Friday, November 15, 2013

Iraq snapshot

Friday, November 15, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, the 7 Ashraf hostages were taken out of Iraq (according to the State Dept),  KRG President Massoud Barzani prepares for an important meet up, protests continue in Iraq, Barack Obama continues to object to the Iraq Inquiry in London releasing documents, and more.

Al-Arabia reports, "Former Iraqi interim prime minister and head of Iraqya political bloc Iyad Allawi on Friday accused the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki of failing to protect the Iraqi sovereignty, which he said is lost to Iran and its proxy militias." Ayad Allawi is the man who should be the current prime minister of Iraq but the White House forced a second term for Nouri al-Maliki's by brokering The Erbil Agreement which went around the votes of the Iraqi people, the Iraqi Constitution and the the principles of democracy.

US House Rep Gerry Connolly:  What is the relationship, in your opinion, Mr. McGurk, between the government in Tehran [Iran] and Mr. Maliki's government in Baghdad?

Brett McGurk: It's a relationship that is really multifaceted.  Uhm, Iran -- uh -- I mean if you just look at that border, Iraq is going to have cultural, religious, economic relations with Iran.  Uhm, that's something we recognize.  Where we try to draw a line is any sort of security relationship with Iran and we've had some success in that area.  Uh, my experience, in the last decade, whether working with Iraqis or Shia, Sunni, Kurds -- everybody, is that there's really no love loss between Iraqis and Iran.  They remember the very long Iraq - Iran War in the 1980s and that is really felt very deeply in the psychology.  Uh, Iraq also feels --

US House Rep Gerry Connolly:  Can I, can I interrupt you one second?  And you would say that that view is also shared by the Maliki government despite the Shia nature of that government?

Brett McGurk:  Uhm.  Sometimes it's a mischaracterization to say that Shia in Iraq are linked to Shia in Iran.  They have have religious ties but the Shia in Iraq and Grand Ayatollah [Ali  al-]Sistani in Najaf -- and his philosophy of quietism -- is totally 100 degrees opposite to the philosophy of [Ruhollah Mostafavi Musavi] Khomeini and [Sayed] Hamid [Rohani] in Tehran, which is kind of clerical rule,  Sistani's view is that more of a democratic tradition -- which we would recognize -- and which there should be separation from the top cleric and the government.  That is something that most Iraqis adhere to.  And it's a critical distinction to really working-working with this problem.  Make no mistake, Iranian influence in Baghdad is very strong, it is there every day.  They've had a presence in Baghdad for ten years.  They've had the same people there who have built relationships that are very deep and it's something we need -- we need to deal with.  We have to recognize they're going to have a relationship.  It's drawing a line at the malign and nefarious influences from Iran, which we're trying to do. 

US House Rep Gerry Connolly made those remarks at Wednesday's US House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa hearing on Iraq.   US House Rep Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is the Subcommittee Chair and US House Rep Ted Deutch is the Ranking Member and the witness appearing before the Subcomittee was Brett McGurk, the State Dept's Deputy Assistant Secretary for Iraq and Iran Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs.    Wednesday we covered the Jewish archives from that hearing, Thursday we covered Camp Ashraf and religious minorities.

Back to Allawi today, Al Arabiya also reports today:

Allawi said he understands the lack of military ability to stop Iran from violating Iraq’s sovereignty but that Prime Minister Maliki does not have the will to use diplomacy and international organizations.
“Iraq could resort to the United Nations, the Arab League, or the Organization of Islamic Conference to force Iran to refrain from violating Iraq’s airspace,” Allawi said.

The point that Nouri could ask others to protect the airspace was also raised in Wednesday's hearing.

US House Rep Brad Sherman: Mailik wants our weapons yet he allows planes to go from Iran to Syria, taking murderers and thugs and the IRGC and weapons with him, he says that he can't defend his own air space but he is certainly not invited Turkey, Saudi Arabia or the United States to defend that air space  from these murderers that fly leisurely across Iraq and do their killing in Syria.

Allawi's comments are not controversial and expose not only Nouri's false claims but those of his lackey Hoshyar Zebari who has repeated Nouri's false claims and repeated them as factual.  I personally don't believe Iraq needs to take a side.  But Nouri claimed in his New York Times column, "After some initial differences, American and Iraqi policies toward Syria are converging."  And a lie's a lie.  Nouri and Zebari have been lying.

Brett McGurk lies as well.  In the hearing, he lied, for example, when he spoke of Iraq's Minister of Defense.  The man he named?  Not the Minister of Defense.  Nouri is.  Nouri did a power grab.  Back in July 2012, Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) observed, "Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has struggled to forge a lasting power-sharing agreement and has yet to fill key Cabinet positions, including the ministers of defense, interior and national security, while his backers have also shown signs of wobbling support."   Those posts have remained vacant.  They were supposed to be filled at the end of 2010.  But filling them meant Nouri couldn't control them so he defied/broke the Constitution and claimed the positions as his own.

Brett lied so often.  Let's go to money.

US House Rep Brad Sherman:  I want to focus on finances.  How much money did we give Iraq this year?  How much do they get from oil?  And are they pumping oil as quickly as they can or are they constraining their production in accordance with OPEC rules?

Brett McGurk:  In terms of money, we're not really giving Iraq much money at all anymore.  Our assistance levels have gone down dramatically.

US House Rep Brad Sherman:  But it's still well over a billion?

Brett McGurk: Uh, no.  I believe that the most recent request is now of under a billion.  It's gone from 1.5 billion last year to, uh, FY13 [Fiscal Year 2013]  to about 880 million.  And I can again brief you on the glide path in terms of our overall presence.  In terms of oil, it's actually quite the opposite.  The Iraqis have done everything they can to get as much oil onto international markets as possible --

US House Rep Brad Sherman:  So they are pumping as much as possible.

This thread was continued with US House Rep Dana Rohrabacher who made a series of statements about the "$880 million in aid" and how it came not only after so many deaths but also "after spending almost a trillion dollars over a decade."

Brett McGurk:  Congressman, thank you, I just want to clarify, the 880 million dollars  is our operating request for, uh, the current budget -- for sustaining our presence in Iraq and doing various things we do there.

US House Rep Dana Rohrabahcer:  That's right.  So why should we do that?

Brett McGurk:  Well we have vital interests at stake in Iraq.  Whether you measure it from al Qaeda in Iraq, whether you measure it from the oil production,  whether you measure it from just the overall stability of the region.  I think withdrawing from Iraq, in terms of our overall diplomatic presence and what we're doing, would have a really devastating consequences to our longer term interests. 

So that we all get what was just said, the US State Dept, from the mouth of Brett McGurk, just declared Iraqi oil is a "vital interest" of the United States government and part of the US government's "longer term interests."  In other words, we have confirmation that Iraqi oil -- "vital interest" -- was one reason the US went to war on Iraq.

Second, Brett's playing with the numbers.  He could have -- as a State Dept friend told me -- have used "about $600 million" as well.  The State Dept is requesting $1.18 billion.  That's not including USAID's request.  The RAND Corporation, just last week, noted the request in Ending the US War In Iraq.  Kerry presented the request to Congress last April.  They've not amended the request.  Brett was being a liar.  No surprise there.

Brett's lies were never ending.  We could spend two more snapshots just documenting the lies from the hearing.

We'll note this one, "I would point you to an important op-ed the Iraqi ambassador wrote on our Veterans Day, thanking all the sacrifice in Iraq."


Nouri wrote only one column in the last weeks.  It was for the New York Times. The Assyrian International News Agency is among those who reproduced the column.  Two US newspapers ran it on Veterans Day but it has nothing to do with veterans.  Nouri never mentions veterans and only brings up service members in two sentences (paragraph three) to say he doesn't want US troops.

I thought I'd somehow missed Nouri's column.  That I'd missed it and no outlet had noted it.  But I checked and there is no other column -- only the one he wrote for the New York Times (published online October 29, 2013).

Brett couldn't stop lying.

And maybe he lied about the whereabouts of the 7 Ashraf hostages kidnapped in September?  I don't know.  I know what he said and he said in an open hearing so why didn't it get reported?  Oh, that's right, we're the only ones in the United States reporting on this hearing.

While the US press filed nothing on the hearing, the US Committee for Camp Ashraf Residents issued a statement:

During a hearing on November 13, 2013 by the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iraq and Iran, Brett McGurk, when faced with repeated questions by several subcommittee members over the breach of commitments by the US Government and Iraq to protect thousands of Iranian dissidents in Iraq, resulting in the murder of 112 defenseless residents of Camp Ashraf, attempted to exonerate the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of any role in the execution-style murder of 52 residents of Camp Ashraf and the abduction of seven more on September 1st.
Mr. McGurk, to the astonishment of Members of Congress, downplayed the seriousness of this massacre and the daily deadly violence in Iraq, as being ordinary and inevitable. Mr. McGurk did nothing to allay the concerns of anxious families and relatives of the residents, in attendance at the hearing. Nor did he highlight the detrimental sectarian policies and incompetence of the Iraqi Prime Minister as the main causes of the carnage in the country. Instead, Mr. McGurk suggested to the Iraqi people that the only way to stay safe is to leave Iraq.
McGurk minimized the Iraqi government's role in the September 1 massacre. A plethora of evidence and expert testimony, however, make it clear that highest levels of the Iraqi government, including the Prime Minister, were involved in the planning, execution and cover-up of this crime against humanity.
Camp Ashraf is sealed off from the outside by chain-lined fence with barbed wire on top, leaving only two entry gates for the Camp, guarded by an Iraqi army brigade at the west gate and by a Rapid Deployment Unit on the east gate.
Camp Ashraf is under 24/7 guard of 1,200 Iraqi forces in the midst of a highly militarized zone, with hundreds of units of Iraqi army within a 20 mile radius. There are dozens of check points on the only highway that leads from Camp Ashraf to Baghdad to the south and to Kirkuk to the north. As such, U.S. military officers who served in Iraq have stated unequivocally that it is absolutely inconceivable that more than 100 heavily-armed men with a large load of explosives to have carried out this murder without the approval of the highest authorities in Iraq. These officers who trained the Iraqi forces have stated that the assault force employed US tactics and equipment in the attack.
According to statements by European Ministers, as well as past and present United Nations officials and eyewitnesses, the seven hostages, including six women, have been detained and interrogated by the Iraqi army's Golden (dirty) Division in Baghdad. On September 12, Kamel Amin, Spokesman of the Iraqi Human Rights Ministry, told Radio Free Iraq, "Security forces arrested these individuals [seven hostages] for attacking them [security forces]."
Hundreds of Camp Liberty residents in Iraq as well as their relatives and friends in Europe, Canada and Australia have been on hunger strike for the past 77 days. Many are at a critical physical stage and may not survive if the hostages are not released immediately.
The US Committee for Camp Ashraf Residents (USCCAR) calls on President Obama to intervene personally and demand that the Iraqi government release the hostages at once and return them to Camp Liberty. Only in this way, can the US Government atone for betraying its promises and commitments to protect the residents of camps Ashraf and Liberty.

The statement is mistaken.

That's not their fault, no one reported on the hearing and we were saving Sheila Jackson Lee for Thursday and then I kicked her back to Friday to see if anyone would report what happened?

They did not.

The 7 hostages that the US Committee for Camp Ashraf Residents are calling for Nouri to release?

They are not in Iraq.

If the US government is telling the truth, the seven are no longer in Iraq.  This was revealed in the final exchange of the hearing, when US House Rep Sheila Jackson Lee joined the Subcommittee and, after taking a brief break, began her five minute round of questioning.  Two notes.  "[. . .]"?  We don't have time to include their praise of one another and maybe if that praise hadn't been used to waste time then Sheila Jackson Lee would not have had to ask for more time?  Second "pointed purse"?  I have no idea.  I turned to Ava and asked, "Did she just say 'pointed purse'?"  That's what Ava heard as well.  Who knows what she said, that's what it sounded like.  With that, here's the exchange.

US House Rep Sheila Jackson Lee:   [. . .]  But there are hostages in Iraq that we must have now.  There's documentation that those hostages are there by our French allies, by the United Nations and other supportive groups and information.  I can't imagine with the wealth of sophisticated intelligence authorities that we have, that we have funded who have a vast array of information about Americans  cannot pinpoint where starving Iranians, loved ones [are] whose families are trying to save their lives after being on a hunger strike for 73 days.  And so I would ask this question of you, already knowing about your heart and your concern, I will not judge you, I already know that you're committed to getting this right/  Will you -- will you demand of Maliki, not next week or months from now, but can we expect in the next 48 hours a call to the head of the government of Iraq demanding the release of these hostages and demanding their release now?  Or the documented, undeniable evidence that they are not held in Iraq?  Second, would you be engaged with -- or  the Secretary [of State John Kerry] be engaged with -- and I have spoken to Secretary Kerry, I know his heart -- with Maliki to demand the security of those in Camp Ashraf  for now and forever until a relocation to a homeland, a place where their relatives are or where they desire to be? [. . .]

Brett McGurk:  [. . .] We can pinpoint where the people are and I'd like to follow up with you on that.  The seven are not in Iraq.  But I will guarantee in my conversations with Maliki on down, the safety and the security of Camp Ashraf, Camp Liberty, where the residents are, the government needs to do everything possible to keep those poeople safe  but they will never be safe until they're out of Iraq.  And we all need to work together -- the MEK, us, the Committee, everybody, the international community -- to find a place for them to go.  There's now a UN trust fund, we've donated a million dollars and we're asking for international contributions to that fund for countries like Albania that don't have the resources but are willing to take the MEK in.  And we need to press foreign captials to take them in because until they're out, they're not going to be safe and we don't want anyone else to get hurt.  We don't want anymore Americans to get hurt in Iraq, we don't want anymore Iraqis to get hurt in Iraq  and we don't want any more residents of Camp Liberty to get hurt in Iraq and until they're out of Iraq, they're not going to be safe.  This is an international crisis and we need international help and support. 

US House Rep Sheila Jackson Lee:  May I follow -- May I just have a minute more to follow up with Mr. McGurk, Secretary McGurk?  And I hear the passion in your voice but let me just say this. We're in an open hearing.  You know where they are.  Who is going to rescue them?  Whose responsibility will it be to get them from where they are into safe haven?  Because otherwise, we're leaving -- we're leaving Maliki now without responsibility.  We're saying, and you're documenting that they're not there.  Let me just say that when my government speaks, I try with my best heart and mind to believe it.  But I've got to see them alive and well to believe that they're not where I think they are, they're in a pointed purse.  I'm glad to here that but I want them to be safe but I want them to be in the arms of their loved ones or at least able to be recognized by their loved one that they're safe somewhere.  So can that be done in the next 48 hours?  Can we have a-a manner that indicates that they are safe?

Brett McGurk:  I will repeat here a statement that we issued on September 16th and it's notable and I was going to mention this in my colliquy with my Congressman to my left, that within hours of the attack, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Score issued a statement praising the attack.  We issued a statement on September 16th calling on the government of Iran to use whatever influence it may have with groups that might be holding these missing persons to secure their immediate release.  And I can talk more about details and the status of these individuals.  And I've briefed some members of the Subcommittee. I'd be happy to follow up. 

I don't possess Sheila Jackson Lee's alleged ability to see into the heart of people.  But I do know the law.  If seven hostages were taken out of Iraq by whatever forces, the US government has to rescue them or pursue it.  That's because Genevea didn't and doesn't end -- the law covering the US government's obligations to the Ashraf community -- until the Ashraf community is safely out of Iraq.  7 hostages kidnapped and taken out of the country?  The US has failed and must secure their release.  The US has failed.

I loathe Bully Boy Bush, my life's much better with him out of the White House.  But somehow when Bully Boy Bush occupied the White House, no one was murdered in Camp Ashraf and no one was kidnapped from it.

Protests continued today in Iraq.  Since December 21st,  ongoing protests have been taking place in Iraq.  Layla Anwar (An Arab Woman Blues) explained the reasons back in February:

Protests are raging throughout Iraq...thousands upon thousands are demanding the following :

- End of Sectarian Shia rule
- the re-writing of the Iraqi constitution (drafted by the Americans and Iranians)
- the end to arbitrary killings and detention, rape and torture of all detainees on basis of sect alone and their release
- the end of discriminatory policies in employment, education, etc based on sect
- the provision of government services to all
- the end of corruption
- no division between Shias and Sunnis, a one Islam for all Iraqi Muslims and a one Iraq for all Iraqis.

The protests in Anbar, Fallujah, Sammara, Baquba,  Tikrit, Kirkuk, Mosul...and in different parts of Baghdad stress over and over 1) the spontaneous nature of the "popular revolution against oppression and injustice" 2) its peaceful nature  i.e unarmed  3) the welcoming of ALL to join the protests regardless of sect or ethnicity as ONE Iraqi people and 4) and the March to Baghdad.

Layla Anwar and Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi are among the few who can publicly note what led to the protests.  The western press likes to reduce it to one event.  The arbitrary arrests have not ended and, as they continue, they continue to inflame an already tense situation.  Human Rights Watch notes today:

Baghdad residents told Human Rights Watch that between November 7 and 11, SWAT and counterterrorism forces carried out mass arrests in the Dora and Adhamiyya neighborhoods. A tribal leader said that a security force he could not identify raided homes and conducted random arrest sweeps in Adhamiyya, arresting more than 30 people without warrants, insulting them and calling them “humiliating names,” then turned them over to a battalion from the army’s 44th brigade, 11th division. Interior and Defense Ministry officials told Human Rights Watch in February and May that it is illegal for Defense and Interior Ministry security forces to detain suspects, rather than transfer them to the custody of the Justice Ministry.

The tribal leader told Human Rights Watch that he and other elders from the neighborhood visited the battalion to request the detainees’ release. “They let some of them go, but this has become the norm,” he said. “Every Ashura, security forces come, raid the neighborhood, arrest people, and hold them for a while. Once Ashura is over they release most of them, but they are never charged.”

He said that the army battalion commander told him that, after Ashura, “The people who are wanted will stay and the others will be released.” A lawyer working with him told Human Rights Watch that most of the people “were arrested randomly, without warrants” and that some were laborers from outside Baghdad. The lawyer said he had heard that security forces conducted similar operations on the same days in Baghdad’s Tarmiyya and Dora neighborhoods, also majority Sunni, but that he did not know how many people they arrested.

Another Adhamiyya resident told Human Rights Watch that on November 7, security forces began conducting raids in the neighborhood that continued until November 10, the date of the interview. “We can see them everywhere [right now], but we don’t know how many people they are arresting,” she said.

A resident of Dora told Human Rights Watch that on November 7, “a huge number” of SWAT forces dressed in black surrounded the neighborhood at 10 a.m. and raided “every single house” in an operation that lasted until 5 p.m. “They brought at least five trucks,” she said, “and arrested so many young men – at least 50 of them. They put them in the trucks and took them away. The women were coming out and crying, and none of the men have returned.”

She said the families of the arrested men are “terrified” and do not know where their relatives are being held. “People are afraid to leave and afraid to stay in their homes,” she said. She said many of the people arrested “looked very young” but did not know whether they were under 18.

A teacher from Hitt, a majority Sunni city in in Anbar province, told Human Rights Watch that between 5 and 6 a.m. on November 10, SWAT forces surrounded entire neighborhoods in the city and arrested dozens of young men over the course of several hours. The teacher said she saw security forces “everywhere” in the streets and watched them arrest two people. Several students told her later that day that SWAT forces arrested several of their family members, in at least one instance taking a student’s uncle and all of her cousins from their house, she said.

A local news correspondent living in Ramadi told Human Rights Watch that residents and tribal leaders told him security forces from theJazeera and Badiya Operations Command arrested 90 people from Falluja, 63 from Hitt, and 42 from rural areas in Anbar on November 9 and 10.

On November 9, Anbar police chief Hadi Resij, announced that local police and SWAT forces had arrested 43 people in the Shouhadaa neighborhood that evening during a “security operation” south of Falluja, apparently referring to one of the several arrest sweeps that witnesses described to Human Rights Watch. He said all those arrested were “leaders of al-Qaeda,” but did not offer any evidence given that none of the detainees have faced trial. Human Rights Watch was unable to reach other Interior and Defense Ministry officials for comment.

Iraqi Spring MC notes protests took place in Falluja,  Mosul, Samarra, Baiji, Rawah, Tikrit, Ramadi,  The protests are regularly ignored by the western media.  They do have a Tweet this morning:

  • On protests?

    Patrick Cockburn (Independent) can never be bothered with reporting these massive, ongoing citizens protests.  But let oil enter the picture and the 'reporter' is suddenly interested.  Yesterday, he reported:

    Hundreds of foreign workers are being hurriedly evacuated from Basra in southern Iraq following violent protests by Iraqi oil workers and villagers over two incidents.
    In one of them, a British security man tore down a poster or flag bearing the image of Imam Hussein, a figure highly revered by Shia Muslims. The violence may make international oil companies more nervous about operating in Iraq, which is at the centre of the largest oil development boom in the world.

    Oil, oil, oil.  Patrick Cockburn doesn't give a damn blood flowing in Iraq but offer him an oil angle and suddenly he's all horned up.

    Strange, he's covering Basra and oil but can't mention Hassan Juma Awad.   Earlier this week, US Labor Against The War noted:

    USLAW received a brief message from Hassan Juma'a Awad, President of the Iraq Federation of Oil Unions, informing us that at a court hearing in Basra today, all charges against him filed by the Ministry of Oil and South Oil Company were dismissed.

    This is the second time criminal charges were thrown out by the court.  After the first dismissal in July, the Ministry of Oil and management of South Oil Company appealed the decision.  The appellate court reinstated the charges and sent the case back to the lower court for another hearing.  That hearing was held today, November 10, 2013.
    In his message, Brother Juma'a thanked U.S. Labor Against the War, Solidarity Center, American, European and other unions and labor federations for support and solidarity, without which he would likely have been convicted and could have been imprisoned for three years and fined huge sums.

    National Iraqi News Agency reports a Shweich roadside bombing claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldier and left two more injured, a Haweeja suicide bomber left three members of Sahwa commander Aziz Mohammed Khalaf's family injured, a Samarra sticky bombing left one person injured, Baghdad Operations Command announced they shot dead 2 suspects,  1 civilian was shot dead in Kirkuk, a Mosul bombing left three police members injured, the Badush Prison Inspector was shot dead in Mosul, and a Mosul roadside bombing left 1 woman dead and six more people injured.  All Iraq News adds that Diyala University Professor Thabit al-Khazraji was assassinated while leaving a Baquba mosque, Through yesterday, Iraq Body Count counts 334 violent deaths so far this month.

    On violence, Prashant Rao (AFP) reports that the head of UNAMI, Nickolay Mladenov, declared today that Iraqi security forces are in need of "re-training."  He told journalists in Baghdad:

    There is a culture within the security forces, and the way they do things, which needs to change.  One that is more respectful of human rights. If you want to talk about the immediate security response to the crisis, the police, the army, etc. need massive amounts of re-training... in relation to human rights, and how they respect international standards of human rights, how they undertake operations.

    Yes, they do need something more than what they have.  But the person over them is Nouri al-Maliki and that's also part of the problem.  He may be commander in chief per the Constitution but he only presides over the police due to a power grab.  (The police are under the Ministry of the Interior.  He has refused to nominate anyone to head the ministry so that he can control the ministry.)

    Until Nouri gets replaced -- if that ever happens -- don't expect those under him to possess traits he neither cultivates nor values.

    Nouri is in charge of the Ministry of the Interior -- that's the ministry that launched the assault on Iraq's Emo youth and gay -- and perceived gay -- males.  That's the ministry that went into the schools declaring these people 'evil' and stating it was okay to attack and kill them.  The Ministry of the Interior denied doing that when an international outcry built to the attacks; however, Al Mada and Alsumaria corrected that lie by printing the official handout from the Ministry of the Interior that was distributed during their school presentations.

    Let's turn to political.  In 2014, Iraq's supposed to hold Parliamentary elections.  This will mean, among other things (if elections are held), that someone will be selected to be President of Iraq.

    The KDP is coming off a huge victory and KRG President Massoud Barazani is looking for the next post to tackle.  What if that post is the Iraqi presidency?  Which would see him resign as the KRG President and possibly upgrade his nephew, the current prime minister of the KRG, into the post of presidency?

    A major meet-up is taking place this weekend.  Turkey's Hurriyet notes political implications -- for one person, in Turkey:

    Science, Industry and Technology Minister Nihat Ergün ruled out assumptions that Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani’s upcoming meeting with Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Diyarbakır was the ruling party’s ploy to get more votes in the local elections.

    AFP adds, "Ankara: Turkey’s prime minister will hold talks on Saturday with Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani aimed at restarting a stalled peace process, with decades-old divisions between Ankara and the Kurds far from over.  The talks -- branded 'historic' by Prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan -- come at a sensitive time for the Turkish government after a peace deal with Kurdish rebels stalled in September."   Rudaw notes, "As a prominent Kurdish leader, Barzani will be the first to visit Diyarbakir and be received as the president of the Kurdistan Region. This has symbolic significance at the minimum. Unlike previous Turkish governments, Turkey’s foreign policy under Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) has shown flexibility and leniency toward the Kurds."

    Current President Jalal Talabani has been out of the country for eleven months.  Couldn't run for re-election from a hospital bed in Germany.  (The Iraqi Constitution bans Talabani from a third term but when is the Constitution followed in Iraq?)

    Barzani's got two years tacked on to his presidency of the KRG.  That's 2014 and 2015.  Then what?

    He can't have a third term (the two years tacked on was consolation for the fact that, during his first term, the law was passed limiting the office to two terms).  He has an international presence.

    Hoshyar Zebari's a joke.  Even his own party, PUK, is now lukewarm on him and that's before he attempted to stab the Talabani family in the back.

    A Kurd as prime minister of Iraq?  Not happening in 2014.  So that leaves the presidency or Speaker of Parliament and, of the two, the presidency has more prestige.

    And the Kurds consider it their position.  Talabani  insisted to US Vice President Joe Biden (in the fall of 2010) that the presidency belonged to the Kurds.  (Talabani was being asked to step aside and let Ayad Allawi take the post since his Iraqiya got the most votes and since the US government would not allow Allawi to be prime minister because they were backing Nouri.)

    If it's a Kurdish position, Barzani would be the most likely choice to fill it.

    Yesterday, Shi'ite pilgrims were targeted in Iraq.  The US Embassy in Iraq issued the following:

    U.S. Deplores Attacks Targeting Religious Pilgrims Commemorating Ashura

    November 14, 2013
    The United States Embassy deplores recent attacks around Iraq targeting religious pilgrims commemorating Ashura. The deliberate targeting of innocent civilians, particularly those exercising their faith, is cowardly and reprehensible. We extend our condolences to the victims and their families and wish for a rapid recovery for those who were injured. The United States is committed to partnering with the Government of Iraq in its efforts to combat terrorism.

    On the topic of people being targeted in Iraq due to their religion, Ewan Palmer (International  Business Times) reports:

    Christianity is in danger of becoming extinct in the countries where it was founded because of persection, a senior Tory has warned.

    Baroness Warsi, the government's minister for faith and communities, claimed that Christians were being driven out of Middle Eastern countries such as Iraq and Syria by being targeted for "collective punishment" for the actions of Western powers.
    [. . .]
    Warsi, who was Britain's first female Muslim cabinet minister, wrote in the Daily Telegraph that the Christian population in Iraq had fallen from 1.2 million in 1990 to 200,000 today. She added that the war in Syria had "masked the haemorrhaging" of its Christian population.

    Let's move to England.  Matt Carr (Huffington Post) notes England's Iraq Inquiry which has still not produced a report and which now appears to be blocked from reporting what they unearthed -- blocked by US President Barack Obama:

    This week however, the British public were presented with further evidence of how hollowed-out the democratic process has become, when the Chilcot Inquiry revealed that it was being denied access to 25 notes sent by Tony Blair to George Bush, and 130 documents relating to conversations between the two architects of the Iraq War, in addition to dozens of records of cabinet meetings.
    There is no more serious decision that a government can take than a declaration of war, and there is no more serious test of a democracy than the ability to hold its leaders to account over why and how such decisions are taken, especially when a war is declared on false pretenses and results in a tragic and bloody disaster of the magnitude of the Iraq War.
    The Chilcot Inquiry was established by Gordon Brown with the fairly mild remit to establish 'lessons' from the Iraq war, rather than 'apportion blame.' Much to its own surprise no doubt, it has shown more teeth than anyone expected, to the point when its investigations threaten the reputations - and the cash flow - of those responsible.

    Sarah Lazare (Mint Press News) observes that "the U.S. government is forbidding the release of communications between Blair and Bush in the lead-up to the war, declaring it classified information and pressuring British Prime Minister David Cameron to wipe this information from the report."  The Voice of Russia (link is audio) speaks with the Guardian's Richard Norton-Taylor about the latest scandal while  Robert Fox (The Week) argues:

    The refusal to disclose presidential correspondence and conversations is yet another example of US exceptionalism, a principle often cited by President Obama.
    Today 'exceptional' means not being accountable - not having to explain to your allies why you want them to make war, not having to justify extraordinary rendition, Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib or chaotic secretive military courts.
    The Chilcot Inquiry has, by many accounts, already unearthed glaring evidence of government mismanagement and worse. Chilcot should steal himself and publish all he knows, whatever Britain's exceptional allies might think and say. It is a duty he owes the public

    This is becoming a huge scandal and we've noted it three days in a row now.  People need to be asking why so-called 'independent' US outlets are ignoring the story?  I'm not talking about MSM or corporate media.  I'm talking about the whore beggars always insisting you need to send money to keep their magazine or their radio program afloat because only they will tell you the truth.

    Iraq briefly came up during today's State Dept press briefing by spokesperson Jen Psaki.  We'll close with that exchange:

    QUESTION: Okay. On KRG and Turkey --

    MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

    QUESTION: -- the President of KRG, Mr. Barzani, is going to visit Turkey tomorrow. First of all, do you have any reaction to that? And I have couple other questions.

    MS. PSAKI: Well, the U.S., as you know, has a strong and positive relationship with both Iraq and Turkey. We’re encouraged by recent efforts on both sides to improve relations, including recent reciprocal visits. Improvement in Iraq-Turkey relations is critical for regional stability and cooperation, so we continue to encourage that.

    QUESTION: There is – an oil pipeline is about to – according to news reports, is going to start pumping oil very soon – maybe weeks, maybe months – from KRG to Turkey. What’s your view on that matter?

    MS. PSAKI: Well, our consistent position hasn’t changed, which is that we don’t support oil exports from any part of Iraq without approval of the Iraqi Federal Government. So we continue to urge the Federal Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government to reach a constitutional solution.

    QUESTION: There was a phone call between the Vice President Biden and the KRG President Barzani --

    MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

    QUESTION: -- and some statements came from Ankara today that Turkey can help KRG and Baghdad to distribute this income from this KRG sale. And there are other reports that the U.S. can do this. Do you have any view on that subject?

    MS. PSAKI: I would point you to the White House, the Vice President’s office, on the specifics of that call. I don’t have any details on it and what may or may not have come out of it, what’s accurate.