Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Iraq snapshot

Wednesday, April 30, 2014.  Chaos and violence continue, Iraqis attempt to vote, brawls break out between voters, polling stations are attacked, one polling station is closed by a militant non-voter, Nouri al-Maliki lies and tries to proclaim himself the winner, votes are being counted now, the IHEC says it will be 20 to 30 days before they have a complete vote, and did we mention Nouri's lying and proclaiming himself the winner, how about many in the press are going along with him on this, all that and Laura Nyro.

Iraq held parliamentary elections today.  Despite rumors that Nouri al-Maliki had asked for a tramp stamp instead of dipping his own finger in purple ink, Ali Al-Saadi's photo for AFP and Getty Images demonstrates that the thug and current prime minister did dip his finger in ink.

Nouri wasn't the only one voting today. Iraq Pictures notes, "A woman with her newly born baby votes in the Iraqi Elections."

A woman with her newly born baby votes in the Iraqi Elections أمرأة تنتخب مع مولودها الجديد في الإنتخابات العراقية

  • Kurdistan holds peaceful federal and provincial elections amid high turnout: Erbil, Kurdistan Region, Iraq (...

  • The US State Dept issued the following statement today:

    Press Statement

    John Kerry
    Washington, DC
    April 30, 2014

    Millions of Iraqis courageously voted today and reaffirmed not just their commitment to democracy, but their determination to achieve a more secure and peaceful future. Iraqis from every ethnic and religious group, and from all 18 provinces, voted in an election critical to advancing the vision of a democratic, united, federal, and pluralistic Iraq as defined in the Iraqi constitution.
    With ink-stained thumbs, Iraqi voters sent a powerful rebuke to the violent extremists who have tried to thwart democratic progress and sow discord in Iraq and throughout the region. Iraqi citizens stood up to extremist threats, and many acted particularly heroically, including a police officer who gave his own life to shield voters from a suicide bomber near a polling station.
    This election is one step in a democratic process to stand up a new parliament and form a new government.
    The United States has stepped up our support to Iraq, and over the coming weeks, we will continue to support Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) to fairly, accurately, and transparently carry out its responsibilities as votes are counted and results are certified. We urge Iraq's leaders to respect the constitutional framework for certifying the vote and forming a new government, and we hope this process moves expeditiously given the serious challenges the country faces.
    The United States has been proud over the past year to support the efforts of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and the IHEC in preparing for these elections, and we have advocated with all Iraqi leaders the importance of the election being held on time. We will now continue to encourage all Iraqi leaders to focus on pulling their country together and forming a new government that can effectively deliver for all of Iraq’s 18 provinces.

    The United Nations Security Council issued the following:

          30 April 2014 – The United Nations Security Council today welcomed the timely holding of parliamentary elections in Iraq, and, looking forward to the certification of the results by national electoral officials, called on the country’s leaders “to engage, as quickly as possible, to form a Government that represents the will and sovereignty of the Iraqi people.”
    In a statement to the press read out by Ambassador U. Joy Ogwu of Nigeria, Council President for the month of April, the members of the 15-nation body welcomed today’s elections, and commended the people “for demonstrating their commitment to a peaceful, inclusive and democratic political process.”
    Looking forward to the announcement by Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) certifying the election results, the Council expressed appreciation to the Commission and the Government, including the Iraqi security forces, for their dedicated work in preparing and conducting these polls, supported by the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI).
    “The…Council calls on all political entities to work together in an inclusive and timely political process aimed at strengthening Iraq’s national unity, sovereignty and independence; and for Iraq’s leaders to engage, as quickly as possible, to form a Government that represents the will and sovereignty of the Iraqi people,” said Ms. Ogwu.
    Further, she said members of the Council believe that through its democratic institutions, in cooperation with society, Iraq can work to address the challenges facing the country for the benefit of all Iraqis and their hope for a strong, independent, unified and democratic Iraq.
    The Council reaffirmed its support for the Iraqi Government’s efforts to help meet the security needs of the entire population of Iraq, particularly in the current challenging security environment and during the elections.
    Finally, the Council reiterated that no act of violence or terrorism can reverse a path towards peace, democracy and reconstruction in Iraq, underpinned by the rule of law and respect for human rights, which is supported by the people and the Government of Iraq and the international community. 

    A lot is at stake in these elections.  For one thing, Iraq will need to find a new president.

    That's not open to debate.

    December 2012,  Iraqi President Jalal Talabani suffered a stroke.   The incident took place late on December 17, 2012 (see the December 18, 2012 snapshot) and resulted in Jalal being admitted to Baghdad's Medical Center Hospital.    Thursday, December 20, 2012, he was moved to Germany.  He remains in Germany currently.

    Obviously, health issues prevent him from continuing as prime minister.  So does the Iraqi Constitution -- Jalal has termed out of office.

    So one thing the new Parliament will have to do is pick a president -- a new president.

    They may or may not get to select a prime minister.  In 2006, the White House selected (imposed) Nouri al-Maliki for them.  In 2010, the White House demanded Nouri get a second term.

    Will this happen again?

    It very well could.  Whether it does or not, the White House would be smart not to support Nouri anymore. Tim Arango and Michael R. Gordon (New York Times) report:

    American intelligence assessments have found that Mr. Maliki’s re-election could increase sectarian tensions and even raise the odds of a civil war, citing his accumulation of power, his failure to compromise with other Iraqi factions -- Sunni or Kurd -- and his military failures against Islamic extremists. On his watch, Iraq’s American-trained military has been accused by rights groups of serious abuses as it cracks down on militants and opponents of Mr. Maliki’s government, including torture, indiscriminate roundups of Sunnis and demands of bribes to release detainees.

    And a new leader could lower tensions.  Not necessarily permanently.  But Nouri is the common bond that has created resistance in Iraq.  A new leader could mean a reset.  We covered this in April 12's "I Hate The War,"

    It's also true that a third term for Nouri could result in real recruitment for the armed resistance.  Not within Iraq.  Iraqis who would be part of the armed resistance are pretty much already there.  Four years of Nouri targeting Sunnis, persecuting them and terrorizing them have done the trick and the only new segment from Iraq will be young boys and girls who come to maturity and join the ranks.

    But a third term of Nouri in Iraq?  Sunni fighters from outside Iraq might decide Syria's less important and begin targeting Iraq -- in which case Nouri's paranoid rantings might come true.  There's already talk in Arabic social media about the huge number of Iraqi Shi'ites going into Syria to fight.  At some point, a third term of Nouri would mean Sunni fighters from outside Iraq take the battle into Iraq (a) to defend the persecuted Sunni Iraqis and (b) to force Iraqi Shi'ite fighters out of Syria and back into Iraq.  A third term for Nouri likely means the babble of expanding the fight in Syria -- that so many have warned about and quite a few have pretended has already happened -- becomes more than that.

    If you're not getting it, even the Tehran Times carries an article today which notes, "But the violence returned, stoked in part by al-Maliki's moves last year to crush protests by Sunnis complaining of discrimination under his government. Militants took over the city of Fallujah in the Sunni-dominated province of Anbar and parts of the provincial capital of Ramadi."  The persecuted Sunnis in Iraq are becoming well known in the region.

    Ranj Alaaldin (Guardian) observes, "Fearing that Bashar al-Assad's downfall would allow Syria's Islamist-dominated opposition to intensify its support for Iraq's militants, Iraq's Shia-dominated government has in turn allowed Syria-bound Iranian cargo flights to use Iraqi airspace. It has also turned a blind eye to Iraqi Shia militias entering Syria to support the Syrian regime. These militias have ensured the survival of the Assad regime alongside other Shia actors such as Hezbollah."

    If you're a non-Iraqi an armed Sunni group that wants to help Syria, Nouri's actions mean you're going to have to take the battle into Iraq at some point and confront the government which is backing Bashar al-Assad.

    Voting had barely ended before Nouri's State of Law began whispering to the press that Nouri had won.  Nouri himself wasn't whispering.  AFP quotes him stating he was "certain" of his own victory. NINA has him insisting that 'he is assured we will win."   These remarks were made and reported despite Moqtada al-Sadr's bloc cautioning against people running with their own non-official totals.  The IHEC itself denounced claims of leaked results and stated those making the claims of how many votes they'd received were wrong.  As for the official results, All Iraq News notes the IHEC has declared, "The results of the elections will be announced within 20 to 30 days from today."  Jason Ditz ( offers this prediction, "The post-vote coalition negotiations are going to be difficult, with no one likely to willingly deal with Maliki after the last time, and no group likely to successfully take power without his permission."  Martin Chulov (Guardian) reminds, "The 2010 election, in which Maliki's state of law list came second to the cross-sectarian grouping of the former prime minister, Iyad Allawi, involved a nine-month period of horse trading, during which decision making was paralysed across Iraq."  Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) reports:

    Already, one of Maliki’s main rivals, Ayad Allawi, is indicating he will leave politics before dealing with Maliki – even if the prime minister wins a majority of seats.
    Mr. Allawi, Iraq’s first interim prime minister after the war and head of the biggest Sunni bloc, says the prime minister needs to comply with a two-term limit for prime ministers that was approved in parliament but struck down in court. 
    “What is happening now is lots of atrocities, lots of violations. The constitution is swept under the carpet. Now he controls part of the judiciary, he controls everything, and not only that, he is embarking on a policy of divide and rule… We can’t accept this after eight years of bloodshed in Iraq and total loss of security,” says Allawi.

    On Baghdad's corrupt government, Nadezhda Kevorkova (RT) speaks with the "Head of the Prime Minister office" Muhavad Husam al Dine Al Bayati.  Excerpt.

    MB: As you know the corruption in this country is very huge. And there is a lot of money in the hands of some politicians not necessary only from the block of prime minister. There are so many other blocks that stole so much money from the country. They can buy votes and support from IHEC [the Independent High Electoral Commission which approved the voting system and the counting method for 2014 parliamentary elections]. The results will not be very clear.
    We do not have foreign observers or people who are watching the elections. 

    RT: People say that 65 American observers came to Iraq especially for the elections, is it so?

    MB: What can these 65 do? Can they work on the street? Can they go to the governorates? Can they go to the election boxes and see how people vote and how their votes are counted? No, they cannot. 

    In addition to US observers, IHEC notes that there were 26 observers from the Arab leagues who were monitoring Baghdad, Basra, Najaf, Erbil, Dohuk and Sulaymaniyah provinces.  NINA notes Nikolai Mladenov, the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy to Iraq, praised the international observers for their work today.  The IHEC noted by mid-day that 34% of the electronic voting cards they distributed had been used.  Later, Xinhua reports, "the country's Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) said that a preliminary estimate showed that Iraqi voters made about 60 percent turnout when more than 12 million eligible voters out of over 20 million fanned out to polling centers across the country on Wednesday."

    After the closing of polling stations, All Iraq News reports Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq's leader Ammar al-Hakim offered congratulatory phone calls (on the elections taking place) to cleric and movement leader Moqtada al-Sadr, thug and prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, KRG President Massoud Barzani, Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi and Wataniya head Ayad Allawi and National Alliance head Ibrahim al-Jaafari.

    Congratulations for success were based on rather questionable events.  For example, National Iraqi News Agency reports Shalal Abdoul, the Tuz Khurmatu Mayor, announced "11 stun bombings went off" in Tuz "in an attempt to prevent voters in the district of going to the polls" and "unidentified gunmen had cordoned off one of the polling centers in the Nahrawan area west of Mosul, and prevented the entry of the voters to vote and threatened residents of the area not to go to the polling stations to cast their ballots."  That was nothing, both of those events, however.  The big event?  All Iraq News reports a Ramadi polling station was shut down by force.  Who did it?  Mohammed Khamis Abu Risha who is Ahmed Abu Risha's nephew, Ahmed Abu Risha is the head of Anbar's Sahwa.

    Yes, election day finally arrived in Iraq.  Whether it will have any meaning or not remains to be seen.

    Passion spilled over into anger in at least two cities where opposing groups of voters got into brawls.  NINA notes six people required hospitalization at Al-Hussein Hospital in Samawah after they got into a physical altercation over whom they were supporting, and an argument near a Basra polling station between supporters of Moqtada al-Sadr and supporters of Nouri al-Maliki left three people injured,

    Some went beyond fighting with their fellow voters.  NINA notes the home of Khalid Abdullah al-Alwani was blown up in Falluja (candidate for re-election, with the Motahedoon Coalition) -- that's Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi's coalition.  But even more than attacking politicians, there was attacking of the voting centers.

    What did the voters want?  AFP states, "Iraqis complain of myriad grievances, from poor public services to rampant corruption and high unemployment[.]"  Here are some reported comments.  The Oman Observer quotes two voters insisting it's time for change.  19-year-old Noor Raad shares she was voting "to change the politicians because most of them have not worked to improve the situation."  67-year-old Abu Ashraf ____ (didn't give full name) states he voted, "I came to vote for change for my children and grandchildren to change the future and the situation of the country for the better. It is necessary to change most of the politicians because they have done nothing and they spend years on private conflicts." Kamal al-Din tells Al Manar, "I hope that Iraq has a safe future, and that unemployment is tackled, and industry, agriculture and trade return to their original stature, instead of just relying on oil."  Al-Manar explains, "The pensioner said he hoped to see an entirely new government elected to address the multiple problems that have scattered his grandsons cross Austria, Britain, Germany and Sweden."  Press TV adds, "Many Iraqis feel that the people in power live a luxurious life style and aren’t able to relate to the problems of ordinary people."  Judit Neurink (Rudaw) reports:

    The Iraqi Electoral Commission had set up special polling booths for the approximately 30,000 Arabs who have fled Ramadi and Fallujah and sought shelter in the safety of the Kurdistan Region.
    Their anger with the Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and his Shiite government had driven many refugees to Andazyiaran School to fight him back with their ballots.
    “We want change, we need safety,” said a lawyer from Baghdad who arrived in Kurdistan ten days ago after his uncle was killed.
    “The situation in Baghdad is terrible,” he lamented. “Sunnis cannot stay there. It has got too dangerous. I really hope to see the change.”  

    The Tehran Times quotes voter Azhar Mohammed explaining she voted early in Baghdad today, "I decided to go and vote early while it's safe.  Crowds attract attacks."

    And there certainly were plenty of attacks today.  NINA notes a Muqdadiyah polling station was targeted with mortars leaving 1 person dead and seven more injured. a roadside bombing targeted a Mosul polling station leaving three people injured, another roadside bomb targeted another Mosul polling station leaving two people injured, a Qara Dora Village bombing targeting a polling station left 2 electoral commission employees dead (and two Iraqi soldiers injured),  a bombing targeting a Hader polling station left three security forces injured, a mortar attack on an Albu Farraj polling station left 2 people dead and three more injured, 3 suicide bombers were killed attempting to attack 2 Mosul polling stations,  1 suicide bomber at a Baiji polling station took his own life and the life of 1 police member (five people were left injured), a Kubaysa bombing targeting a polling station left two Iraqi soldiers injured, and voting at an Arbat polling station had to come to a halt when it was under "fire from unknown assailants."  All Iraq News notes bombings at a Ramadi polling station left 2 Iraqi soldiers dead.

    Noah Rayman (Time magazine) notes, "Hundreds of thousands of troops and police -- many of whom were allowed to vote Monday so they could provide security on Wednesday -- were safeguarding polling stations as Iraqis voted, according to the AP. Iraqi authorities closed the nation’s airspace and banned vehicles to limit the threat of car bombings."

    While those were serious dangers for voters, All Iraq News points out a more minor issue of inconvenience journalists attempting to vote in Baghdad at the Sheraton Hotel complained.

    Fraud charges were leveled ahead of the voting.  Possibly for good reason.  NINA notes 1 person was arrested in Nineveh Province's al-Shura for being in possession of 511 of the new electronic voting cards.  In addition, Australia's ABC Radio reports:

    Non-Shiite parties complained of obstacles to voting in the outer suburbs of Baghdad and saw in it a deliberate effort by Mr al-Maliki to keep their numbers down in the next parliament.
    "It was all to be expected," said Muhannad Hussam, a candidate who supports Sunni deputy prime minister Saleh Mutlaq.
    "They didn't want the Sunnis to move for the election."
    Mr Hussam said some voting machines broke down and that security forces prevented people trying to reach polling stations in Abu Ghraib, Yusifya and Latifya, all around Baghdad.
    "From our view it is not a fair election," he said.

    In still other violence, National Iraqi News Agency reports a Debis roadside bombing killed 2 women, another Debis bombing left five security forces injured,  a Mosul roadside bombing targeting an al-Baladiat checkpoint left two Iraqi soldiers injured, and an Albu-Awad Village roadside bombing killed 1 person and left two more injured,

    On the voting in northern Iraq, KUNA reports:

    Howevr, turnout in Kurdistan, which has a total of 2.71 million eligible voters, was described by the Independent High Electoral Commission as "incomparable".
    As for preliminary results, they will be later distributed on banners on the walls of each polling station, added the commission.
    Earlier at mid-day, the commission announced a 34 percent voting turnout out of the 20 million Iraqis eligible to vote for a new parliament.
    The voting process had been held under the assessment of the United Nations, with the Secretary General's Special Representative for Iraq Nikolay Mladenov telling reporters, at a polling center in central Baghdad, that only through high participation can the Iraqi people ensure that they have a say in the future of the country. 

    With the vote over, coalition buidling becomes the new goal.  Alsumaria reports that Ammar al-Hakim declared today that the forming of the National Alliance has begun. This may mean the reshaping of the government -- at least in terms of who will be prime minister. al-Hakim has ambitions of being prime minister some day.  Would some day be this year?  Maybe.  Or maybe Moqtada al-Sadr or maybe Adil Abdul-Mahdi or Ayad Allawi or a name less prominent internationally.

    It could be Nouri for the third time.  Despite all of his many failures.  The London School of Economics and Political Science's Fawaz A. Gerges examines Iraq at CNN:

    The ruling political class is as much responsible for Iraq's predicament as structural conditions. The structure is not destiny. Having taken ownership of the country after U.S. occupation and ouster of Saddam Hussein, the Shiite leadership has treated Sunni Arabs like second-class citizens and has equated its numerical majority with a license to monopolize power at the expense of others.
    In a similar vein, the Sunni leadership has not come to terms with the new realities of post-Saddam Iraq and still entertains illusions about ruling Iraq. Kurdish leaders would not mind if Iraq burns as long as they preserve a separate Kurdistan -- a quasi-independent entity.

    Of all actors, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki bears greater responsibility for the steep deterioration of the security situation and the quality of life of Iraqis, including corruption that infects all aspects of Iraqi society. After eight years in office and monopolizing power, al-Maliki has failed his countrymen and has delivered neither security nor prosperity. He was blind and deaf to the gathering storm among Sunnis Arabs who feel excluded by what they view as his sectarian-based policies.

    In 2010, the Iraqi people voted in parliamentary elections.  Alice Fordham (NPR) observes, "Since then, rights groups and many Iraqis say this Maliki government has failed key democratic tests: The country is corrupt and unsafe, with serious flaws in the freedom of the judiciary and media. Many Iraqis are deeply disillusioned with the democratic process."

    Today, Iraqis voted in parliamentary elections again.  IANS  points out, "Over 21 million people were eligible to vote in this election in which more than 9,000 candidates from nearly 280 political entities were vying for 328 seats. Over 8,000 voting centres across the country opened their doors at 7 am (local time/4 am GMT) and were scheduled to close at 6 pm."  Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission notes there were approximately 6,425 male candidates and 2,607 female candidates. The IHEC also hailed the vote as a "great success."

  • Despite all the election fever going around, I hope we will be one voice after the elections in Iraq.

  • It was theme post time for community sites last night:  "Once It Was Alright Now (Farmer Joe)." "Lonely Women," "the confession," "Poverty Train," "Lu," "Timer," "Eli's Coming," "Emmie," "Sweet Blindness" and "Yes, I'm ready."  The theme was singer-songwriter Laura Nyro's classic album Eli and the Thirteenth Confession.  Among the hit songs Laura composed were "And When I Die" (Blood, Sweat and Tears had the hit), "Stoney End," "Time and Love" and "Flim Flam Man"  (Barbra Streisand had the hits -- the last two were top ten hits on the AC chart), "Eli's Coming" (Three Dog Night had the hit), "Wedding Bell Blues," "Stoned Soul Picnic," "Save The Country, "Sweet Blindness" and "Blowing Away" (The 5th Dimension).  Tony Sclafani (Goldmine) noted in 2012:

    When a 19-year-old Laura Nyro emerged on the rock scene in 1967 with her debut album More Than a New Discovery, she changed the preconceptions of what any singer-songwriter -- much less a female one -- could do. In her wake, Todd Rundgren abruptly changed his style and left his band Nazz to release solo albums inspired by Nyro (one song, "Baby, Let's Swing" is even about her).
    Carole King was so impressed with Nyro's artistic boldness that King finally got up the gumption to pursue a solo career seriously -- one that featured her sitting Nyro-style, behind a piano.
    "I think Laura Nyro does not exist without Carole King the songwriter, but Carole King the singer-songwriter does not exist without Laura Nyro the performer," says Michele Kort, author of the 2002 Nyro biography Soul Picnic. "It was Laura, along with Joni Mitchell, who started the whole singer-songwriter movement Carole King was able to become part of."
    Other performers who have cited Nyro as an inspiration range from Suzanne Vega to Elton John to Stevie Wonder, whose "If You Really Love Me" is said to be inspired by Nyro's style. That style attracted a hard-core following of fans who made her a cult figure.

    Singer-songwriter Rickie Lee Jones was also an admirer of Laura's musical gifts and Rickie took part in the Beacon Theater's tribute to Laura which Rickie movingly writes about here.  Suzanne Vega shares her thoughts at The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

    Laura received many accolades in her lifetime but the bigger honors came posthumously.  A month after her death, Time and Love: The Music of Laura Nyro, a tribute album, was released with Vega performing "Buy And Sell," Phoebe Snow performed "Time and Love," Roseanne Cash performed "Save The Country," Sweet Honey In The Rock performed "And When I Die," Jill Sobule performed "Stone Soul Picnic," Beth Nielsen Chapman performed "Stoney End," Patti Larkin performed "Poverty Train," Jonatha Brooke performed "He's A Runner," Holly Cole peformed "Sweet Blindness," Dana Bryant performed "Woman's Blues," Leni Stern performed "Upstairs By A Chinese Lamp," The Roches performed "Wedding Bell Blues," Lisa Germano performed "Eli's Coming" and Jane Siberry contributed the original composition "When I Think Of Laura Nyro."  Mimi Cohen wrote and performed To Carry On . . . A Celebration of Laura Nyro.  (Title from Laura's "And When I Die" -- "And when I die/ And when I'm dead and gone/ There'll be one child born/ With a world to carry on/ To carry on.") In 2007, Judy Kuhn released Serious Playground: The Songs of Laura Nyro containing cover versions of fourteen of Laura's songs including "To A Child" (one of her later era masterpieces and a song about her relationship with her son hip-hop artist Gil-T.).

    In 2001, she was inducted into the Connecticut Women's Hall of Fame, in 2010, she was inducted into the Songwriter Hall of Fame and, in 2012, she was inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in a presentation by Bette Midler.