Friday, January 20, 2012

Iraq snapshot

Friday, January 20, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, Grand Ayatollah Sistani is worried about an outbreak of civil war in Iraq, Nouri orders more Iraqiya members arrested, the political crisis continues, and more.

Iraq is a young nation. The years of war and sanctions have ensured that. If you never grasped how young it was, understand that it has a CIA estimate of roughly 26 million people currently and Aswat al-Iraq reports, "The Iraqi Education Ministry announced today that about 8 million students of primary, intermediate and secondary schools will have their mid year examinations tomorrow." A little less than a third of the population will be taking exams in Iraq tomorrow. The CIA figure for the country's median age is 20.9 years -- for Iraqi males it's 20.8 years and for Iraq females it's 21 years.

Which is why the hatred Nouri al-Maliki fosters is all the sadder. Unlike the exile the Americans put in charge, most Iraqis aren't carrying decades old grudges. They simply aren't old enough to have done so.

You've got to be taught
To hate and fear
You've got to be taught
From year to year
It's got to be drummed
In your deaf little ear
You've got to be carefully taught
-- "You've Got to be Carefully Taught," written by Rodgers & Hammerstein, first appears in their musical South Pacific

And though he's a failure as a prime minister, Nouri excells at teaching hate.

And teaching fear by constantly screaming about "Ba'athists" all around just waiting to overthrow the government. Referring to his rivals as "ants" that he must apparently crush.

Always with the melodrama, like last October when Nouri repeatedly commented on the "terrorists" and "Ba'athists" that he was 'forced' to arrest because they were plotting an overthrow of the government. His spokesperson insisted the information was solid and had come from the newly installed Libyan government. Dropping back to the October 27th snapshot:

But back to those eyes and ears al-Asadi was claiming,
Al Mada reveals that the government is stating their source for the 'tips' about the alleged Ba'athist plot to take over Iraq came from the Transitional Government of Libya. The so-called rebels. A number of whom were in Iraq killing both Iraqis and US troops and British troops, several years ago. And supposedly prepping to rule Libya currently so you'd assume they had their hands full.

Tim Arango (New York Times) maintains that "secret intelligence documents" were discovered by the so-called 'rebels' that provided a link between Libya's late president Muammar Gaddafi and Ba'ath Party members and that Mahmoud Jibril made a trip to Baghdad to turn over the info. Jibril was acting prime minister who stepped down October 23rd. (We're back to when puppet regimes meet!) One would have assumed he had other things to focus on. It's also curious that this 'rebel' would have 'learned' after the fall of Tripoli of a plot. Curious because, unlike a number of 'rebel' leaders in Libya, Langley didn't ship Jibril in from Virginia, he was Gaddafi's hand picked head of the National Economic Development Board (2007 to 2011). One would assume he would have been aware of any big plot long before the so-called rebels began the US war on Libya.

Yet January 5th, Al Mada reported that hundreds of those arrested were now being released. And that officials say the government is expected to release every one arrested. When the arrests started taking place weeks ago, the press estimate was over 500, with some noting over 700 but most going with the lower figure. Dar Addustour informed 820 Iraqis were arrested in that crackdown..

Critics of the arrests noted that it appeared Nouri was targeting Sunnis. Of those recent mass arrests, McClatchy Newspapers states "Western diplomats scoff at the idea that the arrests were aimed at thwarting a coup" and quotes one unnamed diplomat stating, "This is just paranoia." AP notes that a spokesperson for Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani declared that the country "cannot bear further tensions among politicians."

The Bush administration was wrong to install him as prime minister in 2006 (the Iraqi Parliament wanted Ibrahim al-Jaafari) and Barack Obama's administration was deadly wrong when they chose to insist that he be given a second term in 2010.

He fled Iraq and Saddam Hussein and lived in exiles for years, decades. Nursing his hatred, telling himself that some day he had his vengeance. And when he got what he wanted, the death of Saddam Hussein, he still couldn't move forward. Fahad Abdullah tells Jasim Alsabawi (Rudaw), "Maliki should have used the opportunity after the withdrawal of the US forces to begin a new era for the rise of Iraq and embrace everyone under one Iraq." There is nothing left in him but the hatred as he chases ghosts.

It's just the ghost of what you really want
And it's the ghost of the past that you live in
And it's the ghost of the furture you're so frightented of
-- "Ghosts," written by Stevie Nicks and Mike Campbell, first appears on Stevie's The Other Side of the Mirror
All he has are the ghosts of the past. He goes after political rivals and threatens Iraq's internal safety. Already he's declared Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi a terrorist and demanded Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq be stripped of his title. al-Hashemi and al-Mutlaq are both Sunni and members of Iraqiya. The Iraqiya aspect goes to the political rivalry (Iraqiya bested State of Law in the March 2010 elections -- Ayad Allawi heads Iraqiya, Nouri heads State of Law). The Sunni aspect could further the divisions between the sects and, some fear, return Iraq to the days of 2006 and 2007 when the sects were in an open war against one another.

Ali al-Tuwaijri (AFP) reports that Nouri's forces arrested Ghabdan al-Khazraji, the Deputy Governor of Investments Diyala Province, and attempted to arrest the Deputy Governor of Administrative Affairs Talal al-Juburi.but he's now in the Kurdsitan Regional Government. The two are Sunni and they are also members of Iraqiya. The arrest follows Wednesday's arrest. Margaret Griffis ( explained, "Baghdad Provincial Council Vice President Riyadh al-Adhadh was arrested on terrorism charges and stands accused of financing a terrorist group in Abu Ghraib. Adhadh is a Sunni doctor who founded a free clinic in Adhamiya and is the focus of an English-language documentary on Iraq. The Iraqi Islamic Party condemned the action and called it an "unprecedented escalation" in the political arena."

As the political crisis continues, Roy Gutman, Sahar Issa and Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) report:

Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki's security services have locked up more than 1,000 members of other political parties over the past several months, detaining many of them in secret locations with no access to legal counsel and using "brutal torture" to extract confessions, his chief political rival has charged.
Ayad Allawi, the secular Shiite Muslim leader of the mainly Sunni Muslim Iraqiya bloc in parliament, who served as prime minister of the first Iraqi government after the Americans toppled Saddam Hussein, has laid out his allegations in written submissions to Iraq's supreme judicial council.

The reporters call the above "the second major broadside this week" and note: "London's Guardian newspaper reported Monday on an extortion racket involving Iraqi state security officials who systematically arrest people on trumped-up charges, torture them and then extort bribes from their families for their release." From the Guardian article by Ghaith Abdul-Ahad:

"Look," he added, "the system now is just like under Saddam: walk by the wall, don't go near politics and you can walk with your head high and not fear anything. But if you come close to the throne then the wrath of Allah will fall on you and we have eyes everywhere."
He described the arrest of the Sunni vice-president Tariq al-Hashimi's bodyguards who, it was claimed by the Shia-dominated government, had been paid by Hashimi to assassinate Shia officials. (Hashimi was on a plane heading to Kurdistan when government forces took over the airport, preventing him from leaving. After a standoff, he was allowed to fly but his men where detained.)
"Look what happened to the poor bodyguards of Hashimi, they were tortured for a week. They took them directly to our unit and they were interrogated severely. Even an old general was hanging from the ceiling. Do you know what I mean by hanging?"
In the constricted space of the car he pulled his arms up behind his back.
"They hang him like this. Sometimes they beat them with cables and sticks and sometimes they just leave them hanging from a metal fence for three days. They are torturing them trying to get them to confess to the bombing of the parliament."

Al Mada reported, yes, another secret prison run by Nouri. The Human Rights Committee in Parliament declared Wednesday that another secret prison ("Briagde 56") exists and it is run by Nouri (as were the others). They do not yet know the location of the prison.

Al Sabaah reports that the National Alliance is studying a list of requirements President Jalal Talabani has made for the national conference with the apparent intent of discussing them in Sunday's pre-national conference meet-up. Al Mada reports that the Sadr bloc is stating Moqtada al-Sadr might -- only might -- attend the national conference. Whether he does or not, the Sadr bloc stated Moqtada is following all the developments. Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq leader Ammar al-Hakim is calling for a return to political parternership and a return to Constitutional rule. Aswat al-Iraq quotes Kurdish Alliance MP Shwan Mohammed Taha stating, "If Iraqi politicians differ on the venue of the conference, how they will be able [to] find the solutions to the present crisis.[. . .] We, as the Kurdish Alliance, have no problem withwhere it shall be convened, but we welcomefor it to be held in Kurdistan." They also quote Kurdish Alliance MP Ashwaq al-Jaff stating there is a need to "finalize the agenda before entering the conference to avoid any surprises, which may lead certain bloc to withdraw."

al-Hakim and al-Sadr's groups are part of the National Alliance and Al Mada notes rumors that the National Alliance is calling for Mahmoud al-Mashhadani to become the new Deputy Prime Minister. He would replace Saleh al-Mutlaq whom Nouri has insisted since December must be stripped of his post. Ibrahim al-Jaafari heads the National Alliance and he states that they would be happy for Nouri and al-Mutlaq to resolve the matter themselves. If not, al-Jaafari expresses the opinion that al-Mutlaq should announce his resignation.

Mahmoud al-Mashhadani was Speaker of Parliament from 2006 until the end of 2008. After initially praising him, the Bush administration decided they did not care for the Sunni politician and launched a public relations war against him (which the New York Times enlisted in portraying him as depressed and hiding in his father's home when he was, in fact, in Jordan on a diplomatic trip). The US backed off somewhat after 2007 came to a close and they'd been unable to force him out as Speaker of Parliament. Considering the charges against some Sunni politicians, it's strange that he'd be accetable. Damien Cave and Richard A. Oppel Jr. (New York Times) wrote in June of 2007, "Iraq's leading political blocs agreed yesterday to remove the Sunni speaker of Parliament, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, from his position. The move came after accusations arose that his bodyguards assaulated a Shiite lawmaker yesterday as al-Mashhadani cursed him and then dragged him to the speaker's office." Despite that assertion, al-Mashhadani remained as Speaker of Parliament for the rest of 2007, through 2008 and only left in December 2008 by his own choice.

Elliott Woods (Businessweek) surveys the business prospects and, in doing so, notes recent violence, "The wave of violence that has rocked the country since the last U.S. troops rolled back across the border into Kuwait on Dec. 18 began with a dozen coordinated attacks in Baghdad on Dec. 22 that killed upwards of 60 people; then there were the Jan. 5 bombings in Kadhimiya and Sadr City and another attack on a bus full of Shiite pilgrims the same day, near the holy city of Karbala. All 30 passengers died. Fifty-three more pilgrims were killed near Basra on Jan. 14, and 10 died in attacks on a police station in Ramadi the next day. Add the victims of drive-by shootings and bombings at military and police checkpoints from Fallujah to Mosul, and the total number of dead in the month since the withdrawal tops 250." Today's violence? Reuters notes 1 police officer shot dead in Mosul, 1 person shot in front of his Mosul home and a Hawija roadside bombing which claimed 2 lives and left five people injured. Aswatl al-Iraq adds that 1 man was kidnapped in Kirkuk on Thursday and another today (the one today by assailants wearing Iraqi military uniforms), that the Kirkuk home of two brothers (who were members of Sahwa) was bombed (no one was hurt), and a Kirkuk bombing claimed 2 lives.

This week's violence included an attack on the Turkish Embassy in Baghdad Wednesday. Hasan Kanbolat (Today's Zaman) observes:

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki keeps creating tension in the bilateral relations between Turkey and Iraq in a systematic way. By pointing to Turkey as a target, the Iraqi government ensured the issuance of an arrest warrant for Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi.
Maliki has been making offensive statements against Turkey. Most recently, the tension was escalated by a new attack on the Turkish Embassy in Baghdad on Jan. 18, 2012. In this way, we see there are attempts to ensure the artificial tension is replaced by a new crisis.
Turkey is the only country that did not close its embassy in Iraq after 2003. Even though there have been three attacks against the embassy in Baghdad. Turkey still remained committed to its work in the country. The Turkish Embassy in Baghdad is one of only a few diplomatic missions outside the Green Zone which is known for its heightened security and surrounded by tall walls in downtwon Baghdad. The protection of the Turkish Embassy, located in the al-Wazireya neighborhood, where high-level executives used to live in the city, is the responsibility of Iraqi security forces. The Turkish Embassy is visibly
connected to the neighborhood in which it is located; the embassy's relationship with nearby residents is such that the embassy supplies electricity to them. And the neighborhood also serves as the natural protector of the embassy. This is why it won't be too difficult to determine where and how the attack was staged.
McClatchy's Sahar Issa filed a very throrough report on the attack. KUNA notes today that Iraqi Foreign Minister "Hoshyar Zebari contacted his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu and strongly condemned the criminal act."

On the topic of the continued occupation of Iraq, Dar Addustour reports that Sadr bloc MP Ali al-Tamimi told Alsumaria that the position of Moqtada al-Sadr and the bloc is that the presence of the US Embassy on Iraqi soil as well as all the contractors staffing the US mission are as threatening and dangerous as the military and that these are "occupation forces." Drexel University's professor Robert Zaller explains (at The Triangle), "There will be residual forces in Iraq as trainers and advisers, but these will be private contractors and black-ops types. We are not leaving behind any potential hostages we cannot disavow if necessary. There will also be security for the mega-sized embassy -- the world's largest -- we leave behind in Baghdad's Green Zone. In addition, the U.S. retains a consulate of 1,320 people, which will remain in the port of Basra; a staging base should we ever return; and a tripwire for future hostilities with Iran. In short, the American occupation of Iraq is not over. As long as that is the case, we cannot say the war is over, either."

In the US new data on military suicides has been released. Elisabeth Bumiller (New York Times) reports, "Suicides among active-duty soldiers hit another record high in 2011, Army officials said on Thursday, although there was a slight decrease if nonmobilized Reserve and National Guard troops were included in the calculation." Bumiller notes, "Asked if he was frustrated by the jump last year in suicide by active-duty soldiers, General [Peter] Chiarelli said no." That resonse should tag Chiarelli and follow him around for the duration of his service. Anna Mulrine (Christian Science Monitor) covers the data and emphasizes what it found on self-medicating and the military's assertion that now they can deal with the problems (as opposed to looking the other way at other times). It'll be interesting to see in a year or so if, indeed, the military is helping service members get help or if, as has often been the case, they're just using self-medication as an excuse to drum them out of the service.

Also in the US, Feminist Majority Foundation issued the following today:
Friday, January 20, 2010
Francesca Tarant, 703.522.2214
Annie Shields, 310.556.2500,
Statment of Eleanor Smeal On The Decision of Kathleen Sebelius and the Obama Administration Not to Broaden the Religious Exemption for Contraceptive Coverage
The Feminist Majority Foundation applauds the decision of Kathleen Sebelius, Health and Human Services Secretary, and the Obama Administration not to broaden the religious exemption for contraceptive coverage under the Preventive Care package of the Affordable Care Act. This request, primarily by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, would have denied millions of American women contraceptive coverage, including students, teachers, nurses, social workers, and other staff (and their families) at religiously-connected or associated schools, universities, and hospitals, as well as institutions, such as Catholic Charities.
At last -- concern for women's health trumps pressure from the Catholic Bishops. Millions of women who may have been denied access to birth control with no co-pays or deductibles will now have full access. I am especially pleased that college students at religiously affiliated institutions will now have coverage for birth control without co-pays or deductibles under their school health plans beginning in Auust 2012.
Birth control is the number one prescription drug for women ages 18 to 44 years. Right now, the average woman has to pay $50 per month for 30 years for birth control. No wonder many low-income women have had to forgo regular use of birth control and half of US pregnancies are unplanned. This decision will help millions of women and their families.
Insurance plans that cover employers and employees must cover contraception with no co-pays or deductibles starting August 2012, and non-profit religious institutions under this new rule that do not currently cover contraception must do so with no co-pays or deductibles beginning August 2013. Moreover, student insurance plans at religiously affiliated universites must cover contraception with no co-pays or deductibles beginning August 212. Only women who work directly for a house of worship, such as for a church, synagogue, or mosque itself, are exempted from this required coverage.
Women's rights and pro-choice groups, including Feminist Majority Foundation, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the National Women's Law Center, the National Council of Jewish Women, the National Organization for Women (NOW), and NARAL Pro-Choice America, urged the Obama Administration not to consider the broader religious exemption.
In August, the US Departmentof Health and Human Services (HHS) announced new guidelines, developed by the Institute of Medicine, that will require private insurance plans under the Preventive Care packageofthe Affordable Care Act beginningon or after August 1, 2012 to cover without co-pays or deductibles as a variety of services, such as an annual well-woman visit and cancer screenings, counseling, such as for domestic and interpersonal violence, and testing for HIV and STIs, as well as all FDA-approved contraceptives, breastfeeding support, lactation service, and supplies.