Friday, December 28, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, the US Embassy in Baghdad issues a warning, Iraqis take to the street in protest, Nouri tries to prevent press coverage, Nouri makes strange noises, the PUK 'corrects' Nouri's interpretation of the Iraqi Constitution, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani's doctors issue an update, AFP provides a valuable public service, and more.
Threat information indicates that terrorist elements may target U.S. interests in Baghdad, including the United States Embassy, as well as churches in Baghdad and Kirkuk, on or around December 31, 2012. The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad urges U.S. citizens in Iraq to exercise caution and to refer to the current travel warning on our website.
We strongly recommend that U.S. citizens traveling to or residing in Iraq enroll in the Department of State's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) at www.Travel.State.Gov. STEP enrollment gives you the latest security updates, and makes it easier for the U.S. embassy or nearest U.S. consulate to contact you in an emergency. If you don't have Internet access, enroll directly with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
Contact the U.S. embassy or consulate for up-to-date information on travel restrictions. You can also call 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada or 1-202-501-4444 from other countries. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays). Follow us on Twitter and Facebook, and download our free Smart Traveler iPhone App to have travel information at your fingertips.
It's a sign of how much turmoil there is in Iraq currently that it was little noted in the western coverage of Iraq today. This was the day dubbed "Friday of Honor" with plans for large protests in Iraq. Question: If you're the government and you don't want people to know about the protests, what might you do? Hmmm. . . .
Prashant Rao of AFP, we are trying to think right now. Okay, so protests are taking place and Iraq's a failed state and you just made a new corruption list and, as Al Mada reports, Baghdad's just been named the worst place to live in the world by the Mercer Consulting Group. The rains are coming down hard and, as Dar Addustour notes, Baghdad's sunk by rainwater. You're Nouri al-Maliki and you don't want the word getting out about these protests so --
Oh my goodness, Prashant Rao, you are 100% correct. If the government doesn't want word of the protests out, the easiest way is to refuse to allow journalists close enough to the protests to cover them. BBC News observes:
Some journalists attempting to reach the city were held at an army checkpoint some 50km east of Ramadi for six hours, and were unable to cover the demonstration, says the BBC's Rami Ruhayem who was at the scene.
The government has succeeded in keeping the protests out of the public eye to an extent, says our correspondent, but in the process has revealed how nervous it is over this latest challenge to its authority.
Army units did, however, bar Baghdad-based journalists from entering Anbar province, holding teams from AFP and other media at a checkpoint between Baghdad and Ramadi for more than five hours. They also confiscated their press badges, promising to return them only if they turned back to Baghdad. A senior security official said that there were "strong preventative measures to protect the demonstrators", but journalists witnessed dozens of cars pass through the checkpoint where they were held with no questioning whatsoever.
Morning Star notes, "Protesters took to the streets after Friday prayers for the sixth day of protests calling for Shi'ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to step down and for the release of Sunni prisoners." Al Arabiya notes that the protesters had support from Shi'ite cleric and movement leader Moqtada al-Sadr, "In a letter by Sadr sent to the tribal sheikhs, the Islamist leader said that he supports their protests against Maliki and their effort to hold unity and thwart sectarianism." Deutsche Welle quotes Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki whining today, "It is not acceptable to express something by blocking roads, inciting sedition and sectarianism, killing, or blowing the trumpet of war and dividing Iraq." Sign of a true despot, civil disobdience is likened to "killing." Because it is a 'killing,' it's a killing of his crafted image, it's an exposure of his failure as a leader. Ken Hanly (Digital Journal) observes of the slogan at many of the protests across Iraq "The people want to bring down the regime," "This is the slogan protesters used in Tunisia, Egypt, and elsewhere during the Arab Spring."
Kitabat reports that "millions" came out to protest in Anbar Province today. Their photo of Falluja shows the large crowd with banners, flags and a huge photo of Minister of Finance Rafie al-Issawi (last week, Nouri al-Maliki ordered the arrest of 150 staff and bodyguards working for al-Issawi -- 10 have been charged with 'terrorism' and 50 have been released, this was seen as politically motivated). The Falluja protesters demanded that innocent people be released from detention and end to the 'terror' arrests, an end to politicizing the Iraqi military, that Nouri turn over the soldier who raped the girl in Mosul and more. They chanted for unity and for an end to sectarianism and Nouri's abusive government. Kamal Naama and Raheem Salman (Reuters) add, "Around 60,000 people blocked the main road through Falluja, 50 km (30 miles) west of the capital, setting fire to the flag of Shi'ite Iran and shouting 'out, out Iran! Baghdad stays free' and 'Maliki you coward, don't take your advice from Iran'." AP goes with the more conservative crowd estimate of "tens of thousands" of people protesting. For a good photo from AP of the Falluja crowd, click here (photographer is Karim Kadim). Omar al-Saleh reported for today's Inside Story (Al Jazeera -- link is text and video):
Omar al-Saleh: A show of support in Ramadi and Falluja for Iraqi Finance Minister Rafia al-Issawi. During it's biggest rally in days in Anbar Province, local leaders have called for civil disobedience and thousands have blocked the highway linking Iraq to Jordan and Syria. They are demanding the release of 9 bodyguards of the finance minister who were arrested on Thursday [of last week]. But Rafia al-Issawi addressed the crowd saying the issue now was bigger than his bodyguards.
Finance Minister Rafia al-Issawi: This crowd is not political or sectarian. But it represents all Iraqis who came to denounce the injustice and marginalization. When we say the injustice has happened against Sunni Arabs, that doesn't mean that we want to take the country to a civil war.
Omar al-Saleh: The protesters urged the Shi'ite-led government to stop its sectarian approach and marginalization of Sunnis and their leaders but the government continues to deny the accusation. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki says the issue of the bodyguards is judicial and the role of the state is to pursue wanted terrorists and not to support them. Many feel the crisis may escalate.
Political Analyst Watheq Alshashimi: The situation in Iraq may take a dangerous direction as elections approach. What politicians are doing is polarizing their supporters ethnically and based on sectarian affiliatons. What's happening in Anbar can escalate and may lead to more pressure on the prime minister.
Omar al-Saleh: But other Sunni leaders accuse the president of trying to consolidate his grip on power and target his political rivals. Tareq al-Hashemi, Iraq's fugitive Vice President, has been sentence to death in absentia for terrorism charges. He says the prime minister is adopting sectarian policies. Adding to Iraq's political turmoil is the looming confrontation between the Iraqi army and forces from the semi-autonomous Kurdish north.
We are only noting the report from that broadcasting. We are not noting -- on the advice of a former Al Jazeera producer -- the 'discussion.' I called him to ask what the hell was going on when this discussion was planned? State of Law is invited on and goes on to trash Iraqiya -- Iraqiya has no one on to represent them. No one to challenge the lies of State of Law? We're not interested in that nonsense but we do get why Al Jazeera had to kill Inside Iraq -- they killed that program -- because the presenter wouldn't slant it towards Nouri al-Maliki. Even when they pulled him off air as a threat, he refused to slant the program. He played it fair, inviting all segments of Iraq onto his show. And Al Jazeera had a problem with that. Which is why his program is no longer on. We're noting the report, we're not noting a fixed discussion that was fixed before a 'dialogue' even began.
As noted earlier, Prashant Rao and other journalists were prevented from entering to observe the Falluja protests; however, they were not the only ones blocked from entering the province. Aswat al-Iraq notes, "Police sources said here today that the army forces prevented Iraqi delegations from other provinces from entering to participate in Fallujah sit-in on the international highway." Al Jazeera (link has video) also goes with "thousands:"
Massive demonstrations took place along a major highway near the city of Fallujah on Friday, a day after thousands of protesters continued an almost week-long blockade on a key highway in the western Anbar province.
Protests erupted last week after Iraqi authorities detained 10 bodyguards of the finance minister, who is from Anbar and is one of the government's most senior Sunni officials. Many Sunnis accuse Maliki of marginalising the country's religious minority group by refusing to share power and depriving them of equal rights.
Alsumaria notes "hundreds" protested in Mosul at noon and their demands were similar with the addition of they called for the execution of the soldier who raped the young girl. All Iraq News adds that the protesters called for all charges against al-Issawi's bodyguards to be dropped. Alsumaria notes that Samarra saw thousands turn out and their calls were similar but they also want the long promised amnesty law implemented and they want the Justice and Accountability Commission dissolved (the Commission was used most infamously in the 2010 elections to disqualify various Sunnis from running for office -- that includes the current Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq). AP adds that protests took place today in Tikrit as well. BBC News notes a Ramadi protest and that held "a mock funeral for the Iraqi judiciary."
Bill Van Auken (WSWS) observes: The protests began last week after troops detained bodyguards and aides of Finance Minister Rafie al-Essawi, while searching his home and offices on December 20. The government has claimed that it arrested only ten of the minister's bodyguards on charges of "terrorism." But Essawi, a member of the secular, Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc, charged that over 100 people connected to his staff were rounded up by what he said was a "militia force" controlled by Maliki's supporters. It appears that the discrepancy arises from the fact that only the bodyguards were subjected to formal arrest, while the others were essentially subjected to extra-legal detention and interrogation. Addressing Maliki in a statement to the Iraqi media, Essawi stated, "You are a man who does not respect partnership at all, a man who does not respect the law and the constitution, and I personally hold you fully responsible for the safety of the kidnapped people." The finance minister told Associated Press that Maliki was deliberately seeking to stoke sectarian conflicts between the Sunni and Shia populations. "These practices are aimed at drawing the country into a sectarian conflict again by creating crisis and targeting prominent national figures," he said. The incident was essentially a replay of a similar crackdown carried out a year ago, on December 19, 2011, the day after the last US troops ended the more than eight-year American occupation of Iraq. Then the target was Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, also a Sunni member of the Iraqiya bloc.
While the protests took place, Nouri attempted to distract by giving a speech. Alsumaria notes he was forced to admit that the budget for 2013 (that should be Fiscal Year 2013 unless something's changed) did not and would not improve the problems facing Iraqi citizens. For those who may have stepped out of the main room for a moment, that is no longer just the lack of basic services like electricity, potable water, trash pick up, etc. No, add flooding to the list as Iraq -- especially Baghdad -- finds itself flooded as a result of Nouri's refusal for the last six years to spend money on the infrastructure. Home are collapsing, the Iraqi Red Crescent Society evacuated one village this month (the village is in Wasit Province -- see Wednesday's snapshot). But Nouri says these problems will not be addressed in the budget. Karafillis Giannoulis (New Europe) notes of Nouri's speech broadcast on Iraqi TV, "At a conference in Baghdad, al-Maliki stressed that current tension can cause a return to the 'dark days when people were killed because of their names or identities.' For that reason Prime Minister of Iraq asked by the demonstrators to stop protesting and promote dialogue instead." Why does that sound like a threat? These protests can cause "dark days" to come back "when people were killed because of their names or identities"? Maybe because those dark days occurred most recently in Iraq during Nouri's first term as prime minister and the Sunnis were the ones targeted by Nouri's Ministry of the Interior forces? Maybe because that period of ethnic cleansing was overseen by Nouri? As the editorial board of Gulf News points out, "The sectarian drift of the Iraqi government, headed by Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki, needs to be reversed. Al Maliki is a leading Shiite politician, but in his position as the head of a government, he needs to serve the entire Iraqi population and his government must work to be inclusive of all Iraqis — be they Shiite or Sunni; Kurdish or Turk; Christian or Muslim. "
AFP, apparently with a straight face, reported that Nouri was calling for dialogue and stating that nations have to "rely on civil means of expression." Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi and President Jalal Talbani have been calling for a national conference since December 21st and Nouri's blocked it and prevented it.
And December 21st? Of 2011. For over a year, Nouri has blocked a dialogue. Why? Because he got a second term due to the Erbil Agreement. The voters didn't give him a second term, the 2010 election results didn't give him a second term, the Constitution clearly didn't give him a second term. But US President Barack Obama had a fondness for Bully Boy Bush's puppet and Barack insisted Nouri get a second term despite Nouri's State of Law coming in second in the 2010 elections. Since there was no legal existing way for Nouri to get that term, Nouri resulted to tantrums (bringing the country to a stand still for over eight months) and the US resorted to a legal contract that they brokered with Iraq's various political leaders: The Erbil Agreement. To end the ongoing stalemate -- the longest period up to that time following an election where a government still had not been seated, the leaders of Iraq's political blocs agreed to allow Nouri a second term as prime minister in exchange for his agreeing to various terms. Nouri used the Erbil Agreement to get his second term and then broke the contract, refusing to implement, for example, Article 140 of the Constitution, refusing to create an independent national security council, and much more. And the US let him get away with it. And covered for him. For months, the political blocs practiced the 'patience' the US government advised them on. By summer 2011, the Kurds, Moqtada al-Sadr and Iraqiya had reached the end of their waiting. They demanded that the contract be returned to. This creates Political Stalemate II and is why al-Nujaifi and Talabani have called for over a year for a national conference to address these issues via dialogue.
Nouri wants to talk about the need for dialogue today and no one's going to call him on that?
Equally true, the US government's backing Nouri is being noticed. It's being noticed how unfairly others are treated as the US tries to repeatedly force other groups to make concessions so Nouri can 'win.' David Romano (Rudaw) observed very accurately:
Average Iraqis increasingly lose faith with their gvoernment as the shell game continues. As Nuri al-Maliki increasingly rides rough shod over the Constitution and the law of the land, the American State Department seems to forgive him all his transgressions. Instead of demanding a better showing from Maliki, they pressure the Kurds, the Sunnis and non-Dawaa Party Shiites to make nice with Maliki.
It is on the record, it is there for the history books. As Little Saddam turns more and more into a despot, Barack Obama's non-stop defense of him will be noted in the history books as well as the fact that the US didn't hold Nouri in check but instead put pressure on other groups -- who were already being victimized by Nouri -- to ignore the abuse.
Over six years in office, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has proven to be incapable of providing basic security and services to the people. By openly advocating a conflict between Kurds and Arabs, he is threatening the territorial integrity of Iraq and the success of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.
Nouri al-Maliki is deliberately undermining the prospects of a prosperous Iraq by threatening oil and gas supermajors against operating in Kurdistan, withholding their revenues at ransom and barring them from auctions; his foreign policy is a disaster, providing blatant support for Bashar al-Assad's regime and his bloodshed while weakening ties with Iraq's largest trading partner – Turkey; in the armed forces he openly incites and promotes sectarianism and segregation in the mindset of a fragile people.
The recent unconstitutional creation of an overarching Tigris (Dijla) Operations Command Centre to oversee the internal security affairs of the Northern provinces is a stark reminder of the previous regime for our people; al-Maliki also accuses our leadership of harassing local Arabs and other ethnic minorities by piling our security and intelligence officers into the largely Kurdish areas outside of our region - inaccurately referred to as disputed territories. By way of a twisting media campaign al-Maliki and his associates are masking failures by shifting attention towards the largely peaceful Kurdistan Region.
Rather than fulfill that role, the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has instead become an instrument of division.
It has fostered conflict with the country's Kurdish and Sunni communities, as well as other minorities, and has divided the oil revenue between north and south, creating further splits.
The government has proved that it is an Iranian-inspired, supported and cultivated government, rather than one focused on the interests of the Iraqis.
It has become riddled with corruption that leaks billions of dollars. The extent of this is visible in the suffering of the Iraqi people from a variety of social ills, despite living in one of the most oil-rich countries in the region.
In other news, All Iraq News reports that there's an update from the medical tem in Germany for Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. They are stating that he is showing positive improvement and that he is "responsive." After what? They don't say. The President's office and family have not identified the health condition that left Talabani hospitalized; however, Nouri al-Maliki's office immediately declared it was a stroke. Al Mada notes that the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, Jalal's political party, is calling for the media to be accurate when covering Talabani's (unspecified) health condition. Meanwhile Rebwar Karim Wali (Rudaw) states, "Statements and interviews by Talabani's close associates demonstrate that they have started to come to terms with the reality that the veteran 79-year-old leader may not be able to resume his duties, and each has began to vie for the leadership post." Of Talabani contributions and importance, Raghid al-Solh (Al-Khallej via Al-Monitor) notes:
In the past few days, the health of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has captured public attention, both on the Arab and international levels. This concern was not due to the status of the Iraqi presidency, but to the status of the Iraqi president himself. Talabani is a prominent international figure. He has acquired this status as a result of his qualities of moderation, wisdom and flexibility -- which have almost made him an Iraqi national symbol -- as well as a result of his role as a Kurdish leader.
If Talabani is forced to step down from the Iraqi presidency, the voice of moderation in Iraqi politics will be weakened.
And the reports of allegations and torture and what Committees in Parliament have discovered, led to Nouri's freak out where he threatened to arrest members of Parliament who talked about the torture and rape. Yesterday, he was insisting he had the power to do so. Al Mada notes today that Nouri's remarks are in conflict with the Iraqi Constitution.
First: A law shall regulate the rights and privileges of the speaker of the Council of Representatives, his two deputies, and the members of the Council of Representatives.
Second: A. A member of the Council of Representatives shall enjoy immunity for statements made while the Council is in session, and the member may not be prosecuted before the courts for such.
B. A Council of Representatives member may not be placed under arrest during the legislative term of the Council of Representatives, unless the member is accused of a felony and the Council of Representatives members consent by an absoulte majority to lift his immunity or if he is caught in flagrante delicto in the commission of a felony.
C. A Council of Representatives member may not be arrested after the legislative term of the Council of Representatives, unless the member is accused of a felony and with the consent of the speaker of the Council of Representatives to lift his immunity or if he is caught in flagrante delicto in the commission of a felony.
No, that is not in keeping with the claims Nouri's made this week that he will just strip MPs of their immunity and have them arrested. The above section of the Constitution is very clear. But Nouri's never really abided by or honored the Iraq Constitution.
All Iraq News reports today that Adel Abdullah has stated that Nouri's statements regarding stripping immunity are not constitutional, are not part of the framework of democracy and that the PUK demands that Nouri back off from this unconstitutional stance and stop attempting to muzzle free speech.
Alsumaria notes that the home of a city administrator in Baiji was bombed today -- no one was at the house at the time. The month of December (and the year 2012) is winding down. December has been a violent month in Iraq with Iraq Body Count recording 223 deaths from violence this month through Wednesday. AFP's Prashant Rao Tweets:
And you can click here for AFP's recorded deaths, Rao has made it available in spread sheet form. Not just today, it's been available for most of the month and he plans to keep it available for the near future. He and AFP deserve a big thank you for that. This is not the ministries count, this is the count AFP tabulates each day. (And let me start the thank you train: Thank you, AFP, for keeping your own count -- something all outlets did during Vietnam but something that only AP and AFP have done during the Iraq War -- AP and AFP have kept their own count throughout, others did not keep it one in 2003 or any of the years followed. Thank you now for sharing the count in a way that makes it even more open and accessible. Whether your numbers or higher or lower than I might believe the month called for, I do appreciate that your figures are publicly out there and hope it will lead other outlets covering Iraq to include your count as a reference point when noting the monthly figures released by the Iraqi government ministries. Again, thank you very much.)