Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Iraq snapshot

Wednesday, January 4, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, Barack pretends he cares about oversight and accountability and the uniformed American press doesn't know what's going on (as usual) or which four oversight positions are, as of today, empty, Nouri's breaking the Iraqi Constitution again but no one's supposed to notice, and more.
Nouri al-Maliki has an affinity for breaking the Constitution.  Repeatedly.  Recently, he's broken Article 19's Fifth Clause.
The accused is innocent until proven guilty in a fair legal trial.  The accused may not be tried on the same crime for a second time after acquittal unless new evidence is produced.
Nouri's statements and those of other members of State of Law regarding Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi have not presumed innocence.  No trial has taken place but Nouri and his associates have repeatedly and publicly pronounced al-Hashemi guilty.
Today Nouri manages to break the Constitution again.  Khalid Al Ansary and Nayla Razzouk (Bloomberg News) report that he placed "all eight government ministers from the Sunni Muslim-backed al-Iraqiya alliance on leave" according to his spokesperon Ali al-Musawi.  Where in the country's constitution does that power exist?
Oh, right, it doesn't.  Those eight ministers were confirmed in their posts by Parliament (in other words they're not 'acting' anything, they are the ministers, per the Constitution). His only power after a minister is confirmed by Parliament?  Outlined in Article 75:
The Prime Minister is the direct executive authority responsible for the general policy of the State and the commander in chief of the armed forces.  He directs the Council of Ministers, and presides over its meetings and has the right to dismiss the Ministers on the consent of the Council of Representatives.
He is not allowed to strip a minister of their post without the consent of Parliament.  Iraqiya has been boycotting the Cabinet and Parliament -- this started last month over the failure of Nouri to live up to the Erbil Agreement that ended the eight month political stalemate following the March 2010 elections.  If Nouri now wants the ministers dismissed -- for any reason -- he needs to go to Parliament.
He has no right to put them on "leave."  There is nothing in the Constitution that gives him this right.  Per the Constitution, a Minister can only be stripped of their post (which would include their duties) if the Parliament agrees to it.  The Parliament still hasn't set a date on hearing Nouri's demand from last month (December 17th) that Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq be stripped of his post.  They certainly haven't agreed to strip eight ministers of their post.  Reider Visser (Gulf Analysis) on al-Mutlaq:
In another sign of Maliki's inability to proceed with a bolder course in parliament, no vote of no confidence in vice premier Salih al-Mutlak, also of the Iraqiyya party, was held. The true test, however, will come later in the month with an expected national conference to deal with the latest political unrest. It is noteworthy that Maliki has used the past few weeks to speak out vocally against several power-sharing clauses of the shadowy Arbil framework that led to the creation of his second government in December 2010. This continued a trend seen throughout 2011, when Maliki increasingly sought to evade any discussion of the exact contents of that agreement.
It would be nice if reporters covering Iraq would learn the Constitution.  Then, for example, they might be able to note when something was being done illegally.  And, yes, if something's done that's not permitted the Constitution, a journalist can note that in their report.  It's not opinion, it's the law.
So Bloomberg's report is worthless as is Prashant Rao's report for AFP which opens, "Iraq's premier backed off threats to fire ministers boycotting cabinet, instead naming temporary replacements Wednesday, as the UN voiced concern over a row that has stoked sectarian tensions." 
Sidebar, while we're on the Constitution.  If someone asks you when Iraq holds elections next, the answer is not, 'The last ones were in March 2010 so four years from that.'  The approprirate answer is that with each election -- provincial or parliament (and excepting KRG's provincial elections which are run smoothly) -- Iraq has taken longer and longer to hold elections.  That's (A).  (B) March has nothing to do with the next elections.  The thing to determine is when was the first Parliament session?  In the late spring of 2010 or in November?  Arguments can be made for either.  But, per the Constitution, you go by the first session of Parliament.  Article 54: "First: The electoral term of Council of Representatives shall be limited to four calendar years, starting with its first session and ending with the conclusion of the fourth year."   Again, it will be interesting to see -- if early elections do not take place -- which session of Parliament will be considered the "first" session.  From there, you count back 45 days.  Article 54: "Second: The new Council of Representatives shall be elected 45 days before the conclusion of the previous electoral term."
What Nouri's doing with the Cabinet isn't covered by the Constitution.
He is not solely responsible for the Cabinet.  He can not pick someone to be a minister and have them be a real minister without Parliament confirming them.  He can not strip anyone of their title without Parliament approving. 
What Nouri has done is illegal and unconstitutional.  Reporters who can't make that point, really have nothing to say.
With no eye to the comic possibilities, President Jalal Talabani issued a statement today, Aswat al-Iraq reports, noting that the government is committed to the supremacy of law. Aswat al-Iraq notes State of Law MP Ali al-Shalah, criticizing Paul Bremer (and possibly Bremer's call for Iraq to become a federation), states that "when Bremer left Iraq, the security situation was on the brink of disaster and the country not unified, but today the situation is different."  The country is unified?  It's like reading The Onion.
Let's move over to the US quickly.  Today, Time magazine notes, US President Barack Obama had a lot to say about his recess apointment of Richard Cordray (of course it was a man, wasn't it?)  as the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  And Barack's remarks included:
The only reason Republicans in the Senate have blocked Richard is because they don't agree with the law setting up the consumer watchdog. They want to weaken it. Well that makes no sense at all. Does anyone think the reason we got in such a financial mess was because of too much oversight? Of course not. We shouldn't be weakening oversight and accountability.
So we need oversight and accountability?  That's important to Barack, is it?
Why is it December 7th sticks in my head right now?  Oh, right.  The US House Oversight and Government Reform's National Security Subcommittee held a hearing that day.  Who gave testimony?  Oh, that's right, appearing before Congress were the Defense Department's Inspector General Gordon S. Heddell, the State Department's Deputy Inspector General Harold Geisel, US AID's Acting Inspector General Michael Carroll, the acting Inspector General for the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction and the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart Bowen.
And if, January 17th, the House wanted to hear from these witnesses about what was going on right now, who could give knowledgable testimony? 
Only Bowen.  He's the only one who would still be in the position listed by his name above.  From that Decemember hearing, let's note the Chair.
Subcommittee Chair Jason Chaffetz: Before recognizing Ranking Member [John] Tierney, I'd like to note that the Defense Dept, State Dept, USAID and SIGAR will not have IGs in January. In May of this year, I wrote the President asking him to move without delay to appoint replacements. That letter was signed by Senators [Joe] Lieberman, [Susan] Collins, [Claire] McCaskill and [Rob] Portman, as well as [House Oversight Committee] Chairman [Darrell] Issa and Ranking Member [Elijah] Cummings and Ranking Member Tierney. I'd like to place a copy of this record into the record. Without objection, so ordered. To my knowledge, the President has yet to nominate any of these replacements, nor has he responded to this letter. I find that totally unacceptable. This is a massive, massive effort. It's going to take some leadership from the White House. These jobs cannot and will not be done if the president fails to make these appointments. Upon taking office, President Obama promised that his administration would be "the most open and transparent in history." You cannot achieve transparency without inspectors general. Again, I urge President Obama and the Senate to nominate and confirm inspectors general to fill these vacancies and without delay

So today, Barack insists oversight and accountability are important -- laughable when the State Department has repeatedly avoided breaking down their basic budgets with Stuart Bowen.  But let's pretend Barack's serious.  Why is he not filling those position?  Billions of dollars have been lost in war spending and he's pretending he cares about accountability and oversight while letting those positions go vacant?  In that December hearing, US House Rep Raul Labrador observed, "Yet this panel is representing the IG offices principally responsible for overseeing tax payer money in Iraq and Afghanistan and, as of January 4th of next year, four of the five offices will not have an IG."
Do you know what today is? 
January 4th.
Will the lazy ass American press ever do their job?
Magic 8 Ball says: "Reply hazy, try again."
Meanwhile, still in the US, Media Matters self-presents as a watchdog.  But instead of watching out, it offers snark.  Snark that doesn't even make sense.  Snark that wastes time and actually helps War Hawks.
So Media Matters has sent something to the public e-mail account.  'What does it say?' I asked.  I had to find a laptop because it's nothing but a video -- and a clip at that -- not a video of them speaking themselves, just something they captured. 
The first question is obvious:  Is that how Barack looked in the Iowa address?  If so, there is something wrong with his make up.  [Click here for AP video, it is how he looked.  Note the eye lids for his actual skin color and then check out the ridiculous foundation they've painted on him.  He looks like a clown, an orange clown] 
The title of their post is "The Premature Evacuation Of Iraq Is So Rapid, We Basically Have Left That Country In Total Chaos."  And, at the very end of the dumb clip, someone on Fox News says that. 
Judging by the comments readers are leaving, we're supposed to chuckle at how stupid Fox News is.  The stupidity is on the part of those leaving comments like this one "If Brian thinks nearly 10 years of occupation is premature evacuation his girlfriend must get bored."  That doesn't even make sense.  Not even on the joke level.  "His girlfriend must be sore!"  That's a stupid remark that does finish out the idiot theme the comment was trying to maintain.  (Though "premature evacuation," pay attention, would more likely be the basis for a spastic colon joke.) 
In fairness to the readers, why should they show logic when Media Matters apparently didn't.
I don't watch Fox News, I have no idea the name of the man speaking, nor do I need to know who it was.  But what I do know is that the White House spent 2011 trying to extend the Status Of Forces Agreement and willing to go with a new agreement if need be.  And then in October, they were told Nouri would give immunity but that the Parliament wouldn't.  (In December, the Parliament offered "limited immunity" -- the talks continue.)  In October, with no immunity, the White House announced they were removing US troops.  That is most likely the point being made in the Fox News clip.  (Most likely?  Despite starting with Barack and boring us all with his orange face, the clip ends with that one line from the Fox News guy.  If he said more, it's not in the clip.)
If Media Matters can't follow the argument being made, then they really are stupid.  What's worse though is that they're probably not stupid, they're probably trying to play people for fools by mis-presenting the argument.
The November 15th Senate Armed Services Committee hearing was only one hearing where this was addressed and, hate to break it to the Media Matters geniuses, elected Democrats publicly voiced concerns about the administration's move as well.  This was especially true in the House.
And those concerns should be addressed, not snarked about.  Christmas Eve, Kenneth M. Pollack (Brookings Institution) observed,  "Make no mistake about it: the current crisis, manufactured by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki for reasons that only he knows for sure, is of seminal importance for Iraq. Right now, it seems far more likely to end badly rather than well. And if it ends badly, it could easily usher in renewed civil war, a highly unstable dictatorship, or even a Somali-like failed state. Not only would this be a humiliation for the Obama administration -- which justified the withdrawal of American troops by insisting that Iraq was well on the way to democratizing and did not need an ongoing U.S. peacekeeping presence -- it would be a major threat to American vital interests in the Persian Gulf region." These are serious issues and, apparently, far beyond anything Media Matters can handle because they just want to snark. 
So maybe they should do everyone a favor and just not tackle Iraq?  If they can't present a coherent, factual argument regarding Iraq, maybe they should find other topics? 
Repeating: When you distort the facts, you don't anyone any favors.  Ten years from now, War Hawks will be able to point to the Media Matters item as proof of how their side, their position was distorted.  This garbage from Media Matters breeds backlashes.  It's a real shame that what was supposed to be a site of integrity that provided fact checking from the left has instead descended into cheap distortions.  But then Media Matters isn't about peace or antiwar, it's just another cheap whore for Barack. 
Reality via James Cogan (WSWS): "The Obama administration and the US military agreed to remove all combat troops, as stipulated in the Status of Forces agreement reached in 2008, only after they failed to bully the Iraqi regime into allowing thousands of troops to remain under a blanket exemption from prosecution under Iraqi law."
Back to Iraq where Talabani met with the UN Special Envoy to Iraq Martin Kobler and Kobler's office later issued the following statement:
Baghdad, 4 January 2012- The Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Iraq (SRSG), Martin Kobler, met today in Sulymaniya the President of the Republic of Iraq, H.E. Jalal Talabani. He also met in Erbil yesterday with the President of the Kurdistan Region, H.E. Masoud Barzani; the Speaker of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region's Parliament, Mr. Kamal Kirkouki; and the Minister of Interior, Mr. Karim Sinjari.
The SRSG discussed in all his meetings the latest political developments in Iraq including the recent political tensions. He expressed concern about the current political stalemate in the country. He urged Iraqi political parties and leaders to work together in the spirit of partnership towards finding a common ground to resolve their differences on the basis of the Constitution through meaningful dialogue and compromise as stated by the UN Secretary-General in a statement issued yesterday, 3 January 2012. 
He assured all his interlocutors of the readiness of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) to support Iraqi leaders' efforts to promote confidence and trust among the parties at this important juncture in the history of Iraq.
In addition to Kobler meeting with Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzanai, US Senator Joe Lieberman met with Barzani on Tuesday where the two "discussed the ongoing political crisis on the one hand and the differences between State of Law [Nouri's political slate] and Iraqiya [Ayad Allawi's slate] on the other hand."  Monday, Robert Grenier analyzed Iraq's political crisis at Al Jazeera:

Yes, Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has always shown autocratic tendencies, unsurprisingly given the traditional political role models with which Iraqis are working. And yes, he has long over-centralised security power in his own hands, maintaining personal control over the Interior, Defence and National Security Ministries and making the Baghdad Operations Command directly answerable to his personal office. But this, too, is not entirely unexpected, given the tenuousness of Iraqi internal security.
And finally, yes, Abu Isra has been transparently uncomfortable in sharing any authority with the Iraqiyya bloc, the largest vote-getter in the last elections, and has essentially reneged on many of the elaborate power-sharing arrangements reached in the so-called Irbil accords, which facilitated formation of his government. But again, here too, Maliki has not been entirely outside his rights. He did, after all, form the most viable parliamentary coalition, giving him the right to form a government, and the vague provisions for an extraordinary National Security Council to be chaired by his chief political rival, and to which key domestic and national security policies were to be referred, were simply never realistic.
Now, however, only days after the final withdrawal of American troops, it is clear that al-Maliki has finally gone too far. His recent actions have served to strip the veneer of legitimacy from his past policies, and have revealed those past actions as the precursors to a naked power-grab. Beginning with the sudden and summary arrest of some 615 alleged Baathists, including many of Maliki's political enemies and conducted while the final push to evacuate the last of the US troops was conveniently underway, the Iraqi prime minister has gone on to press politically-motivated terrorism charges against Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi, a Sunni Islamist and a prominent member of Iraqiyya. At the same time, the Shia Maliki has moved to orchestrate a parliamentary no-confidence vote to oust Sunni deputy Prime Minister Saleh Mutlaq, another prominent member of Iraqiyya, ostensibly over a personal slight. Other political opponents have awakened to find tanks around their homes.

While the political crisis continues,  the editorial board of the Toledo Blade notes, "Iraq will get fighter jets, tanks, and a wide range of other weapons. With the final withdrawal of U.S. forces last month, Iraq is on the verge of armed conflict between its majority Shiites and minority Sunnis. Its armed forces are little more than pickup squads of Shiite militias, ready to go after Sunnis and possibly each other." And the UN News Center notes:

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today expressed concern about continuing political tensions in Iraq, urging all parties in the Middle East country "to work to resolve their differences peacefully through meaningful dialogue and compromise."
In a statement issued by his spokesperson, the Secretary-General said the ongoing issues could contribute to insecurity in the country, which has been hit by a series of recent bomb attacks.
"It is essential that pending political issues are resolved in a way that respects the constitution and its provisions for the separation of powers, the rule of law and an independent judiciary," the statement noted.

As Sheikh (Dar Addustour) reports that the national conference President Jalal Talabani has been advocating for seems unlikely according to the latest indicators. However, State of Law MP Abbas al-Bayati tells Aswat al-Iraq that the conference should take place near the middle of January.  Meanwhile yesterday there were reports about Iraqiya continuing their boycott of Parliament; however, Dar Addustour reports that the Kurdish Alliance walked out yesterday in portest of State of Law's Hussein al-Assadi's assertion that Talabani (president of Iraq and a Kurd) is a "terrorist." Kurdish MP Mohsen Saadoun called for a formal apology as Parliament convened and what followed was a loud disagreement with the Kurdish Alliance then walking out. Parliament stopped the session until the Kurds returned at which point they resumed the reading of nine bills. In addition, Aswat al-Iraq notes:

A meeting between leaders of Iraq' main political parties ended on Wednesday, without any result, following al-Iraqiya Bloc's demand to discuss the case of Iraq's Vice-President, Tareq al-Hashimy, wanted for charges related to terrorism, according to a source close to the meeting.
"The meeting that began at 10:00 AM local time has ended without any result, due to al-Iraqiya Bloc's demand to discuss the case of Vice-President, Tareq al-Hashimy, within the schedule of the meeting," the source told Aswat al-Iraq news agency.

In Iraq today, AGI reports a 6-year-old girl is dead from a series of Baquba bombings which left eight more people dead. AFP notes there were five bombs which went off "at short intervals." While AGI and AFP report the girl was a 6-year-old, Jomana Karadsheh (CNN) reports the girl was nine. Reuters ups the wounded count to twelve (also states the girl was 6-years-old) and notes a Samarra grenade attack has killed 1 police officer (three more injured), a Baquba bombing claimed the life of 1 young boy (two more injured),  and, dropping back to last night, notes 1 police officer shot dead in Baghdad and 2 Iraqi soldiers shot dead in Mosul. AP reports two children were killed in the Baquba bombings. In addition, AP notes that an Abu Ghraib home invasion resulted in 2 deaths (husband and wife).
Quickly, January 17 was picked for the House example above because that's when the House goes back into session (the Senate does on the 23rd).  A number are asking in e-mails if hearings start this week.  No.  Although the US Congress did start back up this time last year, they've pushed it back to the middle of January for the 112th Congress.