Friday, January 18, 2013

Iraq snapshot

Friday, January 18, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, protests continue, Nouri's forces attack Mosul protesters again, Nouri's groupies outside of Iraq will need to figure out how to stop Toby Dodge's truth-telling, and more.
The Iraqi people grow ever more disenchanted with the government the United States imposed upon it (Nouri was installed in 2006 by the Bush administration, in 2010 the Obama administration insisted Nouri get a second term as prime minister).  Freedom House is a think tank that studies human rights around the world.  Each year, Freedom House publishes a look at journalism around the world and they publish a look at freedom around the world.  It's time for the latter, [PDF format warning] "Freedom in the World 2013."  The report notes:
Iraq's political rights rating declined due to the concentration of power in the hands of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and growing pressure on the opposition, as exemplified by the arrest and death sentence in absentia of Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, the country's most senior Sunni Arab politician. 
Iraq is ranked "not free" in the report.  It has declined from last year's report (when its political rights rating was 5 to the new rating of 6).
Protests continued in Iraq and, the Journal of Turkish Weekly points out, they "show no sign of stopping.  For three weeks, tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets in prominently Sunni provinces to shout against the government led by Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki."  .  Alsumaria reports thousands (check out the photo with the article) turned out today in Salah al-Din to demand that Article IV ('terrorism' law) be abolished and that an amnesty law be adopted.  A sizeable turnout showed up in Hawija as well, Alsumaria notes, and they were out in full force in solidarity with demonstrators in Nineveh, Salahuddin and Anbar. They demanded that the protesters be listened to, that prisoners and detainees be released.

The prisoners.  Over 18,000 -- and possibly over 30,000 -- prisoners in Iraq were arrested on 'terrorism' under Article IV.   Al Mada reports that Wednesday members of Parliament called for a real release and not the for-show stunt Nouri executed earlier this week (which the press lapped up like well-trained dogs).  The for-show stunt was an attempt to defuse the protests.  As turnout today is proving, that didn't work on anyone except some elements of the press.
AFP's Prashant Rao Tweets this morning:


Pictures from today's protests in Baghdad, Kirkuk, Ramadi, and Samarra by @AFP photographers:  #Iraq

  1. Thousands rally in Sunni-majority areas of #Iraq, calling for Maliki to go:  Pix:  @AFP
  2. .@AFP pictures of today's demonstrations in Baghdad, including a couple by yours truly: 

AAP notes that protesters turned out in Baghdad, Samarra and Mosul.  In Baghdad they shouted "We don't want committees, we want our rights!" and "Release the prisoners!" while in Samarra they chanted, "They have made promises before, and they made promises yesterday, but let them hear -- we will stay, protesting, until we get our rights."  Next Friday is the day to watch for the protests in Iraq.  Sameer N. Yacoub (AP) observes that this was the fourth consecutive Friday of protests and that, though they were primarily on Anbar Province in the past, "on Friday, they spread to the central city of Samarra and other Sunni strongholds."
The Voice of Russia notes security forces kicked protesters out of the central square in Mosul. Despite this assualt, Alsumaria notes that Iraqis continued protesting elsewhere in Mosul.  Nouri's forces attacked the Mosul protesters earlier this month.  From the January 7th snapshot:

Protests continued today in Iraq and they [the protesters] were injured in Mosul.  All Iraq News reports the Iraqi military attacked the protesters today.  First they fired shots in the air and second they attacked the protesters with batons.  The army then closed the public square.  Alsumaria countsAl Sharqiya reports that soldiers using batons beat protesters.   They add that they protesters had been taking part in a sit-in when the miliatry attacked with batons and at least three people were injured (they have a photo of at least two people on stretchers).   Reuters quotes Nineveh Province Governor Atheel (Ethel) al-Nujaifi declaring, "Security forces opened fire and used batons to disperse demonstrators."  This assault was in contrast to the wishes of the Nineveh government (Mosul is in Nineveh Province).  As Alsumaria notes, the provincial government had ordered that the square be open to the protesters.  Alsumaria notes that Nineveh Council has announced they are opening an investigation as a result of the military crackdown on the protesters.  
On that attack,  Aswat al-Iraq reports today:

The Parliamentary committee entrusted to investigate the aggression against Mosul demonstrators expressed conviction that aggressive actions were committed against them by the security force.
Member of the committee MP Hassan Khala Alou, in a press conference, attended by Aswat al-Iraq, said that the committee met a number of demonstrators who were attacked by the security forces on 7 January instant and saw films that proved these actions.
He added that the security force entrusted for the protection of Ahrar square did not respond for the investigation under the pretext of waiting permission from Baghdad.

In related news, Kitabat notes Iraq's Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistanti favors limiting the three presidencies to two terms.  The Constitution limits the President of Iraq to two terms.  The other two of the three presidencies are Speaker of Parliament and Prime Minister.  The Parliament is currently discussing a proposed bill.
Why the protests now?  For narrative reasons, some want their to be a single incident that kicked them off.  That's rarely the case with any protest and it's not the case with the ones going on in Iraq.  There are mulitple reasons for the protests.  Wadah Khanfar (Guardian) captures recent events very well:
Iraq is much more polarised now than it was under Saddam Hussein. The bitterness and retribution of the civil war that followed the US occupation are still etched on people's minds. The regional and international rivalry for its rich oil resources is now greater than ever. Corruption is rife: today, Iraq is classified by Transparency International as being among the most corrupt countries in the world. In this oil-producing country already basic services and poor infrastructure are continuing to decline.
At a time when democratic leadership is needed to heal sectarian wounds and entrench national reconciliation, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has instead established an autocratic single-sect powerbase. By so doing, he has plunged Baghdad into a deep crisis, which has escalated in recent weeks with thousands taking to the streets in Sunni areas to protest against his Shia-led government.
In the 2010 elections, Iraqiya, a national, non-sectarian coalition, won 91 seats and gained a parliamentary majority, with two seats more than Maliki's State of Law coalition. But Iranian pressure ensured that Maliki emerged as the prime minister.
A power-sharing agreement followed but, two years on, Maliki has failed to stick to it. He now holds all the power in Baghdad: he is prime minister, defence minister, acting interior minister, acting head of intelligence, and chief of the armed forces. Moreover, his partners accuse him of using the judiciary to eliminate political rivals. That has prompted Interpol to issue a memorandum of non-co-operation with Iraq's judiciary (citing its partiality, politicisation and the use of its office to pressure political rivals).
Under Iraq's anti-terrorism law, the authorities can detain and prosecute a suspect on the basis of secret evidence. The most prominent case is that of Tariq al-Hashemi, the vice-president, who was sentenced to death by a court in absentia. Many people regard the charge of terrorism against him as fabricated. Then, last December, security forces arrested several guards and advisers of the minister of finance and leader of the Iraqi National Movement, Rafi al-Issawi. Issawi accused the police of torturing detainees to extract confessions against him. This caused anger among the Sunnis in Anbar province and was in fact the spark that lit the current protests.
Along with protests, this week also saw the assassination of Sahwa leader, Iraqiya member and Sunni Aifan al-Issawi  Jaber Ali (Middle East Confidential) offers, "The assassination arrived in a really critical moment since the country has been in political turmoil because of a long lasting protest mostly led by Sunnis that have been going on for weeks. In addition, Iraqiya, the country's largely Sunni bloc of lawmakers have decided to boycott Parliament sessions until the government agrees to organize proper security. Their main demand that is also backed up by senior opposition politicians is that Mr. Maliki resigns from his actual position."
Nouri is Little Saddam.  That point resonates throughout Toby Dodge's new book Iraq: From  War To A New Authoritarianism.   Dodge is a British political scientist and a member of the International Institute for Strategic StudiesJanuary 15th, he discussed his book at the Virginia Woolf Room at Bloomsbury House in London.  Excerpt.
Toby Dodge:  And I've identified three drivers of the violence that killed so many innocent Iraqis.  The first is undoubtedly the sectarian politics and those Iraqis among us will remember -- fondly or otherwise -- the huge debates that Iraqis had and Iraqi analysts had about the role of sectarian politics.  I'd certainly identify what we could call a series of ethinic entrapenuers, formerly exiled politicans who came back to Iraq after 2003 and specifically and overtly used religious and sectarian identity, religious ethnic identity to mobilize the population -- especially in those two elections in 2005.  Now the second driver of Iraq's descent into civil war was the collapse of the Iraqi state in the aftermath of the invasion  Now this isn't only the infamous disbanding of the Iraqi army and its intelligence services, this isn't only the driving out of the senior ranks of the if tge Ba'ath Party members, the dismembering of the state, 18 of the central government buildings were stripped when I was there in 2003 in Baghdad.  So much scrap metal was stolen from government buildings that the scrap metal price in Turkey Iraq and Iran, it's neighbors dropped as a result of the ill-gotten gain of the looters  was shipped out of the country.  But thirdly, the big issue that drove Iraq into civil war was the political system set up after 2003.  I've gone into that in quite a lot of detail and I've labeled it -- much to the horror of my editor -- an exclusive elite pact -- which basically meant that those former Iraqi exiles empowered by the United States then set up a political system that  deliberately excluded a great deal of the indigeanous politicians -- but anyone associated, thought to be associated with the previous regime, in a kind of blanket attempt to remake Iraqi politics.  Now the conclusions of the book are broadly sobering and pessimistic.  That certainly the elite pact has not been reformed in spite of Iraqiya's electoral victory in the 2010 elections, that sectarian politics and sectarian rhetoric that mobilized Iraqi politics from 2003 to 2010 has come back into fashion with the prime minister himself using coded sectarian language to seek to solidify his electoral base among Iraqis.  And basically the only thing that has been rebuilt since 2003 are Iraq's military and they now employ 933,000 people which is equal to 8% of the country's entire workforce or 12% of the population of adutl males.  However, running parallel to that, the civilian capacity of the Iraqi state is still woefully inadequate.  In 2011, the United Nations estimated that there only 16% of the population were covered by the public sewers network, that leaves 83% of the country's waste water untreated, 25% of the population has no access to clean, running water and the Iraqi Knowledge Network in 2011 estimated that an average Iraqi household only gets 7 and a half hours of electricity a day. Now in the middle of the winter, that might not seem like a big issue.  But in the burning hot heat of Basra in the summer  or, indeed, in Baghdad, Iraq has suffered  a series of heatwaves over the last few years.  Not getting enough elecriticy to make your fan or air conditioning work means that you're in a living hell.   This is in spite of the fact that the Iraqi and US governments have collectively spent $200 billion seeking to rebuild the Iraqi state. So I think the conclusions of the Adelphi are rather pessimistic.  The Iraqi state, it's coercive arm, has been rebuilt but precious little beside that has.  But what I want to do is look, this afternoon, is look at the ramifications of that rather slude rebuilding -- a large powerful army and a weak civil institutions of the state.  And I thought I might exemplify this by examining a single signficant event that occurred on the afternoon of Thursday the 20th of December 2012.  That afternoon, government security forces raided the house of Iraq's Minister of Finance, Dr. Rafaa al-Issawi.  Issawi is a leading member of the Iraqiya coalition that in 2010 won a slim majority of seats in the Iraqi Parliament -- 91 to [State of Law's] 89 on a 62% turnout.  Now the ramifications of attempting to arrest Issawi and indeed arresting a number of his bodyguards and prosecuting his chief bodyguard for alleged terrorist offenses cannot be overstated.  In the aftermath of the elections, there were a series of tortured, fractured, very bad tempered negotiations which finally resulted in the creation of another government of national unity and, much more importantly, let Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister since 2006, to retain the office of the prime ministership.  Issawi as MInister of Finance is probably the most important, most powerful Iraqiya politician to gain office in the country.  He won plaudits in his professional handling of the Ministry of Finance and attempted to push himself above the political fray not to engage in the rather aggressive, knockabout political rhetoric that has come to identify Iraqi politics.  So in arresting or seeking the arrest of Issawi and charging him with offenses of terrorism, clearly what Prime Minister al-Maliki is doing is throwing down a gauntlet, attempting to seize further power and bring it into the office of the prime minister.  Issawi, when his house was raided, rang the prime minister to ask him who had authorized it -- a call the prime minister refused to take.  He [Issawi] then fled seeking sanctuary in the house of the Speaker of Parliament, a fellow Iraqiya politician, Osama al-Nujaifi.  He then held a press conference where he said -- and this is a politician not prone to wild rhetoric, not prone to political populism -- he said, "Maliki now wants to just get rid of his partners, to build a dictatorship.  He wants to consolidate power more and more."  Now if this wasn't so disturbing, the attack on Issawi's house triggers memories of a very similar event almost 12 months before, on the same day that the final American troops left Iraq in December 2011, Iraqi security forces led by the prime minister's son laid seige to Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi's house.  Hashemi was subsequently allowed to leave to the Kurdish Regional Government's capital of Erbil but a number of his bodyguards were arrested, two of them were tortured to death and the rest of them were paraded on television where they 'confessed' to activities of terrorism.  So basically now let me turn to explain what the raid on Issawi's house in December 2012 is representative of -- what I've called in the book, the rise of the new authoritarianism.  And this authoritarianism has been driven forward by Nouri al-Maliki  who was first appointed prime minister in the early months of 2006.  Now quite fascinatingly why Nouri al-Maliki was appointed was at the time he was seen as a grey politician.  He was the second in command of the Islamic Dawa Party -- a party that was seeking to maximize the vote of Iraq's Shia popluation but a party that had no internal militia, that had no military force of its own.  So it was seen by the competing, fractured ruling elite of Iraq as not posing a threat.  Now upon  taking office in April 2006, Maliki was confronted by the very issue that had given rise to his appointment, his inability to govern.  Under the Iraqi system in 2006, the office of the prime minister was seen as a consensus vehicle.  Maliki was sought to negotiate between the US Ambassador, the American head of the Multi National Coalition and other Iraqi politicians.  He wasn't seen as a first among equals.  What Maliki has done since 2006,  is successfully consolidate power in his own hands.  He first seized control of the Islamic Dawa Party, his own party, and then he built up a small and cohesive group of functionaries, known in Iraq as the Malikiyoun  -- a group of people, friends, followers, but also his family, his son, his nephew and his son-in-law and he's placed them in key points across the Iraqi state, seeking to circumvent the Cabinet -- the official vestibule of power in the Iraqi state -- and seize control of Iraq's institutions.
If you're not frightened for the Iraqi people, you're not paying attention.  If you're an American, you're being strongly encouraged not to pay attention by the US government that screwed up and destroyed the country of Iraq and by a guilty US press that sold the illegal war, has blood on its hands and doesn't have any desire to get honest about the realities in Iraq today.

Turning to the US where Bradley Manning has spent his 970th day behind bars, still waiting for a trial.   Monday April 5, 2010, WikiLeaks released US military video of a July 12, 2007 assault in Iraq. 12 people were killed in the assault including two Reuters journalists Namie Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh. Monday June 7, 2010, the US military announced that they had arrested Bradley Manning and he stood accused of being the leaker of the video. Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reported in August 2010 that Manning had been charged -- "two charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The first encompasses four counts of violating Army regulations by transferring classified information to his personal computer between November and May and adding unauthorized software to a classified computer system. The second comprises eight counts of violating federal laws governing the handling of classified information." In March, 2011, David S. Cloud (Los Angeles Times) reported that the military has added 22 additional counts to the charges including one that could be seen as "aiding the enemy" which could result in the death penalty if convicted. The Article 32 hearing took place in December. At the start of this year, there was an Article 32 hearing and, February 3rd, it was announced that the government would be moving forward with a court-martial. Bradley has yet to enter a plea and has neither affirmed that he is the leaker nor denied it. The court-martial was supposed to begin before the election but it was postponed until after the election so that Barack wouldn't have to run on a record of his actual actions. 
HARI SREENIVASAN:  And joining me now to talk about it is Arun Rath of PBS' "Frontline" and PRI's "The World."  He has been covering the Manning case from the beginning.  
So, Arun, this is sort of what sets the ground rules for what will happen in the trial, right?  

ARUN RATH, "Frontline":  Yes.
Basically, in these hearings, these pretrial hearings, they're basically arguing about the kind of arguments they can make in court, the parameters of the sort of arguments that Bradley Manning and his defense can make in terms of defending themselves against these charges.  
What's a little bit unusual about the hearings that we have been seeing so far is that they have turned into more of a bit of a dress rehearsal for the trial itself and for what might be his sentencing, actually, because his attorneys have already essentially admitted in their court -- in their pleadings so far that Bradley Manning is responsible for the leaks.  
So it's changed from a situation of the trial being did he really do it to, yes, he did, but here are the reasons why we think it doesn't rise to the level of being a crime.  
[. . .]
HARI SREENIVASAN:  OK.  You have been in court.  You have had the chance to see Bradley Manning a few weeks ago.  What does he look like?  And what impresses you about him?  

ARUN RATH:  I have say, of all the people that have been called to the stand, Bradley Manning came across as the most appealing witness.  
He was, I wouldn't say charming -- it's not sort of a traditional charisma, but there's something about the fact that he's a young, kind of geeky kid.  He's a little bit awkward.  And he comes across as a sympathetic character.  He was talking about the ways in which he was held in Quantico in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day.  
And he talked about this peculiar kind of a classic catch-22 situation, where he would do these things during the day to keep himself scene, like talking to himself in a mirror or dancing in his cell, as a way to break the tedium to keep himself sane, and at the same time these things were used as evidence against him as evidence that he was actually mentally unstable.
Finally, let's switch over to England where certain sections of the Socialist Workers Party is in the midst of a major panic as they attempt to deny violence against women. (Elaine wrote of this earlier this week and did a great job.)  What has happened in England has happened a lot and to happen at all is too much.  For example, I will not be promoting any damn thing Eve Ensler and her talking vagina does.  Friends keep asking.  Not interested.  She stayed silent as one woman after another was attacked.  Now the woman wants to use 'girl power' again to promote herself.  You want to stop rape?  Stop the attacks on women who come forward to report rape.  Eve Ensler couldn't go against her radical buddies and speak out so she's of no use to anyone.  In England, Laurie Penny's taking on a very important issue.  From her ZNet piece:

The British Socialist Worker's Party is hardly atypical among political parties, among left-wing groups, among organisations of committed people or, indeed, among groups of friends and colleagues in having structures in place that might allow sexual abuse and misogyny by men in positions of power to continue unchecked. One could point, in the past 12 months alone, to the BBC's handling of the Jimmy Savile case, or to those Wikileaks supporters who believe that Julian Assange should not be compelled to answer allegations of rape and sexual assault in Sweden.

I could point, personally, to at least two instances involving respected men that have sundered painfully and forever friendship groups which lacked the courage to acknowledge the incidents. The only difference is that the SWP actually talk openly about the unspoken rules by which this sort of intimidation usually goes on. Other groups are not so brazen as to say that their moral struggles are simply more important than piffling issues of feminism, even if that's what they really mean, nor to claim that as right-thinking people they and their leaders are above the law. The SWP's leadership seem to have written it into their rules.

To say that the left has a problem with handling sexual violence is not to imply that everyone else doesn't. There is, however, a stubborn refusal to accept and deal with rape culture that is unique to the left and to progressives more broadly. It is precisely to do with the idea that, by virtue of being progressive, by virtue of fighting for equality and social justice, by virtue of, well, virtue, we are somehow above being held personally accountable when it comes to issues of race, gender and sexual violence.

That unwillingness to analyse our own behaviour can quickly become dogma. The image is one of petty, nitpicking women attempting to derail the good work of decent men on the left by insisting in their whiny little women's way that progressive spaces should also be spaces where we don't expect to get raped and assaulted and slut-shamed and victimised for speaking out, and the emotions are rage and resentment: why should our pure and perfect struggle for class war, for transparency, for freedom from censorship be polluted by - it's pronounced with a curl of the upper lip over the teeth, as if the very word is distasteful - 'identity politics'? Why should we be held more accountable than common-or-garden bigots? Why should we be held to higher standards?

Because if we're not, then we have no business calling ourselves progressive. Because if we don't acknowledge issues of assault, abuse and gender hierarchy within our own institutions we have no business speaking of justice, much less fighting for it.