Thursday, April 05, 2012

Iraq snapshot

Thursday, April 5, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, the national conference does not take place, KRG President Massoud Barzani makes clear that the Kurds will not be put off any more, al-Hashemi continues his diplomatic tour, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon calls for Iraq to halt executions, and more.
Oil, if Iraq didn't have it, the illegal war might never have started in 2003.  Oil continues to be a source of violence and conflict within Iraq.  For example, an apparent bombing has stopped a pipeline.  Ali Berat Meric and Emre Peker (Bloomberg News) report that the Kirkuk-Yumurtalik pipeline is not transporting oil to Turkey currently after a bombing took place within Turkey damaging the pipeline.  Orhan Coskun (Reuters) reports, "There were three almost simultaneous explosions at separate points along the pipeline in the Idil area, a Turkish security official said."
There's violence and the conflict?  At this point, that's primarily between the central-government in Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government.  Nouri took the ongoing disagreement to a new level this week when his government accused the Kurds of selling blackmarket oil to the government of Iran.  Alsumaria TV reported the Kurdistan Alliance denied the charges and accused Deputy Prime Minister of Energy Hussein al-Shahristani of declaring war on them and they are calling for him to apologize to the Kurdish people for his accusations.  As RT noted, the Kurds were already unhappy with Baghdad over a $1.5 billion debt that they say the centeral-government owes them and that the refusal to pay led the KRG to halt their Baghdad oil deliveries at the start of the week after ten consecutive months of no payment from Baghdad. Alsumaria quotes KRG Natrual Resources Minister Ashti Hawrami telling the press, "Kurdistan Government will not resume oil export before it reaches a comprehensive agreement with Baghdad about payment methods and dues to oil companies in the Region.  Kurdistan Government will only resume oil export when it reaches a general agreement with Baghdad."   The editorial board of The National offered:
This is, above all else, a political disagreement. And it's a disagreement that is harming both sides. Kurdish leaders are asserting their autonomy that, in terms of state institutions and security forces, is already a fact on the ground. A charitable view is that Mr Al Maliki is trying to unify a national energy sector; an alternative explanation is that Baghdad is trying to monopolise national resources for the exclusive benefit of his constituency.
The casualty in this case is the national economic project. After more than three years of haggling, Iraq's oil law seems no closer to being passed, which in turn harms foreign investment in the sector. Baghdad objects to the deals the KRG has struck independently with oil majors; on Monday, Exxon Mobil confirmed that it had frozen an exploration contract in the Kurdish region because of pressure from Baghdad.
ExxonMobil may or may not have confirmed that.  Reuters notes today, "The central government now says that Exxon has written to it twice since early March to say that its deals with the Kurds have been suspended. The Kurds say Exxon has not halted work in Kurdistan and have challenged Baghdad to publish Exxon's letters."  And the battle over ExxonMobil is being watched as the Reuters points out:
Oil majors are now waiting on the sidelines, watching the outcome of Exxon's balancing act between Baghdad and Arbil, the northern capital. France's Total is the latest company to provoke Baghdad's ire by acknowledging interest in Kurdistan. "What companies are trying to do is get to the point where they are investing in the north and the south," said one industry source working in Iraq. "But at the moment they cannot do that. And that is what you have to build in when you decide whether to move in or not. You balance the risks."
So the status of the ExxonMobil deal with the KRG is not known at this point.  What is known?
Relations between Erbil and Baghdad were strained even before the controversy over the Exxon Mobil deal flared anew. Kurdish President Massoud Barzani delivered a stinging speech on Thursday in Washington that ripped into Maliki as an autocrat.
"Iraq is facing a serious crisis," he said. He insisted that oil deals struck in the autonomous Kurdish region were legal.
KRG President Massoud Barzani spoke in DC this afternoon at a Washington Institute for Near East Policy event.  His speech was delivered in Kurdish and translated.
KRG President Massoud Barzani: My visit to Washington came at the invitation of the US government in order to talk about the situation in Iraq, in the wider region, and also the situation between Kurdistan region and Iraq in detail.  Yesterday, during our meetings with the President, the Vice President and other officials of the US administration, we have talked about all of these issues in detail.  I'm sure many of you know that the people of Kurdistan have sacrificed a great deal and have shed a lot of blood for the sake of  building a federal, democratic and pluralistic Iraq.  But you always are mindful of the fact that, had it not been for the US support and assistance, without the sacrifices of men and women in uniform,  the sacrifices that have been made, this objective would not have been achieved and the regime would not have been toppled.  So we got a golden opportunity to build a new Iraq, an Iraq that's federa, democratic, l pluralistic, an Iraq that's new and better.  And also to be clear that what's the composition of this new Iraq? It's three main pillars that constitute Iraq.  It's the Kurds, the Shias and the Sunnis.  Having said that, we have to be mindful of the fact that we have other national minorities living with us, that they have to be respected, they have to be equally treated.  We've got the Turkomen, the Chaldean Assyrian, the Syriac and also an Albanian minority.  But we also have to realize that in terms of nationalities, Iraq is made up of two main nationalities: Arabs and Kurds.  I can say that in Kurdistan we have an experience that to a great extent has been a successful one. I cannot claim that this is an ideal experience without any flaws or shortcomings. But I can say for sure that the security stability situation is very good. The economy and social activies are good. Socially we have made a lot of progress.  We in the region have adopted a tolerant policy.  We have not  resorted to revenge and retaliation.  We have opened a new page and therefore we have been able to provide a safe and secure environment and to protect our people.  And for that, we are grateful to the support and assistance that we have received from own own people but also thanks to the dedication of the security and law enforcement people.  And the safe and secure environment has been the reason for inviting and attracting foreign companies and here lately American oil companies have also started to come to the region and start their investment and other activities.  I will give you some brief examples to show you the difference that we have made and theprogress that we have made.  After the fall of the regime in 2003, the GDP [Gross Domestic Product] per capita for individuals in the Kurdistan region was $275 per annum and now it exceeds $5,000.  And also the electricity rate was 57%.  It has reduced or dropped to 16%. Regarding other services and mainly electricity, we've been able to improve that sector. I can say that we're almost able to provide electritiy to all the main cities and townships and rural areas.  In certain areas, we have got four hours of electricity.  What has come to the Iraqi Treasury from 2003 until now, it has exceeded half-of-a-trillion [dollars].  You can check that information to see what kind of electricity has been provided in other parts of Iraq which does not exceed three to four hours. There are one million people under arms [security forces] but still terrorism and the threat of terrorism continues.  Iraq is facing a serious crisis today. Yesterday, we have discussed that very frankly with the President, the Vice President and it's going to one-man rule. It's going towards control of all the establishments of state. So we have got a situation or we ended up having a situation in Baghdad where one individual is the Prime Minister and at the same time he's the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, he's the Minister of Defense, he's the Minister of the Interior and the Chief of the Intelligence and lately he has sent a correspondence to the president of the Central Bank in Iraq that that establishment would also come under the Prime Minister.  Where in the world would you find such an example?  We as the people of Kurdistan, we believe that this government has come to be as a result of the blood that we have shed and as a result of the sacrifices that we have contributed.  We are eager to see the situation reformed.  Therefore, we will not leave Baghdad for others.  So, therefore, we see the situation in Iraq that it requires to be ruled in partnership -- for that power-sharing and partnership to consist of the Kurds and the Arabs -- both the Shia Arabs and the Sunni Arabs. Of course, we have to be mindful of the fact that the Iraqis themselves have to find solutions for the problems. When they try to find solutions for themselves, then their friends in the international community can help.  But if they wait for others, for the outsiders to help solve their problems, they will wait forever and they will not see solutions.  They have to do it themselves. It's very natural to have relations with the neighboring countries and also with the international community.  But also specifically with the neighboring countries in order to exchange views and to exchange ideas about this but not to give them an opportunity to interfere int he internal affairs of Iraq or for them to come to solve the problems or for them to act on behalf of the Iraqi people.  The Iraqis have to do it themselves.  But my visit has nothing to do with the other visit it was separate.
The speech was a declaration of the need for the Kurdish leaders to do what is best for the Kurdish people.  This was a message to Baghdad and Nouri, of course, but it was also a message to the White House and making clear that pretty words and empty promises will not be accepted by the Kurdish politicians any longer because the Kurdish people deserve more than that. 
This was clear in the question and answers that followed.  For example, in reply to questions from Barbara Slavin about the oil issue and whether the KRG might move from semi-autonomous to autonomous (breaking completely with Baghdad), Barzani replied through his translator:
We have been waiting for the last six years for promises that were not delivered, for agreements that were not honored. We have waited and everytime they give us an excuse. Once they say that there are elections in Baghdad, another time, elections in the region.  Once there is election in the United States.  Then there is the Arab Summit, etc., etc.  We have found out that we have passed six years waiting for these promises to be delivered.  We cannot anymore wait for unfulfilled promises and undelivered promises.  There has to be a specific and determined timeline for this to be delivered.  We got tired of this and we are fed up with that.  Therefore, what we will do is that we will work on the preferred option to work with the other Iraqi groups to find a solution. If not, then we go back to our people and to put all of these realities inf ront of our people for the people to be free to make their own decision.  As far as the issue of the oil is concerned, in 2007, when we were working and we reached an agreement on a draft oil hydrocarbons law, we both agreed that if that law did not pass in the Parliament until May that same year that both sides -- the KRG and the federal government -- are free to continuing signing contracts with international oil companies. Therefore, whatever we have done in the region, we have not violated the Constitution. We have acted legally and Constitutionally within the framework of the Constitution. 
Did you pay attention to all the excuses that have been given to the Kurds to wait?  Including a US election?  This speech was a declaration of independence on the part of the Kurds.  The basic premise Massoud Barzani has outlined is: We will not be bound by empty words no matter who speaks them.
Many of the remarks were also directed at Nouri al-Maliki.  Today was the day Nouri was supposed to demonstrate what a leader he was. The political crisis would finally be addressed via a national conference with the various political blocs participating.  News of the conference's death emerged yesterday.

The political crisis (Political Stalemate II) has been ongoing since at least December 2010. Political Stalemate I (eight months of inaction following the March 7, 2010 elections) ended only when all parties agreed to the US-brokered Erbil Agreement. This agreement found all blocs making concessions. Nouri wanted to remain prime minister, so he agreed to practically any demand/request on any other issue. Having been made prime minister-designate, he immediately began saying that the Erbil Agreement would have to wait on certain things -- for example, he said, it would take time to create the independent national security commission to be headed by Iraqiya's Ayad Allawi (Iraqiya won the most votes in the election). These things would be a matter of days. But as the weeks progressed, he made clear the promise to resolve the issue of Kirkuk wasn't going to be dealt with by calling off the planned census at the start of the December. As December was winding down, he was moved from prime minister-designate to prime minister and it was clear to many that the Erbil Agreement was being tossed.

Nouri went a few months claiming it would be implemented, give it time. Stalling is Nouri's tactic, after all. Then his lackeys -- in Iraq and the US -- began putting forward the argument that Nouri didn't have to abide by the Erbil Agreement it was illegal (many US lackeys were too ignorant of the law and used the term "unconstitutional" -- there is nothing in Iraq's Constitution that outlaws the Erbil Agreement or anything similar to it, the ignorant most likely would have used the term "extra-Constitutional" if they had any education in the law). The problem with the ignorant making legal arguments is that although they are highly amusing they fail to grasp that law is carried through. Meaning if I argue the Erbil Agreement is illegal, I'm not just giving Nouri permission to ignore it, I'm arguing that Nouri's second term as prime minister is illegal because that resulted from the Erbil Agreement. Logic is not a skill that the lackeys possess.

By last summer, the Kurds were tired of waiting for Nouri to implement the Erbil Agreement and began demanding that he do so. Iraqiya, Moqtada al-Sadr and others joined that call.

The national conference was supposed to address the Erbil Agreement. Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi and President Jalal Talabani both began calling for a national conference on December 21st. Nouri was the stumbling block.

He said one wasn't needed. He also argued that it shouldn't be a called a national conference. Then he argued that all political blocs shouldn't be invited, just some. He tried to argue in February that any such conference should be confined solely to the three presidencies (Talabani, Nujaifi and Nouri). He argued about what should be on the agenda and what shouldn't. He argued so much that the conference that many once thought would take place in January kept getting kicked back and kicked back. As March loomed, Nouri began insisting that the Arab League Summit (March 29th) would have to be the focus and that any national conference would have to wait until after that.
All that stalling.  Stalling was brought in Barzani's speech today. Tomorrow, we'll try to cover more of the questions and answers that followed his speech (Article 140 if nothing else).  But we'll move over to another political problem.  Salah Nasrawi (Al Ahram) reports that Iraqiya continues to be opposed to US President Barack Obama's nominee for US Ambassador to Iraq.  They see him as too close to Nouri making him "biased" and they also see him as "unfit" and hostile to Iraqiya as well:
Iraqi media outlets reported that in his letter to Congress Allawi accused McGurk of "meddling in Iraq's internal affairs," including in efforts to weaken the bloc's negotiating position with Al-Maliki.
The letter detailed how McGurk had managed to convince about a dozen mostly Shia members to quit the Iraqiya bloc, a move that led to criticisms that it was a purely Sunni group and denied it the character of a secular alliance.
Nouri was mentioned today by more than Barzani.  Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi is currently on a diplomatic tour of countries in the region.  Since late December, Nouri has been attempting to arrest him for 'terrorism.'  al-Hashemi has stayed in the KRG as a guest of Talabani and Barzani.  He has visited Qatar and Saudi Arabia thus far and has repeatedly stated that he intends to return to the KRG as soon as his diplomatic tour is over.  Middle East Online reports today:

In an interview with the pan-Arab Al-Jazeera network aired late on Wednesday, Hashemi said the accusations against him of running a death squad "have a sectarian dimension," noting that he is the "fifth Sunni figure to be targeted" by Iraq's Shiite-led government.

"More than 90 percent of the detainees in Iraq are Sunnis," said Hashemi, who pledged to return to Iraq to carry out his vice presidential duties despite Maliki's demands for him to face trial.

Hashemi sharply criticised Maliki, saying that "corruption in the country is widespread" and warning that the prime minister's policies were threatening "the unity of Iraq."

Alsumaria notes that Jalal Talabani is calling for a new date to be set for the national conference.
Turning to the issue of violence, Alsumaria reports that 1 police officer was shot dead in Mosul today and the Mosul home of a manager over passports was damaged by a nearby bombing which may have targeted the home.  In addition, Alsumaria notes 2 Iraqi soldiers were shot dead in Baghdad, a Kirkuk roadside bombing left two people injured, a Kirkuk attack (shooting) left one person injured, a Diyala bombing left eight people injured and a home bombing outside Falljua left the wife and daughter of a police officer injured.
Fresh off it's being ranked number three for most executions in one year [see Amnesty International report entitled [PDF format warning] "Death Sentences And Executions 2011."], the government of Iraq gears up to kill more people. Al Rafidayn reports a Babylon court has sentenced two former military officers to death for murder and theft. Louis Charbonneua (Reuters) reported yesterday evening that United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon was expressing concern over the death penalty worldwide and specifically in Iraq which, according to the report, executed 80 people from December 2011 to February 2012 versus 68 from January 2011 through November 2011. (In eleven months, they put 68 to death; in December, January and February, they managed to put 80 to death.) He called for Iraqi to put in place "a moratorium on the use of the death penalty." In Amnesty International's "Death Sentences And Executions 2011," they explained:

The government of Iraq rarely discloses information about executions, especially names of those executed and exact numbers. According to Amnesty International information, at least 68 people were executed in Iraq, including two foreigners and three women. Hundreds of people were sentenced to death; 735 death sentences were referred to the Iraqi Presidency for final ratification between January 2009 and September 2011, of which 81 have been ratified. Most death sentences were imposed, and executions carried out, on people convicted of belonging to or involvement in attacks by armed groups, including murder, kidnapping, rape or other violent crimes.
On 16 November, 11 people, including one woman, convicted of terrorism-related offences, were reported to have been executed in al-Kadhimiya Prison in Baghdad. Among the executed men were an Egyptian and a Tunisian national, Yosri Trigui, who was arrested in 2006 by US forces for his alleged involvement in terrorism-related acts. He was sentenced to death by the Central Criminal Court of Iraq (CCCI) for his alleged involvement in a bomb attack in Samarra the same year, in a trial that did not appear to meet international standards. The intervention of Tunisian Ennahda leader Rached Ghannouchi had initially led to a short postponement of the execution.
Trial proceedings before the CCCI were very brief, often lasting only a few minutes before verdicts are handed down. Defendants in criminal cases often complained that "confessions" are extracted under torture and other ill-treatment during pre-trial interrogation. They were often held incommunicado in police stations or in detention without access to their legal representatives or relatives, not brought before an investigative judge within a reasonable time and not told of the reason for their arrest. The "confessions" extracted from them are often accepted by the courts without taking any or adequate steps to investigate defendants' allegations of torture. The "confessions" are also frequently broadcast on the Iraqi government-controlled satellite TV Al Iraqiya, which undermines the presumption of innocence.
Well look at the Peter Gallaghers emerging from their comas.  Yes, while you were sleeping, Reid Smith and Glovindria Burgess, we were noting the assault on Iraqi youths.  And we'd be thrilled that you showed up, even all this time later, if you didn't show up and show off your ignorance.  Glovindria Burgess (Policy Mic) wants to offer a catty, "Emo is understood in the West . . ."  You not only don't understand Emo music (in the US), you don't understand rock music so find something else to write about.  It should be a crime for you to explicitly flaunt your ignorance.  Reid Smith (American Spectator) wants to focus on what's going on in Iraq with the Emo culture there.  So he repeats a bunch of tired lies and can't even get the lies correct.  What's going on in Iraq is not limited to Iraq.  It took place in Mexico (which kind of refutes all the points Smith and Burgess believe they're making) and it took place in Egypt, it's part of a culture of fear and it goes beyond sexuality concerns to sexual identity concerns for those who are afraid (think US reaction to the hippies -- especially to males with 'long hair' back then).  The fear-based violence will continue as long as idiots like Smith and Burgess are allowed to prattle on about things they know nothing about.  Scott Lang did an amazing job in 2009 covering the targeting of Iraq's LGBT community and, no surprise, he wrote (back in March, for the Guardian) one of the most comprehensive and informative pieces on this latest round of targeting Iraqi youth
A new killing campaign is convulsing Iraq. The express targets are "emos", short for "emotional": a western-derived identity, teenagers adopting a pose of vulnerability, along with tight clothes and skewed hairdos and body piercing. Starting last year, mosques and the media both began raising the alarm about youthful immorality, calling the emos deviants and devil worshippers. In early February, somebody began killing people. The net was wide, definitions inexact. Men who seemed effeminate, girls with tattoos or peculiar jewellery, boys with long hair, could all be swept up. The killers like to smash their victims' heads with concrete blocks.
There is no way to tell how many have died: estimates range from a few dozen to more than 100. Nor is it clear who is responsible. Many of the killings happened in east Baghdad, stronghold of Shia militias such as Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi army and Asaib Ahl al-Haq (the League of the Righteous). Neither, though, has claimed responsibility. Iraq's brutal interior ministry issued two statements in February. The first announced official approval to "eliminate" the "satanists". The second, on 29 February, proclaimed a "campaign" to start with a crackdown on stores selling emo fashion. The loaded language suggests, at a minimum, that the ministry incited violence. It's highly possible that some police, in a force riddled with militia members, participated in the murders.
It's logical to compare this to the militia campaign against homosexual conduct in 2009, which I documented for Human Rights Watch. Hundreds of men lost their lives then. Gay-identified men have been caught up in these killings as well, and Baghdad's LGBT community is rife with fear. Yet there are differences. The current killings target women as well as men, and children are the preferred victims. It's not quite true to say, as some press reports have suggested, that "emo" is just a synonym for "gay" in Iraq. Rather, immorality, western influence, decadence and blasphemy have come together in a loosely defined, poorly aligned complex of associations: and emo fashion and "sexual perversion" are part of the mix.
Again, if you're trying to find a correlation for what's taking place with regards to Emo in other countries, especially in Arab countries, your template is the hippies.  There were some who saw them as gay and lesbian (and there were some who were gay and lesbian, just as there are some Emo who are) but at the root of the sexual panic that created in so many reactionaries was the issue of sexual identity (and identity period) as the hippies exercised and explored freedoms that frightened others who were conditioned not to question or explore.  That those conditioned to rigid thinking would recoil explorers and adventurers isn't surprising.  And that's not, "Oh, look at the Arab world!"  Not only did a signficant number react that way to the hippies in the sixties (and a smaller number continue to despise and attack them today) but there was an organized response to that attempt at freedom.  As Noam Chomsky (Information Clearing House) points out this week while documenting the attack on public education in the US:
Forty years ago there was deep concern that the population was breaking free of apathy and obedience.
At the liberal internationalist extreme, the Trilateral Commission -- the nongovernmental policy group from which the Carter Administration was largely drawn -- issued stern warnings in 1975 that there is too much democracy, in part due to the failures of the institutions responsible for "the indoctrination of the young." On the right, an important 1971 memorandum by Lewis Powell, directed to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the main business lobby, wailed that radicals were taking over everything -- universities, media, government, etc. -- and called on the business community to use its economic power to reverse the attack on our prized way of life -- which he knew well. As a lobbyist for the tobacco industry, he was quite familiar with the workings of the nanny state for the rich that he called "the free market."
Since then, many measures have been taken to restore discipline. One is the crusade for privatization -- placing control in reliable hands.
Back to Iraq, the fear is why "satanism" isn't the big charge (sorry, Reid Smith) but "vampirism" is.  "Vampires" are even scarier.  And the fear is why the most popular report on Alsumaria's website  remains, all this time later, the February 3rd report annoucning the presence of "vampires in the holy city of Baghdad" -- vampires who, the report informs you, absorb blood from one another (from each other's wrists -- and, they argue, that is why the Emo kids cover their wrists!).  It's panic, pure and simple.  And -- again refer to Noam above -- it's not because Iraq is 'backward' (or anymore backward than the US is) but because a lot of changes have taken place in Iraq and a lot of people are frightened.  That doesn't justify the attacks on Iraqi youths who are or are suspected of being Emo or LGBT or both -- nothing justifies those attacks -- but it does go to why they take place.  It has very little to do with those being attacked, it's a fear inside of the person doing the attacking.  All the Emo and/or LGBT kids are doing is trying to find themselves and their place in the world -- something universal about young people everywhere around the world. 
And on the topic of Iraqi youth, Karl Kahler (San Jose Mercury News) reports that Iraqi drama students from the American University of Iraq -- Sulaimaniyah have raised "$30,000 to fly to the U.S. this summer to perform at the famed Oregon Shakespeare Festival."  Ahmed al-Nuaimi states, "I really feel like a child on Christmas morning who is running down the stairs to find his gift, but it is the gift of a lifetime from the most generous, lovely and kind people I will ever know."  John Darling (Oregon's Mail Tribune) notes that the deadline was looming and quotes their professor Peter Friedrich explaining that since the good news emerged they "haven't slept for two days and are up all night, talking and talking about what's going to happen in America." They'll appear at the festival from July 3rd through 8th (off on the Fourth) and Claudia Alick is quoted stating, "We're going to get them to as many Shakespeare plays as possible.  We're so excited about this project and the festival is being incredibly generous and providing free arts through the Green Show."  She is the associate producer of the Green Show and that part of the festival (June 5th through October 14th) is not only open to the public, it's free of charge.   The festival in Ashland, Oregon began in July of 1935 with the support of the city of Ashland and FDR's Works Progress Administration and it has been held yearly with the exception of the WWII years.