreign money in the process but that those who serve in Parliament refused to address the situation before the elections.  The correspondent observes:
The parties that are ruling Iraqi now are the same, two were established in Iran, and that we can find an explanation because Saddam was hunting the opposition down and killing their beloved ones so they had to find a safe place to live and seek change, but what me and my fellow citizens cannot comprehend is why these parties still receiving money and show allegiance to Iran or other countries and then criticize the foreign support.  
And the most important part, these parties didn't mind an invasion and called it a liberation in 2003, later they called it occupation and interference, and they keep forgetting that it is the foreign interference and invasion that brought the democracy to the country, so why Iraqis need to oppose foreign funds, when everything was and still coming from outside.
In other deveopments, Layla Anwar (An Arab Woman Blues) expresses her anger very clearly today over Zeinab Khadum Allwan (we covered her in Wednesday's snapshot) but she's confused George W. Bush with "Western feminists" and we won't play dumb, Layla, just because we respect you.  Rage and scream and do so against "Western feminists" if you want but don't expect us to play dumb with you. 
First off, there's nothing about a burqa in Zeinab's story as told by the BBC -- nor is she 'modestly' dressed.  She's dressed in tennis gear, so why Layla wants to use shame of the human body and how the West has allegedly torn off the 'mystique' of the female form (that would be "the other" for all educated in feminist theory, that which is cloaked, that which is hidden) to try to score points is actually a mystery. 
Let me be really clear before I go further, I've noted this before online. I've posed nude. I have no hang ups about being naked and anytime someone wants to play the shame game re: nudity, it's never going to work with me. So call that A and B.  C, George W. Bush is not and never was the face of feminism.  If the Iraq War was sometimes sold as 'liberation' for Iraqi women, that came from Bush and his supporters in the media.  Western feminists, as a group, opposed the Iraq War.  We won't be your sin eater on this, Layla.  You're angry and you have every right to be. You can lash out at whatever grouping you want including Western feminists. But I'm not of the Chickie-baby-boom-boom 'school' who's confused a push-up bra and a party schedule with feminism nor do I stand still while hit with a two-by-four. 
Feminists in the West have got to learn to fight back and that includes saying, "I understand your anger but your facts are wrong." And, Layla, your facts are wrong.  No feminist in the US or England or Canada has hailed the Iraq War as a success for female liberation nor would they.  What we have repeatedly noted in the West was that Iraq had a more progressive policy regarding women than any other country in the region and that the invasion actually set the rights of women backwards. In fact, Rebecca was just writing about that last night, before you posted your attack on Western feminists today:
it's women's history month and the recent history for iraqi women isn't a good 1. they were better off before the invasion. they had rights. they were not required to hide themselves away. iraq was a secular state.  
why is it that women are always the 1s to suffer in any society?  
it could be us in the united states to lose our rights. it's not as if we have an equal rights amendment in the constitution. even if we did, before the 2003 invasion, iraqis could point to their own constitution and show how women's rights were in it.  
the true story of women's history appears to be that every day we have to struggle and fight and that's largely just to remain in the same spot. forget getting ahead.
You can be angry, you can lash out any group you want to.  But we're not going to play stupid here when you attack feminism and attack it with distortions.  As for "you" have to watch?  I watched. I watched and wrote about it on Wednesday. Two days later you show up?  Welcome to the party, Layla, food's all gone but pour yourself a drink.
Layla's angry, she has every right to be. Her country's been destroyed.  There's no band-aid for it.  And while we'll understand that, I do not play the game where we're Western feminists so we turn the other cheek while some one attacks us with lies. (Ava and I wrote a piece calling out the refusal to fight back in November of last year.)   Had second wave leaders stood up in real time, a lot of lies and distortions wouldn't have taken hold in the last decades. Layla's angry. It's a deep anger and it's completely understandable.  And she can lash out if she wants at whomever she wants. But if that lashing out includes a distortion of feminism or feminists, I'm not going to play.  I'm not your sin eater.  You need to grow up and take accountability for your own actions and that includes knowing who your enemies are.  I already raised my children, I'm not going to baby any grown up at this late date.
Turning to England where the Iraq Inquiry today took testimony from Prime Minister Gordon Brown and former UK Secretary of State (2007-2009) Douglas Alexander (link goes to transcript and video option). Brown became the current Prime Minister in June 2007, prior to that he served in Tony Blair's Cabinet beginning in 1997.  John Chilcot chairs the Inquiry and he kicked things off in today's hearing.
Chair John Chilcot: It has been borne in on this Inquiry from the outset that the coalition's decision to take military action led directly or most often, indirectly to the loss of lives of many people, servicemen and women in our and the Multi-National Forces, the Iraqi security forces, and many civilians, men, women and children, in Iraq. Still more have been affected by those losses and by other consequences of the action. Given all that experience, I should like to ask right at the outset whether you believe the decision to take military action in March 2003 was indeed right.
Gordon Brown: It was the right decision and it was for the right reasons. But I do want, at the outset, to pay my respects to all the soldiers and members of our armed forces who served with great entourage and distinction in Iraq for the loss of life and the sacrifices that they have made, and my thoughts are with their families. Next week, we will dedicate at the national arboretum a memorial to the 179 servicemen and women who died in Iraq and I think the thoughts and prayers of us are with all the families today.
Sentences two and three might have taken some of the sting out of sentence one were it not for the fact that those assembled had already seen Gordon Brown strut into the room, glad handing and beaming as if he was going to a christening,
You walked into the party
Like you were walking onto a yacht
Your had strategically dipped below one eye
Your scarf it was apricot
You had one eye in the mirror
As you watched yourself gavotte
And all the girls dreamed
That they'd be your partner
They'd be your partner and . . .
You're so vain
You probably think this song is about you
You're so vain
I bet you think this song is about you
Don't you, don't you?
-- "You're So Vain" -- words and music by Carly Simon
And that number one song, which Carly's re-recorded as part of her reimaging classic songs from her canon on Never Been Gone, never had a video. But Carly Simon and Iris Records are having a contest:




Los Angeles, California. Thirty seven Decembers ago, pop songstress Carly Simon tore up the record charts with her single "You're So Vain." The song captured the number-one slot on both the Billboard Hot 100 and the Adult Contemporary charts, and to this day remains one of the most popular classic rock songs of all time.  

Perhaps more than any other track in pop music, the song's central mystery captivated the public. Ironically, even with all this speculation,
the song has never had a music video to accompany it.   

To coincide with her critically-acclaimed latest release, NEVER BEEN GONE, fans and filmmakers are invited to submit a music video to accompany the newly recorded version of "You're So Vain."  If you'd like to add elements of the original 1972 version of the song feel free, but your video has to incorporate at least some of the 2010 recording, making the most of the new footage that can be downloaded here.       

Carly will screen and judge all of the entries herself.  The winning video will be featured on AOL Music's and screened at this years' Tribeca Film Festival in April, where the winner will also have the opportunity meet Carly Simon.          

To help fans and filmmakers out, Carly has created a template of optional tools which can be utilized in the creation of the video including recently shot green screen footage, stills, video blogs and more all of which can be found and downloaded HERE.   

You can submit your video from February 8th 2010 through April 15st 2010. 

You don't have to include Gordon Brown in your video; however, if you're Sarah Brown, you certainly should consider doing so. Ann Treneman (Times of London) offers a textual sketch of Gordo in repose:
The Prime Minister yesterday was particularly stunning and I mean that in the same way that Brazilian tree frogs are stunning. He entered the first session with one of his awful smiles and immediately began to explain the Iraq conflict as a "paradigm" in a "post Cold War world", which occasionally came out as "postcode war world". Members of the public began to fall asleep almost immediately and, after the first coffee break, two people never returned, early victims of Browning.  
His strategy was brilliantly simple -- attack early, attack often and never stop talking. He revealed straight away -- and not in response to any question -- that he had never turned down any request for funds from the military for Iraq -- ever. Full stop.
Gordon also quickly became Susan Megur's oil painting "The Two Sides of Ones Self." Gerald Warner (Telegraph of London) explains that in his first ten minutes, Gordon made it sound like he was in the loop but, after that, he pulled a blank whenever asked about key moments, key decisions and key events.  Apparently, when the gang wanted fish & chips, they sent Gordo on a snack run and took care of business before he could get return.
While Gordon testified or testi-lied inside, Stop The War Coalition was present outside.  The Telegraph of London reports the protestors included an activist wearing a Gordon Brown and holding a giant check, stained with blood, indicating 8.5 billion pounds were spent on the Iraq War by England.  The organization's John Rees is quoted stating, "Gordon Brown was the paymaster for this most unpopular of wars and was the second most powerful man in the Government. He has cleverly avoided the political stigma Tony Blair attracted but he bears the same responsibility and should be held to account by this inquiry."
Committee Member Roderic Lyne: So you and other Cabinet ministers, except, of course, for the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister, were not aware that the Attorney General's position had been equivocal only two weeks beforehand in his document of 7 March and had been indeed directly opposed to the position he took in Cabinet up to about 11 February?  You were completely unaware of this and you were unaware also that the Foreign Office's legal advisers, specialists in international law, did not agree with the position that the Attorney General presented to Cabinet?
Gordon Brown: I think there had been some press coverage about the Foreign Office. I may be wrong on that, but I think there may have been some press coverage.
Committee Member Roderic Lyne: The Foreign Secretary referred to some press coverage.
Gordon Brown: Look, the question that came before us was the advice of the Attorney General that this was lawful or not? The Attorney General gave unequivocal advice to the Cabinet. I think he has been along to the committee to explain the basis on which he gave that advice.  I have heard him now give his evidence to the Committee, but he had a straightforward question to answer. It wasn't a simple question, but it was a straightforward question, "Was it lawful or was it not?" and he gave an unequivocal answer. 
Committee Member Roderic Lyne: You don't think the Cabinet needed to know whether this was based on a robust position or a slightly controversial position?
Gordon Brown: I think, in retropsect, people as historians of this matter, will look at it very carefully and look at what happened and what was said between different people at different times and what were the first drafts, the second drafts and the third drafts. But the issue for us was very clear. I mean, we are a Cabinet making a decision. Did the Attorney General, who is our legal officer responsible for giving us legal advice on these matters, have a position on this that was unequivocal, and his position on this was unequivocal. He cited, as I have already done, the United Nations resolutions that led to us believe that Saddam Hussein had failed to comply with international law.  He cited 1441 and the importance of the final opportunity for Saddam Hussein. All these things were said and it laid the basis on which we could make a decision, but it wasn't the reason that we made the decisions. He gave us the necessary means to make a decision, but it wasn't sufficient in itself.
"How can we trust a man who still believes that this illegal war and all the horror it has caused was right?" said the Liberal Democrat Leader. 
Commenting on Gordon Brown's appearance at the Iraq inquiry, Nick Clegg said:
"This was the day Gorodn Brown finally had to come clean and admit that he believes the Iraq war was right.
"We now know we were betrayed by Gordon Brown and we were betrayed by the Labour Party. 
"How can we trust a man who still believes that this illegal war and all the horror it has caused was right?
"When the Liberal Democrats were the only party to oppose this immoral invasion we didn't just speak for us, we spoke for the nation."
At the Guardian, Chris Ames explains that Brown indicated weeks ago that he would be arguing "the convention of collective cabinet responsiblity, which requires cabinet ministers to back policies that they do not agree with" and he concludes that the policy "is not just a licence to lie, but a requirement to do so." It also doesn't speak well to Brown's alleged leadership -- and his leadership is already in question in England just due to the economic disaster.  But on top of that, Gordon wants to argue that we must all back policies even if we don't agree with them -- does not show leadership when he served under Blair and doesn't show leadership now that he's prime minister.  It shows a disdain for an open process, for differening opinions and for the law itself.
Committee Member Roderic Lyne: If you had known that his position had been equivocal only ten days previously in formal advice presented to the Prime Minister, would it have changed your view?
Gordon Brown: I don't think it would have changed my view, because unless he was prepared to say that his unequivocal advice was that this was not lawful, then the otehr arguments that I thought were important played into place, and that was what I have already talked to you about [. . .]
It wouldn't have mattered said Gordon. Strange because before that exchange (page 51 of the transcript), he told Lyne, "No, and I think that -- look, I'm not a lawyer, I'm not an international lawyer."  Which he isn't.  So it's amazing that he wants to declare that if he'd been told that Peter Goldsmith, Attorney General, had just changed his mind in a matter of days on the legality of the war, it would not have changed his mind or even bothered him.  Apparently, it's not just that he's not a lawyer, it's also that he just doesn't care too much.  Again, his well rehearsed testimony did not inspire or demonstrate leadership.  For Tony Blair, that wouldn't matter. But Blair's not the sitting prime minister, Brown is.
 Andrew Sparrow (Guardian) live blogged the testimony. At this Sky News webpage, there are multiple options on Brown's testimony including Glen Oglaza once again live blogging testimony. Chris Ames live blogged at Iraq Inquiry Digest. Channel 4 News Iraq Inquiry Blogger live blogged at Twitter. Also live blogging at Twitter was BBC News' Laura Kuenssberg. Alice Tarleton (Channel 4 News) offers a look at how Brown's statements to the Inquiry differ from those made by his predecessor Tony Blair. And Vicki Barker (NPR's All Things Considered) has an audio report here.
Commenting on Gordon Brown's appearance at the Chilcot inquiry, SNP Westminister Leader and Defence Spokesman Angus Robertson MP said: 
"Where Blair spun, Brown ducked, but he still confirmed he was part of the inner circle that led the country into the worst foreign policy disaster in modern times.
"The Iraq inuqiry has been massively damaging for Labour. With every evidence session, the UK Government's case for war and the actions of Labour Ministers are further discredited. 
"The people won't forget Labour's role in planning and executing this illegal war. The Chilcot inquiry has laid out the eivdence -- it's now up to the voters to cast their verdict at the ballot box.
"It's no wonder Brown wanted the inquiry conducted behind closed doors. He's clearly keeping a great deal hidden.
"Contradicting Sir Kevin Tebbit's claim that the MoD was operating a crisis budget, the Prime Minister insisted every request for funding was met.
"Sadly, for all of those who opposed the Iraq invasion and for the thousands who lost thier lives to it, truth of the Iraq invasion may have been forever lost to the New Labour spin machine."
As his turn before the committee, Brown remembered a note and wanted to insist that the loss of life "leaves us all sad" and "leaves me very sad indeed".  He squeezed it in twice in his closing remarks because he threw it out once in his opening remarks in the first half of the day ("any loss of life is something that makes us very sad indeed") but forgot to work it in again and again, as advised, so he could demonstrate some resource. Sian Ruddick (Great Britian's Socialist Worker) notes how two bodies heard explored war today:
A war criminal and an anti-war soldier both faced questioning this Friday. One will get off with no repercussions -- the other could be sent to prison for two years.
Gordon Brown has tried to keep his distance from the Iraq war, hoping that the legacy of mass murder will be left with Tony Blair. But Brown's hands are far from clean.             
He wrote the cheques for the war, funding the destruction that rained down on Iraq.                 
And in the run up to the war Brown was "absolutely core" in shoring up support amongst backbenchers, insists Sally Morgan, one of Blair's key aides.
Brown says the Iraq war is all over now -- but it isn't. There are still thousands of US and British troops in the country.    
And the lasting legacy of devastation and chaos created by the occupation continues to blight the lives of millions of Iraqis.
The legacy includes a country destroyed, lives lost and birth defects among other issues.  
John Simpson (BBC News) reports on the birth defects stemming from the illegal war and weapons used in it (some exploded, some still not exploding) which have contaminated the country:

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

Ben Leach (Telegraph of London) adds, "The level of heart defects among newborn babies in the city is now said to be 13 times higher than in Europe.Some doctors have reported they are seeing as many as two or three cases a day, mainly cardiac defects." Alex Sundby (CBS News) notes the issue here.  I believe we last noted the birth defects in the January 4th snapshot when we covered this episode of Inside Iraq (Al Jazeera):
Jasim al-Azzawi: Dr. Jawad al-Ali, you are a physician, you are a member of the Iraq Cancer Board and you have seen the astronomical rate in cancers rise as well as defects in children. Explain to me what is going on in Basra?
Dr. Jawad al-Ali: Really, as you know, Iraq is effected by three wars, three destructive wars. The last two -- the 1991 war and the 2003 war -- where depleted uranium is used for the first time in history. The 1991 war, they used depleted uranium at the western part of Basra and also they dropped some of the uranium weapons [. . .] during the withdrawal of the Iraqi army. And also they dropped some of the depleted uranium at the eastern part of Basra where it was the only way to withdraw our army from Kuwait.
Jasim al-Azzawi: Did that cause such an astronomical rise in the cancer rates in 1991 and the 90s?  And also in the 2003?
Dr. Jawad al-Ali: After three or four years, that is in 1994, I, myself, I noticed that the hospital receiving many patients with cancer. And we were surprised at that time.  And we don't what was the link.  But, after two years, that is 1996, one of the intelligent persons, worked with the intelligence and he's escorting one of the delegations, he told me that depleted uranium is used. And he told me this is a secret, please keep it inside your brain.
Jasim al-Azzawi: It is no longer a secret, Dr. al-Ali, let me bring in Christopher Busby.  Mr. Busby, you were a witness expert in one of the British trials regarding a soldier who developed cancer immediately after returning from deployment in southern part Iraq.
Christopher Busby: In September of this year, I was asked by the coroner in the West Midlands near Birmingham to attend an inquest as an expert witness. I've become a witness on the health effects of depleted uranium. I sat on a number of government committees including a [UK] Ministry of Defense committee and I've studied the health effects of Uranium for almost 15 years and I've closely followed these arguments about the increase in cancer in Iraq and in other areas where uranium has been used. So I was -- I was asked to give evidence as an expert witness in this case.  This man, Stuart Dyson, has worked as an Ordnance Corps support soldier. So basically what he did, he cleaned up the vehicles and, as a result, he became contaminated with depleted uranium which collected on the vehicles which were used in the 2003 Gulf War and he then developed cancer at a very early age, about 38.  I mean, it's very, very rare to get that cancer, colon cancer, at that age. The normal rate is about 6 in a million people. Now we know as a result of cancer research that cancer is caused by exposure to something that causes a mutation in cells. So we have to look to something that he was exposed to that caused mutations in cells.
Jasim al-Azzawi: Yes.
Christopher Busby: And really there isn't anything else but depleted uranium.
Jasim al-Azzawi: Dr. Jawad al-Ali, you were also a member of a research team in Iraq, especially in the south, and you have seen the deformities and the defects among newly born babies in Iraq.  How bad is that?
Dr. Jawad al-Ali: You know, depleted uranium, it's not only a cancer inducing factor but also it might effect the chromosomes whether in the husband or the mother of a child. And many, many children are born with deformities, with loss of limbs, with a big head, with deformed legs and the rate of this -- these deformities is increasing about seven times since 1991until 2002. And also another phenomena we noticed here that families cluster -- cluster of cancer in families -- a husband and a wife are effected. And many families, I got their pictures with me. The other phenomena is the appearance of double and triple cancers.  That is three cancers in one patient or two cancers in the same patient.  These phenomena are very strange for us. I haven't seen it before. Because I worked in Basra for about 39 years. And I haven't seen such cases of cancer [before].  The other thing is the change of pattern of cancer as said by Dr. Busby.  We have a change in the pattern that is the cancers of elderly people appearing now in a younger age group. And this is surprising.  Even the breast cancer which is disease of middle and elderly ladies now appearing at the age of 20.
Back to the US where A.N.S.W.E.R. and other organizations are sponsoring March 20th marches in DC, San Francisco and Los Angeles. The march is to demand the withdrawal of all US and NATO troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. Peace Mom Cindy Sheehan and Peace of the Action will be staging a Camp Out NOW but they have had to push the start-up date back two days:
Due to an unexpected crimp in our permit, Camp OUT NOW will be erected on March 15th instead of the 13th -- but we will still have St. Stephen's to sleep in that weekend.  
The reason we're not setting up Camp on the 13th is that the people who are running the St. Patty's Day parade won't allow us to keep Camp up during the parade. So on Sunday during the parade, we will be passing out info and making an anti-war presence -- 
We will gather in Lafayette Park (across from the White House) at 10am the morning of the parade.  
We are still looking for donations, and you can donate here:   

TV notes. NOW on PBS begins airing Friday on most PBS stations (check local listings):


Americans have a longstanding love affair with food -- the modern
supermarket has, on average, 47,000 products. But do we really know what
goes into making the products we so eagerly consume? On Friday, March 5
at 8:30 PM (check local listings), David Brancaccio talks with Robert
Kenner, director of the Oscar-nominated documentary Food, Inc., which
takes a hard look at the secretive and surprising journey food takes on 
the way from processing plants to our dinner tables. The two discuss why contemporary food processing secrets are so closely guarded, their
impact on our health, and another surprising fact: how consumers are
actually empowered to make a difference.

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 Jeanne Cummings (Politico), Michael Duffy (Time magazine) and John Harwood (CNBC, New York Times). And along with catching the show, you can click here for Gwen's take on two of the current political scandals (text report). Meanwhile Bonnie Erbe will sit down with Sam Bennett, Karen Czarnecki, Nicole Kurokawa and Patrice Sosa to discuss the week's events on PBS' To The Contrary. And at the website each week, Bonnie and her guests offer an extra video on a topic not covered on the show. The current web extra is a discussion of retirement proposals to 401(k)s and IRA accounts. For the broadcast program, check local listings, on many stations, it begins airing tonight. And turning to broadcast TV, Sunday CBS' 60 Minutes:

"60 Minutes Presents: Blood Brothers"
"60 Minutes" will be pre-empted this week for a special edition of "60 Minutes Presents: Blood Brothers." This hour explores the world of Spanish bullfighting brothers Francisco and Cayetano Rivera-Ordonez, top matadors from one of Spain's most famous bullfighting families. Bob Simon follows the bullfighters outside and in the ring, where the "dance of death" nearly ends the life of Cayetano in a horrifying moment caught on camera. | Watch Video

"60 Minutes Presents: Blood Brothers", Sunday, March 7, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.


The elections, the TV coverage

Anywhere else in Iraq, a shootout between political rivals that injured three people would have been unremarkable.
But last month's brief gun battle in Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region sent chills through the three provinces in the north that are held up by U.S. officials as a beacon of stability in a country where politics and violence often intertwine.
The scuffle between forces loyal to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, which controls this city, and energetic supporters of a breakaway faction called Change was the most serious in what the latter calls a campaign of intimidation by the ruling power.

That's the opening to Leila Fadel's "Clashes in Iraq's north underscore fierce political rivalry among Kurds" (Washington Post). The elections are already underweigh in Iraq due to early voting -- in Iraq and around the world in 16 other countries due to Iraq's large refugee population. Simon Hooper (CNN) also reports from the KRG

The three northern provinces of Erbil, Suleimaniyah and and Dohuk, which call themselves the "other Iraq," have mostly been spared the carnage and civil unrest that followed the U.S.-invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Iraqi Kurds trace their own democratic roots back further still to the 1992 elections organized following the creation of a United Nations-backed northern safe haven in the aftermath of the first Gulf War which established the region's de facto independence from Baghdad.
Since then, control of the region has been carved up between the KDP and the PUK -- though the rival factions fought a civil war in the 1990s. But the two parties are now facing a new challenge to their dominance. Goran, formed by Talabani's one-time deputy in the PUK, Nawshirwan Mustafa, won almost 25 percent of votes in last year's elections for the Kurdish region's parliament.
One of Goran's leading candidates, Hama Tofiq Rahim, told CNN the party expected to do even better in Sunday's ballot on the back of a campaign promising transparency in government and an end to corruption. Rahim said the party hoped to win around 20 seats in the Iraqi parliament.

It's day two of early voting. "Voting began today in Iraq's Parliamentary elections," Katie Couric noted yesterday on the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric. "And as it did, three separate bomb attacks in Baghdad killed 17 people. Insurgents have vowed to sabotage the elections. There targets today were soldiers and police officers who were voting early since they were scheduled to be on duty Sunday when most of the votes will be cast." Diane Sawyer (ABC World News Tonight with Diane Sawyer) also noted the violence as she tossed to Miguel Marquez who, she informed, "has been to Iraq more than a dozen times, tells us that what has happened in the city of Baghdad is a triumph of spirit and resolve."

Miguel Marquez: Today we can go places. Places we couldn't go for years. This is [al] Shurja market, it's the biggest in Iraq. It's also one of the biggest in the Middle East. It has been five years that I've been coming to Iraq, it is the first time that I've actually been able to come down to this market and it's an incredible place to see.

And he continued to yammer away. All garbage. Miguel's been reporting on Iraq for some time. He's been with ABC since 2005. So in five more years, he may be telling us, "This is the first time I've been able to travel without bodyguards." In other words, quit b.s.-ing, no one's in the damn mood for it. Something it takes you five years to note? Not really worth noting. Obviously, you're yet again LYING and we can tell that how? Besides the bodyguards, there's who you talk to. Men. Men, men, men, manly men -- it may be the theme to Two & a Half Men. But it's not news. Save your crap ass trash, spare us all. You went out and spoke to some men and you think you can hail Iraq a success. What a piece of crap, what a piece of work. I'm not in the mood for this garbage and I'm getting real damn tired of 'reporters' telling us today that something's an 'improvement' because they couldn't do it X number of years ago -- only back then they weren't telling us they couldn't do it and they were still hailing Iraq a 'success' by focusing on something else. And word to ABC News, we don't need crotch watching in our newscasts. America didn't need the look-the-penis-moves-to-the-left-and-now-to-the-right-and-now-to-the . . . tight, tracking shot on the crotch of a man's pants.

What do Iraqi voters think? Don't you mean Iraqi males? The press fascination with Iraqi men never dies. Male or female, the reporters all make like Sally Rogers desperate for a fellow to drag over to Rob & Laura's. Arwa Damon (CNN -- link has text and video) visits an Iraqi coffee house to talk to male voters. We'll skip that and note this from late in the article:

Critics have lashed out at Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, with some going so far as to call him a dictator, accusing him of trying to consolidate power and abusing his authority over the Iraqi security forces.
In an exclusive interview with CNN, Maliki denied these allegations.
"It doesn't bother me, because I know I am not like that. But they are not distinguishing between a strong man who believes in the constitution and is committed to the constitution and handles issues based on the authorities granted by the constitution, and not being weak. If I was weak, the country would be lost."

Al Jazeera offers this on polling, "This election is also expected to see a significant percentage of Iraqis voting along non-sectarian lines for the first time since the fall of the former regime, with a number of credible polls suggesting that secular Allawi’s Iraqiya might come on top. However, these same polls indicate that neither Iraqiya nor the three other major groups - Nouri al-Maliki's State of Law coalition, the Iraqi National Alliance led by Ammar Al-Hakim, the Kurdish Alliance – are likely to win an outright majority." The Ahrar Party issued the following release this morning:

Ahrar Candidate and Goodwill Ambassador to UN - Dr. Mufada Kamal - speaks to Al Mostaqbal TV

Leading Ahrar candidate Mufada Kamal - who is also a Goodwill Ambassador to the United Nations through the limsam organisation - reinforced Ahrar Party's plans for the revival of the Iraqi economy in an interview for Al Mostaqbal television earlier today. The interview will be shown this evening repeatedly between 19:00 and 23:00.

For further information, contact:

Ahrar Media Bureau
Tel: +964 (0)790 157 4478 / +964 (0)790 157 4479 / +964 (0)771 275 2942

Meanwhile Ahmed Chalabi takes a break from roll-dogging with boy-pal Ali al-Lami to put his name to a column in today's Wall St. Journal. It reads, "The Baathist regime that ruled Iraq from 1969 to 2003 was a fascist, terrorist dictatorship based on racism, violence, oppression and genocide." Good think Ahmed, Big and Strong and Brave Ahmed, was in Iraq from 1969 to 2003 attempting to lead the fight against Saddam, risking his own life and -- What's that? Oh, right. Ahmed was an exile. Not just any exile, mind you, but a party-boi whose London exploits still remain legendary and the sort of tales one rarely ever hears without the words "Studio 54" added to them. He also took time to visit other countries. For example, he spent time in Jordan as a sort of Miss Iraq, bringing goodwill and charity. Or that's his story, anyway. Jordan's story can be found in the legal verdict that turned Chalabi into a convicted felon. Well at least he didn't get busted with drugs. In Jordan, anyway. The column continues, "Through our constitution and our duly elected parliament, the Iraqi people have pledged never to allow the nightmare of Baathism to return." So he's toying with stand-up now as well?

Meanwhile, as we noted earlier in the week, rumors are political currency in Iraq. (And elsewhere.) Anthony Shadid (New York Times) attempts to sort out the rumors of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr who is reportedly in Iran, reportedly is considering coming back to Iraq to rally his followers, reportedly has an arrest warrant out that will see him chained and shackled should he enter the country and reportedly a foe of Nouri al-Maliki. From the article:

Supporters here handed out leaflets with a picture of Mr. Maliki laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington Cemetery, juxtaposed with images of Iraqis arrested and killed by American troops. "For their killers, flowers," it read. "For our youth, bullets."

Staying with al-Sadr and his supporters, Ali al-Saffar (Foreign Policy) writes of his father who died at the hands of Moqtada supporters:

My father was targeted during an investigation he was conducting into corruption in the Ministry of Health, which had become a fiefdom for the followers of Moqtada al-Sadr. He was on the verge of exposing explosive evidence that funds earmarked to improve Iraq's health sector were being diverted to sectarian militias, helping them carry on the fight against their opponents. Those directly implicated include his fellow deputy minister, Hakim al-Zamili, who took such exception to the threatened public disclosure of his association with violent militias that, I believe, he responded by having my father kidnapped.
Zamili was arrested in 2007, and an Iraqi court leveled the same charges against him that my father had made: that he had been responsible for the murder of hundreds of Sunnis who had arrived at the hospitals run by the Ministry of Health. After a two-day trial that featured widespread accusations of witness intimidation and many irregularities, Zamili was freed. In a morbid reversal of justice, Zamili has quoted Gandhi in describing his arrest and claims that it was actually a boon for his political career. He is now a leading candidate for parliament in Iraq's March 7 election, and his candidacy has been spotlighted on the front page of the New York Times.

Niraj Warikoo (Detroit Free Press) notes that Iraqis in Michigan will "vote today at polling sites in Warren and Dearborn". Deborah Amos (Slate) reports on the refugees:

Under a new election law, the externally displaced have voting power, because their vote counts as if they were living in their home province. Voter registration began this week; an Iraqi passport counts as proof of citizenship, but so does a U.N. refugee registration card. Iraq's electoral commission expects as many as 180,000 exiles to cast ballots in 23 voting centers across Syria, and Iraq's Sunni politicians are courting the exile vote.
Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi exiles scattered across the region are connected to Iraq through chat rooms, cell phones, Web cameras, and satellite television, part of a virtual Iraq that exists beyond borders. While this crucial election is a test of Iraq's fragile democracy and of the potential for long-term stability, its outcome may also determine whether Iraqis remain in exile as a destabilizing population in the region or return home to help rebuild the country. Political reconciliation can happen only if Sunnis feel they have a fair share of power. The exiles will judge the election outcome by what it reveals about the strength of the sectarian fault lines that contributed to the exodus and displacement of 20 percent of the pre-war population.

Iraqi refugees will vote in the US, Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Egypt, the UAE, Lebanon, Iran, Canada, England, Denmark, Australia, Germany, Austria, Sweden and the Netherlands.

USA Today offers their examination of how things stand as elections begin:

Iraqis have settled none of the key issues that were supposed to be resolved by now. There is no law divvying up the nation's vast oil wealth among its Shiite, Sunni and Kurd factions. There is no agreement on potentially explosive territorial disputes between Arabs and the quasi-independent Kurds. Worse, an election commission invited insurrection by disenfranchising Sunnis, including leaders who turned on al-Qaeda and sided with the United States. About 150 were barred from Sunday's ballot, not the best way to engage a pivotal and potentially violent minority that boycotted the last major elections in 2005.

Stephen Farrell reports on early voting in a video at the New York Times At War Blog.

We didn't forget NBC in the news coverage. We're going out with them. NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams led with Iraq last night. At Brian Williams' blog, you've got the first half (with Andrea Mitchell). And here, you can find both segments in video form.

Brian Williams: Good evening. It will go down in history among the events that shaped our times, the decision by President George W. Bush to go to war in Iraq after the United States had been attacked on 9/11 with no direct connection between the two. The United States has paid a heavy price for the war which will be seven years old later this month -- that's a year longer than all of World War II. 96,000 American servicemen and women are still stationed in Iraq, more than 4300 Americans have died there, more than 31,000 have been wounded. The war's financial cost is estimated to be north of $700 billion and growing. The Iraq War is back in the news tonight because of new violence there just like the old days and because of a new take on the war from an old hand in the Bush operation, Karl Rove. We begin tonight with our chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell.

George W. Bush [footage]: The architect Karl Rove.

Andrea Mitchell: Now Karl Rove, the architect of George W. Bush's elections, says if not for the threat of Weapons of Mass Destruction, there probably would have been no Iraq War. In Courage and Consequence, which we bought at a Washington bookstore before it's official release, Rove writes, "Congress was very unlikely to have supported the use-of-force resolution without the threat of WMD." But since no such weapons existed, Rove asks, "So, then, did Bush lie us into war?" His answer: "Absolutely not." Some other Bush insiders back him up.

Stephen Hadley: I think it's not that we did it on a false pretense, we did it on the basis of intelligence that turned out not to be true.

Andrea Mitchell: But others say President Bush had decided to go to war long before the UN could evaluate the evidence. As early as July 2002, former State Dept official Richard Haass writes Condolezza Rice brushed away his concerns about Iraq "saying the President had made up his mind." That same month, then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair was told in this memo from his advisors [Downing St. Memo], "It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin."

David Gergen: They wanted to take out the Saddam Hussein regime. The Weapons of Mass Destruction only fueled that drive. I think what really changed things was 9/11 and it made them feel that they could not take the kind of risks after 9/11 that they might have been willing to live with before 9/11.

Andrea Mitchell: Rove also answers critics of the president's infamous fly-over of New Orleans on Air Force One, after Hurricane Katrina, writing, "Our decision was right for the relief effort but wrong for President Bush's public standing."

David Gergen: It was clear to I think everybody other than people who lived in the cocoon, that he still had to go. To bear witness, to understand, the suffering that was going on there.

Andrea Mitchell: In his book, Rove blames local and state officials for the disastorous response to Katrina which most outsiders say, as much as Iraq, marked a turning in the Bush presidency. Brian?

Brian Williams: Replaying a little history here, Andrea Mitchell --

Andrea Mitchell: Indeed.

Brian Willaims: -- starting us off here in Washington. And a quick programming note here, much more on Karl Rove and what's in the book when he appears on Today tomorrow and next Monday and Tuesday morning here on this NBC station. Meanwhile, as the debate over Iraq continues, so does the war itself with another election at hand and new violence just today that left at least 17 dead. But life is very different for the nearly 100,000 Americans still stationed in Iraq. The story from our chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel who is in Iraq tonight, embedded with the 1st Armored Division.

Richard Engel: They were lined up to vote, but a suicide bomber in Baghdad slipped into the crowd. But American troops today didn't secure any of the blast sites. America's new mission in Iraq is strictly behind the scenes. To understand it, we joined an army platoon living on an Iraqi police station in southeast Iraq. Here Lt Jesse Krim coordinated American drones over voting stations

Lt Jesse Krim: We're not kicking down doors with them in anyway.

Richard Engel: No direct combat as US soldiers are severely limited. Under a new security agreement, US troops are mostly confined to their bases. They rarely leave without Iraqi permission. It's a training mission now and some American soldiers have mixed feelings about it. When Sgt Kyle Fogerty was in Baghdad on his last deployment three years ago, his unit was attacked by roadside bombs 18 times a week. This time, most of his soldiers haven't fired a shot.

Sgt Kyle Fogerty: It's a positive thing, seeing our hard work that we've put in over the years has paid off.

Richard Engel: But some soldiers here feel they're no longer needed.

Sgt Kyle Fogerty: I believe it's time for us to move out. I mean, it's come to the point, we train these guys, they already know everything we're training them and I mean they're acting on it, you see the success.

Richard Engel: Time to go?

Sgt Kyle Fogerty: It's time to go home.

Richard Engel: His platoon leader, Lt Krim, disagrees but admits most of his soldiers would rather be in Afghanistan, in the fight, not cooped up on base.

Lt Jesse Krim: Say if you trained all your life to be a doctor and then you came to a country and all you did was help out doctors you had to stay in the waiting room and basically try to help them out the best that you can. That's basically what we're doing here. You know, it's frustrating at times but it's necessary.

Richard Engel: It's a new role and some soldiers here are struggling to adjust. Richard Engel, NBC News, Nasariyah.

TV notes. NOW on PBS begins airing Friday on most PBS stations (check local listings):

Americans have a longstanding love affair with food -- the modern
supermarket has, on average, 47,000 products. But do we really know what
goes into making the products we so eagerly consume? On Friday, March 5
at 8:30 PM (check local listings), David Brancaccio talks with Robert
Kenner, director of the Oscar-nominated documentary Food, Inc., which
takes a hard look at the secretive and surprising journey food takes on
the way from processing plants to our dinner tables. The two discuss why contemporary food processing secrets are so closely guarded, their
impact on our health, and another surprising fact: how consumers are
actually empowered to make a difference.

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 Jeanne Cummings (Politico), Michael Duffy (Time magazine) and John Harwood (CNBC, New York Times). And along with catching the show, you can click here for Gwen's take on two of the current political scandals (text report). Meanwhile Bonnie Erbe will sit down with Sam Bennett, Karen Czarnecki, Nicole Kurokawa and Patrice Sosa to discuss the week's events on PBS' To The Contrary. And at the website each week, Bonnie and her guests offer an extra video on a topic not covered on the show. The current web extra is a discussion of retirement proposals to 401(k)s and IRA accounts. For the broadcast program, check local listings, on many stations, it begins airing tonight. And turning to broadcast TV, Sunday CBS' 60 Minutes:

"60 Minutes Presents: Blood Brothers"
"60 Minutes" will be pre-empted this week for a special edition of "60 Minutes Presents: Blood Brothers." This hour explores the world of Spanish bullfighting brothers Francisco and Cayetano Rivera-Ordonez, top matadors from one of Spain's most famous bullfighting families. Bob Simon follows the bullfighters outside and in the ring, where the "dance of death" nearly ends the life of Cayetano in a horrifying moment caught on camera. | Watch Video

"60 Minutes Presents: Blood Brothers", Sunday, March 7, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

Radio notes. Today on The Diane Rehm Show (NPR and streams online live beginning at 10:00 am EST), the panelists for the first hour discussion (domestic) are Jeanne Cummings (Politico), Ross Douthat (New York Times) and Clarence Page (Chicago Tribune). For the second hour (international), the guests are Tom Gjelten (N PR), Susan Glasser (Foreign Policy) and David Sanger (New York Times). The show also podcasts and archives online. In addition, The Diane Rehm Show had won the Shorty Award for brief news for their Twitter Account.

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