Monday, October 19, 2020. Moqtada on the ropes, Iraqis prepare to take the protests to another level, a detail I share with Rudy G, and much more.
Saturday, the Democratic Socialist of America's International Committee held a teach-in on Iraq focusing on the year long protests that have been taking place. The protests are expected to grow more intense on October 25th. Sarhang Hamaseed of the United States Institute of Peace offers:
Many of the grievances propelling protesters into the streets last October have yet to be addressed and in some cases have become more complicated. While the movement has lost momentum in terms of number of protesters on the street and fragmented some, its spirit and key pressure factors remain. With considerable public support from Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the supreme Shia cleric, the protest movement managed to make important, but provisional gains:
- The protests signified a deep societal desire for change, primarily represented by youth. The youth took their peaceful resistance to the religious space during Shia religious ceremonies and rituals like Arabaeen, which commemorates the 40th day of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein. These Iraqi youth are presenting themselves as representing Imam Hussein’s symbolism of standing up to oppression and injustice in an effort to supplant Islamic religious parties’ legitimacy.
- The movement forced Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi to resign last November, paving the way for Mustafa al-Kadhimi to become the new premier. Despite many obstacles and exasperation with the slow pace of change, Kadhimi has shown he is serious in wanting to address the grievances of the people and the international community.
- Last fall, the Council of Representatives voted on a new election law, which was meant to break the control of the traditional powerholders. A key component of that law remains to be finished, requiring an annex that would set the electoral districts—a contentious issue in its own right. How those districts will be set up will have significant implications for the balance of power within and among Iraq’s communities, political parties, and beyond.
- Judges have been appointed as commissioners in Iraq’s High Electoral Commission (IHEC) to replace the commission that was perceived as representing partisan and confessional interests. However, the IHEC’s bureaucracy has legacy issues and other concerns that are yet to be addressed.
- Kadhimi has set June 6, 2021 as the date for early elections.
These changes have kept the international community engaged—even those who thought Iraq was a completely lost cause. Sistani met with the U.N. special representative in Iraq twice, and his most recent statement in September stressed, among other things, the importance of monitoring and supervision of the election in coordination with the U.N.
The protest movement is gearing up for a strong showing on October 25, a key anniversary date. However, there is skepticism that they will be able to muster up the kind of crowds that they had last year. That’s because of several factors: continued violence against the protesters and assassination of civic leaders; coronavirus restrictions; fragmentation among the protesters, some wanting to give the Kadhimi government a chance while others are skeptical that protests will yield results; and concerns that political parties and armed groups have infiltrated or coopted the movement or parts of it. Although there is a perception the movement has lost momentum, Iraq’s financial crises could once again ignite mass protests—and political parties may exploit them to undermine Kadhimi, if not fully aim to unseat him.
In the year since Iraqis took to the streets en masse to protest against unemployment, corruption, foreign interference and a creaking political system, the country has seen major upheavals and societal change - but not necessarily of the sort that the anti-government protesters were calling for.
The period since the beginning of the demonstrations on 1 October 2019 has seen the ousting of prime ministers and prime ministerial candidates, an international proxy conflict spilling over into assassinations, and the outbreak of a deadly pandemic which has pushed Iraq's healthcare system to the limit.
In all the chaos, there has been little attention paid to the demands put forward by Iraq's activists, who continue to demonstrate where they can despite being hobbled by the coronavirus and despite the deaths of more 600 of their number since the start of their campaign.
Ali Khrypt, a Baghdad-based activist who had already been involved in anti-government protests prior to October 2019, said there had been very little in the way of real political change in the last year.
"In my opinion, it did not achieve anything in terms of political reality," he told Middle East Eye.
"As for the street and the Iraqi youth, it had a great impact. In the past, a small group was rallying to the regime and the devastation that befell the country after the fall of [Saddam Hussein's] regime - but now every Iraqi home and every young woman and young man rejects and knows what the mistakes are and criticises the work of government."
The nationwide demonstrations which broke out on October 1, 2019 spiraled into a decentralized movement slamming unemployment, poor public services, endemic corruption, and a political class more loyal to Iran or the US than to Iraqi citizens.
It led to the shock November 1 resignation of then-premier Adel Abdel Mahdi, succeeded after months of political deadlock by Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi, who pledged to integrate protesters’ demands into his transitional government’s plans.
But on the ground, little has been achieved.
Kadhemi has set an early parliamentary vote for June 6, 2021, nearly a year ahead of schedule.
“Protesters wanted early elections and a new electoral law. We’re doing that,” Abdelhussein Hindawi, Kadhemi’s advisor on elections, told AFP.
But while parliament approved a new voting law in December, essential points including the size of electoral districts and whether candidates would run independently or on lists have yet to be agreed by lawmakers.
And despite repeated claims he has no political ambitions and would only serve as a transitional premier, Kadhemi himself appears to be preparing for an electoral fight.
Several MPs and members of rival parties told AFP the prime minister’s advisors are scouting candidates for the 2021 elections, hoping he could secure a new term in office.
Shi'ite cleric and one-time movement leader Moqtada al-Sadr lost his power and influence (beyond his cult) as a result of his inability to stick to one position or another with regards to the protesters. After supporting them for months, he turned on them and seemed shocked to discover that his word wasn't law. The protests remained popular. At which point, he said he supported them but had conditions -- including that males and female not protest together. The protesters responded by not just ignoring his edict but by mocking it. Moqtada blew his influence. He's just another Shi'ite cleric in a country with hundreds ARAB WEEKLY is one of the few outlets to note the waning of Moqtada:
Sadr had hesitated a lot before siding with the protest movement that began in October 2019. Activists said that the Sadrists, the moniker given to Sadr’s followers, did not join in the protests until they realised that they were overwhelming; so they jumped on the wagon of the protests for fear to see their place on the street disappear.
During the months-long series of demonstrations, the relationship between the protesters and the popular current affiliated with al-Sadr was erratic at best. The two parties converged repeatedly at some points but also diverted repeatedly at some others. This relationship, however, witnessed a clear turning point when the United States killed the commander of the Quds Force in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, Qassem Soleimani, and the field commander of the Popular Mobilisation Forces, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in a raid near Baghdad airport in early 2020.
While the protesters welcomed the US action and saw in it an opportunity to reduce Tehran’s dominance of political, security and economic decisions in Iraq, Sadr and his followers sided with Iran and participated in a partisan demonstration demanding the condemnation of the United States, before the representatives of the Shia cleric in the Iraqi parliament participated in drafting a resolution compelling the government to remove US troops out of the country.
As the Sadr current re-joined the mantle of Iran to be on the side of armed militia leaders who are challenging the state, Sadr’s name became anathema in the protest squares of central and southern Iraq’s Shia cities.
In a desperate effort to appear relevant, Moqtada issued a statement on Sunday. BASNEWS Tweets:
Where are Moqtada's supporters? He has the cult. That's about all he has. One former supporter conveyed via e-mail last week that they were supposed to all Tweet "God supports Muqtada because he is a lover of peace." But look it up -- under Muqtada or Moqtada -- and you'll see six Tweets. Once upon a time, in fact, just a year ago, that would have been pages and pages of reTweets.
This week's podcast by THE ECONOMIST looks at Joe Biden, his 2020 campaign for president ("Hidin' Biden") and at his history with the Iraq War. Pay attention to the discussion of 'Democrats' who might defeat Republicans in the Senate -- like Lindsay Graham's opponent -- and how their success would only water down the Democrats in the Senate. Republican-lite may beat a Republican (it may not) but it will infect and water down Democrats in the Senate. That's a detail the cheerleaders for Jaime Harrison ignore. Also ignored are the Hunter Biden e-mails and the reaction to it. Branko Marcoetik (JACOBIN) offers:
On Wednesday, the New York Post published a major story about the Biden-Burisma affair (aka “Ukrainegate”), the still-developing controversy over Hunter Biden’s presence on the board of Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma at the same time that his father, then vice president, spearheaded anti-corruption efforts in the country and ultimately fired the prosecutor investigating the company.
The Post published e-mails purportedly drawn from a copied computer hard drive that belonged to the younger Biden, allegedly showing a Burisma executive thanking him for introducing him to the then–vice president, and imploring Hunter to “use your influence to convey a message/signal etc. to stop what we consider to be politically motivated actions” -- meaning the “one or more pretrial proceedings” the Ukrainian government had launched against the company.
The contents of the hard drive, passed on to the Post by Trump ally Rudy Giuliani, are clearly an attempt at one final, desperate “October surprise.” Trump’s shot at reelection certainly looks to have all but collapsed after an unhinged debate performance that was soon followed by the mass spread of coronavirus within the White House. He’s in desperate need of something to turn around what seems to be shaping up -- at least as far as the polls can be trusted -- as a landslide defeat.
While the e-mails, if authentic, are not great for Biden — they flatly contradict his implausible September 2019 claim that he has “never spoken to my son about his overseas business dealings” --they’re far from a game changer.
They mostly back up what basic common sense and closed-door testimony from Obama administration officials already told us: that Burisma’s hiring of Hunter, with his zero experience in either Ukraine or natural gas, was an obvious attempt to curry favor with the US government, and that it undermined the Obama administration’s anti-corruption messaging in the country. In fact, they shed absolutely no light on Trump’s actual central and still unproven charge against Biden in the whole affair: that he fired the Ukrainian prosecutor to shield his son from prosecution.
No, in many ways the bigger story here is the response to the story. Because seemingly every major scandal damaging to Biden and, therefore, beneficial to Trump’s reelection has, during this election, been simply labeled Russian disinformation and ruled out of bounds -- from his sexual assault allegation to this matter -- social media companies quickly leapt into action to do what they could to make sure no one would get to even read the story and judge it for themselves.
Shortly after the Post story went live, both Facebook and Twitter -- two of the several tech giants that are now more integral to the news publishing business than ever -- announced they were stepping in to prevent the story from spreading on their platforms. Facebook, wrote spokesperson Andrew Stone, was “reducing its distribution on our platform” until it could be fact-checked, while Twitter simply blocked users from posting the story at all, citing its “Distribution of hacked material policy.”
This rush to censorship is equal parts absurd and chilling.
I find Branko's take very disappointing.
But let's get to Rudy G. I was hoping to write about this topic. On THE ECONOMIST podcast, they talk about it "he somehow turned it over to Rudy" and that Rudy didn't turn it over to the FBI. Blah blah blah. The FBI already had it. Second, somehow?
Rudy G is not a friend of mine -- I've never even bothered to learn how to spell his last name. I don't care for him or for his trashy family (yes, his daughters are trashy). I have numerous reasons. Some would argue that one of the reasons is that Rudy and I are rivals.
From time to time, we are rivals. From time to time, we are both offered the same information. I prefer to purchase letters. I was not offered the Biden hardriver nor would I have been interested in it, frankly. But we have been opponents/rivals on other treasure troves of information.
How did Rudy G get the hard drive? Because he's a well known consumer of information. He pays very well for it.
I don't understand the skepticism of the information based on Rudy G. The press knows he buys information. He's far from the only one. We don't generally bid on the same things -- again, my preference is letters and journals. In 2007 and 2008, it was widely known that Rudy was buying up everything he could -- and it was widely assumed that he sat on most of the information he bought.
I don't doubt the e-mails because of the Rudy G connection -- in fact, that connection makes them more believable to me.
[Added: Before I'm accused of being coy, I buy other things. I do own the 'dead grandmother tape' as it's known in DC social circles and I did play it at many a DC party. That's the last recorded interview -- the only one -- dead grandmother gave about her grandson Barack.]
As for Branko's "they're far from a game changer"? That's so disappointing. The corporate press may cover for Joe but Branko shouldn't. Branko should be sharing and leading the outrage. Hunter made money off his father being a public servant. He offered access to his father -- that his father participated in. This is unethical and it's wrong.
Instead of addressing that, people want to offer nutty Russian conspiracies. David Swanson notes:
When the Democratic Party decided it preferred Trump to Bernie and would rather nominate to run against Trump a more corporate-friendly candidate who was polling more weakly against Trump, there were — in theory — at least two choices.
First, millions of people could have publicly announced that they would not vote for either rotten candidate but only someone who stood for a Green New Deal, Medicare for All, public education through college, demilitarization, and massive taxation of corporations and billionaires — or at least one of those things. Either a candidate would have credibly changed or a message would have been sent very loudly to all future candidates. I tried promoting this plan, and a relative handful of people mumbled their agreement. Apart from the Green Party doing its thing, and a new party being started, there was no more organizing around this than there was to reject the Supreme Court handing George W. Bush the crown.
Second, people could vote for a lesser evil while organizing educational and activist campaigns to try to save the world from that evil. There’s a credible, though uncertain and muddy case, that the lesser evil is Joe Biden. Thousands of people have enthusiastically screamed this case at me at the top of their lungs, and accused me of racism, sexism, and working in the employ of the Russian government — even though my actual, real-world employment includes working for an organization pushing just this approach. I’ve pushed just this approach because it’s my second choice and my first choice above has gone nowhere. I’ve also maintained honesty about the rottenness of both candidates, which has angered and confused many supporters of both who believe that part of supporting a candidate is lying about him.
Now, when/if Biden loses or has the election stolen, I would like to point out just a few of the reasons that it’s not my fault or Russia’s or Ralph Nader’s or the Green Party’s.
1) There is no evidence that Russia has had any influence over the 2020 (or 2016) U.S. election. (But please do send me hundreds of angry evidence-free denunciations of the supposed lunacy of saying so.) (I would much rather you blame me than Russia because I don’t have any nuclear weapons.)
2) The Green Party got a teeny tiny bit of the vote and probably gained Biden as many votes in Maine and places that have ranked choice voting as it cost him elsewhere, and is the most likely party to challenge any of Trump’s election-related crimes.
3) I supported Bernie.
4) I didn’t advise campaigning on a promise to keep fracking. I didn’t even pretend that campaign was a mistake driven by ignorance of polling rather than subservience to funders.
5) I didn’t declare “The Party c’est moi!” and run screaming from every popular position.
6) I live in a non-swing state.
7) The notion that I decided the election through my failure to push scheme #2 above aggressively enough is exposed by my utter inability to advance scheme #1.
8) I didn’t create the electoral college — I’m trying to abolish it.
9) I don’t run the corporate media outlets that bow before Trump — I’m trying to break them up and regulate them.
10) I didn’t tolerate Trump’s hateful instigation of violence and intimidation. I’ve been trying to get him impeached, removed, and prosecuted for it since before his first inauguration — but a certain political party preferred a bunch of dangerous lies about Russia and a Ukraine story that made their own guy look bad.
11) I didn’t lie about voting by mail, strip names off rolls, create long lines, or utilize unverifiable machines and scanners. That was your elected officials.
12) I didn’t kneel down and let Trump put a George W. Bush election thief on the Supreme Court. I proposed impeaching Trump for a legitimate offense from the long list of indisputable public outrages, and forcing the Senate to deal with it.
Now, if you want to spend the next couple of weeks telling everyone for the 10 millionth time to vote for Biden, knock yourself out. I’ve had a job doing that for months. But let me offer three pieces of unsolicited and unwanted advice:
1) Bring back honesty as soon as possible. Every bit of bad news about your candidate is not false, is not created by Russia and therefore in need of being ignored regardless of whether it’s false, and is not an assertion of equivalence between your candidate and the other one. If you go into a Biden presidency believing your own BS about him, his presidency will turn out as putrid and disastrous as Clinton’s or Obama’s and lead straight to one as openly fascist as Bush’s or Trump’s.
2) Bring back understanding of activism as soon as possible. Restore remembrance of the nonviolent activist campaigns that created the right to vote, rights for various groups, fair treatment and humane policies and peace. Voting is an important tiny bit of civic duty that alone will never change the world.
3) Bring back politeness and respect as soon as possible. Stop all the screaming and denunciations and baseless accusations and xenophobic coldwarism so you can work with people to do the things actually needed to turn the U.S. government into what it’s nice but dangerous to imagine voting for one lousy candidate over another will do.
We're going to wind down with this that Ms. sent out yesterday (which means today, Monday, is the last day to get the masks):
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