Monday, May 30, 2011

Moqtada's empty threats and a vice president resigns

Today the New York Times' Tim Arango appeared on Talk of the Nation (NPR) and discussed Iraq -- specifically the variables if US forces stay on the ground in Iraq beyond 2011. Arango observed of Moqtada al-Sadr's threats of violence if the US stays beyond the end of this year, "At the same time, you know, a lot of people, you know, a lot of people believe it's a bluff, and a lot of people say that he would have no chance with the, you know, fighting the Iraqi security forces today. The last time he did so was in 2008, and they've - you know, they're much improved." And, in 2008, he lost in Baghdad and he lost in Basra.

Arango then acknowledges what a minor presensce al-Sadr's bloc is in Parliament ("roughly 40" seats out of 325) but goes on to talk about how Moqtada backed Nouri for prime minister.

This keeps getting tossed around and is undefined.

Yes, Moqtada backed Nouri starting last October. So what?

Nouri became prime minister (in spite of his inability to meet the Constitutional requirements such as forming a full Cabinet).

Moqtada's support at this time is really not an issue unless Arango is trying to float a vote of no-confidence. I don't believe he is because he doesn't raise that issue on the show and hasn't in the paper. Do we get that it does not matter who supported Nouri now?

It doesn't. Nouri got the post.

Now if you want to argue that he could alienate Moqtada and Moqtada could push for a vote of no-confidence, that's another story. But if that's the case, it needs to be remembered that Moqtada would only be 40 votes and you need to be figuring who would align with Moqtada?

Let's play this out. The majority of the blocs vote to extend the SOFA and keep the US military beyond 2011, okay? Moqtada is against that. (Although there was one report in Arabic media over the weekend -- Saturday -- stating he said he would go along with the will of the majority. I found only one report stating that so we didn't run with it.)

Is that issue going to be the one Moqtada rides to a no-confidence vote?

Not at all. He can't. If the bulk of the blocs votes that way why would they then turn against Nouri over it?

It makes no sense.

Moqtada vowed he would not support Nouri. He also vowed that he would hold a referendum and abide by the vote. Nouri was not the number one choice in the referendum or the number two choice. But Moqtada ran with Nouri when Iran broke down the facts and handed out the orders to Moqtada. What he did in October and November is now meaningless. He can't say, "I take back my October support!"

Are people really unaware of the history of Nouri's first Cabient? You had ministers withdrawing all the time over political reasons. And withdrawing from the Cabinet does nothing but surrender your heading a ministry.

So I'm just not getting where the, "Oooh, Moqtada supported Nouri in October and Noveber but if this goes through Moqtada's not going to."

Are we also unaware that that exact position was the default position Moqtada had in 2007 and 2008 and it didn't mean a damn thing then either? He was at odds with Nouri (one of the many reasons Nouri felt comfortable attacking his strongholds in 2008 by sending in the Iraqi military -- with US assistance). It didn't mean a damn thing. Except Moqtada eventually surrendered.

(I'm not mocking Tim Arango -- before he or anyone assumes I am -- I am stating that if Moqtada withholds political support it means damn little. It only mattered when Nouri was trying to secure the post of prime minister. Which is why Nouri's comfortable breaking his promise to Iraqiya re: the national security council and to the Kurds re: the referendum on Kirkuk. If Arango is arguing that Moqtada could lead a no-confidence vote, then the case for that needs to be made and hasn't at present. And, by the way, a no-confidence vote could take place in the coming weeks as a result of Nouri's inability to address the corruption.)

We'll note this exchange.

CONAN: Secretary Gates, who of course retires next month, but he has said if we're going to stay beyond the end of this year, we're going to have to have a request from the Iraqi government for that pretty soon. Any idea of what's the drop-dead date?

Mr. ARANGO: You know, it's funny, when you talk to the military commanders, they'll say, and they'll remark, and it's been a trend throughout the war. Like, the Iraqis march to a different time than the Americans do, and there really is no drop-dead deadline. And I guess the drop-dead deadline is December 31st because I think - which is a bit of an exaggeration, but I think as they're planning the drawdown, they will always have these contingencies, the American military to leave X amount of troops should the Iraqis finally, you know, make this request.

What will happen if there's no extension by December 31st is that any US troops in Iraq will switch to State Dept's oversight and that a significant number will be deployed to Kuwait where they would wait in limbo if the White House believed that an extension of the SOFA was going to take place (though it hadn't by December 31st). That is the actual plan at this point.

(Not my plan. I'm for all troops out now. That's the White House's plan but they don't believe it's going to take that long. They believe they'll have an extension. And, of course, the back up plan has been -- as addressed in open hearings in Congress repeatedly -- to move the troops from the umbrella of DoD to the State Dept.)

Arango has many interesting observations and it's a shame Neal ruins the interview by claiming that if troops stay beyond 2011 the "war ends." Neal also embarrasses himself when he declares, "Whatever the decision, it's clear that America's war in Iraq is almost entirely in the past now." Is it in the past for the families of the 36 US service members who've died since Barack declared combat operations over on August 31st? Is it over for the family whose house the US helicopter landed on in Karbala and raided last week? The one that has outraged the provincial council?

The big news out of Iraq today is the resignation of Adel Abdul Mehdi as one of Iraq's three vice presidents. Ned Parker and Salar Jaff (Los Angeles Times via Sacramento Bee) report:

Vice President Adel Abdul Mehdi's decision was meant to set an example for the rest of the government, which has been bloated with state ministries and the expansion this year of the vice presidency from two to three positions, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq said.
"I hope this will start a push to slim down the government," party chief Ammar Hakim said on the group's website. The party described the move as "a reaction to the popular will."
The government had not yet formally accepted his decision as of late Monday.

Adel Abdul Mehdi was the Shi'ite vice president in Nouri's first term as prime minister. Though his term had expired, President Jalal Talabani asked him to hang on until after new vice presidents could be voted in. He said he would and told the press that, after that, he was done, he did not want a second term. Despite that assertion, he took a second term. Not only that but, earlier this month, Aswat al-Iraq reported, "The President of the Republic, Jalal Talabani, has issued a Presidential Decree, naming Adel Abdul-Mahdi, as 1st Vice-President." That declaration took some by surprise and they saw it as an effort to give Abdul-Mehdi more power. He certainly didn't object to it publicly. Nor did he object to the size of the Cabinet. Nouri inflated the size in an attempt to create positions for all the people he'd promised posts if they'd support him in his bid to continue as prime minister.

Granted, Nouri still hasn't named a Minister of Defense, a Minister of National Security or a Minister of the Interior; however, the increase in the size of his Cabinet (deputy ministers and all) was well known before January.

If indeed that's Adel Abdul-Mahdi's objection, it's a new objection or one he's not given much weight to until now. Alsumaria TV paints a different picture of Abdul-Mahdi's displeasure which includes, "The source stated that one of the major reasons for Abdul Mehdi’s resignation is the fact that Vice Presidents’ issue was included in the present political crisis and due to people’s denunciation and religious authority’s dissatisfaction over Parliament’s vote on three Vice Presidents." Aswat al-Iraq offers Supreme Islamic Council's Jumaa al-Atwany offering the following:

Atwani said that “the struggle for narrow-party interests, on the expense of the supreme national interests, under the current situation passing on Iraq and the Region, and non-sincerity in the activity, all those reasons, as well as the appreciation of the supreme national interest had made Abdul-Mahdi to prefer to withdraw from his post as Vice-President.”
“There is an important nucleus point for the resignation, being that the voting by the Parliament on the three Vice-Presidents had taken place in one consignment, that was agreed upon outside the Parliament,” he said.
“After the entrance to the Parliament hall and the completion of the attendance by its members, the voting began, and the Legislatures of the Supreme Islamic Council rejected it, along with the refusal of the (Shiite) Religious Authority in Najaf of the voting in ‘one basket,’ he said, adding that all those reasons have made Abdul-Mahdi withdraw from his post.

Wildest rumor out of Iraq on this topic right now? Abdul-Mahdi, anticipating a vote of no-confidence for Nouri in the next weeks (over the corruption and services issues), is positioning himself to vie for the post of prime minister. Though it's unlikely, it is true that Abdul-Mahdi hoped to be prime minister in 2006 and again in 2010. (And he has many supporters.)

Violence is no rumor, it continues. Reuters notes a clash in Mosul in which 2 police officers were shot dead, a Kut bombing targeting the US military (which announced no injuries or deaths), a Baghdad roadside bombing which claimed 1 life and left four people injured, a second Baghdad roadside bombing which left two people wounded, North Cement Company's Arkan Jihad was shot dead in Mosul and a Mosul roadside bombing targeting Governor Atheel al-Nujaifi in which no one was injured. Atheel al-Nujaifi is at odds with Nouri (though don't expect the US press to highlight that). He is also the brother of Osama al-Nujaifi, the Speaker of Parliament.

Kat's "Kat's Korner: The Master of the Teen Drama" went up earlier. It is one of at least two music pieces she'll post today. We'll close with this from Robert Fisk's "Who Cares in the Middle East What Obama Says?" (Independent via IHC):

This month, in the Middle East, has seen the unmaking of the President of the United States. More than that, it has witnessed the lowest prestige of America in the region since Roosevelt met King Abdul Aziz on the USS Quincy in the Great Bitter Lake in 1945.
While Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu played out their farce in Washington – Obama grovelling as usual – the Arabs got on with the serious business of changing their world, demonstrating and fighting and dying for freedoms they have never possessed. Obama waffled on about change in the Middle East – and about America's new role in the region. It was pathetic. "What is this 'role' thing?" an Egyptian friend asked me at the weekend. "Do they still believe we care about what they think?"
And it is true. Obama's failure to support the Arab revolutions until they were all but over lost the US most of its surviving credit in the region. Obama was silent on the overthrow of Ben Ali, only joined in the chorus of contempt for Mubarak two days before his flight, condemned the Syrian regime – which has killed more of its people than any other dynasty in this Arab "spring", save for the frightful Gaddafi – but makes it clear that he would be happy to see Assad survive, waves his puny fist at puny Bahrain's cruelty and remains absolutely, stunningly silent over Saudi Arabia. And he goes on his knees before Israel. Is it any wonder, then, that Arabs are turning their backs on America, not out of fury or anger, nor with threats or violence, but with contempt? It is the Arabs and their fellow Muslims of the Middle East who are themselves now making the decisions.

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