Monday, January 25, 2010

From his mouth





US Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Iraq at the end of last week as the intended March elections faced further threats. Will they take place? Will they be seen as fair and free or, for that matter, legitimate? All has been thrown into question by the moves of an extra-legal body assuming powers it does not have to ban this candidate and that candidate. Over 500 thus far with more said to be coming. Sunday on NPR's Weekend Edition, Liane Hansen spoke with Quil Lawrence (who is in Baghdad) about the purging/witch hunt of political candidates and who was involved in the purging . . .

Liane Hansen: Ahmed Chalabi sounds -- it's a familiar name. Isn't he the man who was blamed with passing bad information to the Bush administration in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq?

Quil Lawrence: Exactly. Chalabi's on the Iraqi political scene for years. He's never been elected to a post in Iraq but he is such a shrewd political survivor that he's managed to pull of this move and again become one of the most powerful people for this moment in Iraqi politics. It doesn't look like he's done anything strictly illegal. Chalabi himself right now is conveniently out of the country.

[. . .]

Liane Hansen: Well did Vice President Biden actually weigh in on the controversy?

Quil Lawrence: He was walking kind of a fine line. He didn't want to come to Iraq appareing that he was here to save the day especially of how it might look if he didn't save the day. But Iraqi politicians had been saying for days before he arrived that he had been offering suggestions. Publicly Biden's team only said that they were concerned that this process wasn't transparent enough. And that is very clear on the streets of Iraq. No one really understands how this all happened. It leaked out at first it wasn't made public very forthrightly and no one's seen the evidence. At least one prominent name was allowed to withdraw, allowed to get his name off the list in agreement in return for taking his name out of the hat for the election. So people are very confused about this and it is giving that sort of perception of a taint to the process.

Chalabi's running things or ruining things on the extra-legal Accountability and Justice Commission. The most prominent among the candidates banned is Saleh al-Mutlaq of the National Dialogue Front. On the most recent Inside Iraq (Al Jazeera) which began airing Friday, he spoke with Jassim al-Azzawi.

Jassim al-Azzawi: You have challenged this ban, you've resorted to the courts. Exactly on what grounds are you basing your challenge and when will the courts give its verdict?

Saleh al-Mutlaq: Well I don't have any allegations to challenge the court but since they've said they have allegations, we went to the court. We sent our lawyer to go there just to register in order that we will not lose the time that we are allowed to go to the courts to reject the allegations against us. We sent many people to the Ministry of Accountability and what they call 'Justice' to give us -- to give us the allegations. They refused. They refused to give us anything. And in fact I know that they have nothing. They have nothing against us to prove that we are being subjected to the law so that we could be out of the election. But anyway, we are going now to the court, so let's see what's going to happen.

Jassim al-Azzawi: Until we hear from the courts regarding your appeal, but let me take a hypothetical case, let me just suppose that the courts affirmed the ban and did not allow you to run in the March 7th election. What then?

Saleh al-Mutlaq: Well first I trust the Iraqis though and I trust the jugdes. And actually the judges that I have seen their names, I asked for many people that they know about them, they say that they are very professional, they are fair and they are good judges. But at the same time, I have to say that, you know, there is a problem. That at first they were being appointed by the Parliament, the de-Ba'athification committee, they call it now Accountability, the first day they said three of them are Ba'athists, none of them know who is the Ba'athists among them. So they try to let them be scared from the beginning. They try to influence them politically so they could have a biased decision. But I still believe that our law, our judges are quite good. I trust them. And I feel that they have -- you know, they cannot go anywhere rather than saying we were right in doing all what we did and they have no allegations against us to prove that we will be out of this election.

Jassim al-Azzawi: [Overlapping] Yes, I shall come to the scare tactics and the fear politics that you mention but before that, I guess our international audience would like to know, who stands behind this campaign to disbar more then 500 people? Some of them such senior figures as yourself. The National Dialogue Front has about 12 members in Parliament. You've been in politics for many, many years. I guess the logical question is: Who's behind it? It is my role as a presenter and a journalist to ask the tough questions and perhaps it's your role as a politician and even your perogative not to answer. Let me give you a couple of options and see which one you lean on. Is it Ahmed Chalabi, the former head of the de-Ba'athification? Is it Prime Minister al-Maliki fearing that Saleh al-Mutlaq has the wind behind him and one day he might even become the president of Iraq? Or is it another force? Who is exactly orchestrating this?

Saleh al-Mutlaq: Well Ahmed Chalabi could not do what was done alone. I think there's a power behind that and my belief is that Iran is behind that and Ahmed Chalabi is only a tool -- Ahmed Chalabi agenda is a tool to do this. And Ahmed Chalabi is not alone. We discovered that Ahmed Chalabi now has an intelligence association in Iraq and he worked with so many people outside the Iraqi government. And what happened really surprised everybody. The same day that this decision was taken, everybody was saying, "I know nothing about it." You ask al-Maliki, he says, "I know nothing about it." You ask the president [Jalal Talabani], he says he knows nothing about it. You ask the Chairman of the Parliament, he knows nothing about it. Then who is doing that? We discover there is a small organization which does not exist legally. The de-Ba'athification committee has been frozen -- including Ahmed Chalabi himself -- has been frozen by the prime minister and by the president. And another committee, which is the Accountability, came in but it was not formed because the Parliament did not vote on the names that were being proposed by the prime minister because most of them are from al Dahwa Party [Nouri's party].

Jassim al-Azzawi: Let me stay with you for the thrust of your analysis and that is Ahmed Chalabi and behind him is Iran. It is quite telling you say that because you have joined in your analysis, the Americans because the Americans have discovered Ahmed Chalabi has great coordination with Iran. As a matter of fact, when they raided his offices several years ago, they actually charged him, they told him: "You have given all the codes to Iran."

Saturday Liz Sly (Los Angeles Times) reported, "Biden's national security advisor Anotony Blinken said the vice president would offer no specific proposals to resolve the controversy, but would emphasize the Obama administration's concern that the electoral process should be transparent and inclusive. The BBC added, "Mr Biden began by meeting the UN secretary general's special representative for Iraq, Ad Melkert, for a working breakfast, before holding talks with Prime Minister Nouri Maliki."

At An Arab Woman Blues, Layla Anwar offers her take on these and other crimes taking place in Iraq and we'll note this reminder she gives about the ongoing illegal war on Iraq:

The first thing to do is to break that image, that myth, that most people hold in their heads, namely that the American neocons policy towards Iraq as embodied by Bush and Co is strategically different from the so-called Democrats as embodied by Obama and that consequently the aims are different. This is a MYTH. A political myth grown out of some false loyalty to a belief that the Democrats are fundamentally different from the Republicans in American politics.

Reidar Visser (Iraq and Gulf Analysis) sees signs that Biden's visit had little to no effect, ""

Indications are that Vice-President Joe Biden came up against a wall of resistance when he visited Baghdad yesterday in an attempt at dealing with the recent row over de-Baathification. Apparently, both Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki as well as the parliamentary speaker, Ayad al-Samarraie, went out of their way to defend the idea of "non-interference" in what they refer to as the Iraqi "constitutional" process. Also President Jalal Talabani, who had briefly indicated a position more compatible with the US preference for a delay of the whole de-Baathification process, seems to have fallen into line. At the end of the day, the three Iraqi leaders gathered for a meeting and settled for the worst possible outcome: Those excluded will simply have to await the outcome of their individual cases in the hastily-assembled special appeals tribunal for de-Baathification cases that came into existence only one week ago – the very solution advocated by Ali al-Lami and Ahmed Chalabi of the de-Baathification board all the way. Doubtless, "un-Baathifications" will be available for sale to those who can pay the right price (much in the way they were sold and bought last week) and may go some way to reduce the sense of marginalisation; after all, the aim behind this whole plot was probably just to secure a sufficiently sectarian climate before the elections, which has already almost been achieved. Before leaving, Biden expressed complete "confidence" in the Iraqi process.

Along with questions of legitimacy, it is also thought that if the matter is not resolved, if candidates are not allowed to compete the elections, violence will increase.

This as Baghdad was slammed with bombings today. Chip Cummins (Wall St. Journal) reports hotels were targeted in the bombings resulting in a death toll of at least 36 with seventy-one more wounded: "The attacks targeted the Ishtar Sheraton, Babylon and al-Hamra hotels, popular with both visiting businessmen and, in the case of the Sheraton and al-Hamra, journalists." Anthony Shadid and John Leland (New York Times) explain, "In neighborhoods near the hotels, which are within a mile of so of each other, residents spilled into the streets wailing, as plumes of dust, smoke and debris wafted across the skyline. Staccato bursts of gunfire echoed through the streets, as security forces tried to cordon off the bombing scenes, some of them draped in the banners and flags of a major Shiite Muslim commemoration this week." The Washington Post offers a photo essay here and 'plume' does not begin to describe the smoke rising from the Shearton bombing (AFP's Sabah Arar took the photo), it looks like a huge mushroom cloud rising in the sky the equivalen of four Sheratons stacked on top of one another. Leila Fadel, Ernesto Londono and Debbi Wilgoren (Washington Post) note that 3 of the paper's Iraqi correspondents were wounded in the bombings. Oliver August (Times of London) reports, "Someone said later that they saw a red flash just before the explosion. All I saw was the contents of my office, my bedroom, my kitchen flying through the room. The windows were blown out, pictures and bookshelves lay strewn across the floor." Jane Arraf and Laith Hammoudi (Christian Science Monitor) report that "some of the Iraqi residents of the nearby homes stood in the rubble of their damaged houses. Others -- their faces grim -- walked in the street covered in debris" and they quote one Iraqi exclaiming, "If anyone else tries to take pictures of my house I'll kill them." Along with the bombings, there were shootings. Fadel, Londono and Wilgoren report, "At the Hamra compound, witnesses said the attack began when two men in business suits opened fire on the security checkpoint. As guards retreated from the bullets, they released the gate lock, and a minibus laden with explosives drove past the blast walls. The guards shot the driver of the minibus, but the bomb ripped through an apartment building and shattered the glass and walls of homes and hotels in the surrounding area." Liz Sly (Los Angeles Times) also covers that attack, "Witnesses at the Hamra said checkpoint guards had come under fire from a few men dressed in business suits. During the firefight, the gate to the compound was opened and a white Kia van entered and exploded in a section of the compound with private homes. The blast ripped open a huge crater." Phillippe Naughton (Times of London -- link also has a Sky News video story) offers, "Outside the Sheraton, a high-rise tower with views of the Tigris River and the fortified Green Zone on the other side, the blast left a three-metre-deep crater in the parking lot. Cars were torn apart by the spray of metal and glass, which littered the lawns and courtyards of the popular fish restaurants along the river." Al Jazeera quotes journalist Ahmed Rushdi stating, "These hotels were supposed to have major security because its open for all the foreign journalists. Targeting these major hotels means that everyone here in Baghdad is targeted." John Leland tells New York Times Radio's Jane Bornemeier, "The thing that struck me was that really a mile away from these explosions -- or nearly a mile away -- as soon as the blasts came, our neighbors sort of started to walk into the streets crying. There was tremendous sorrow here in addition to the blasts and the violence."

Leland goes on to note that 'bomb detectors' are still in use. From Friday's snapshot:Whether they can trust Barack or not, it appears they can't trust 'bomb detectors.' Caroline Hawley (BBC Newsnight -- link has text and video) reports that England has placed an export ban on the ADE-651 'bomb detector' -- a device that's cleaned Iraq's coffers of $85 million so far. Steven Morris (Guardian) follows up noting that, "The managing director [Jim McCormick] of a British company that has been selling bomb-detecting equipment to security forces in Iraq was arrested on suspicion of fraud today."Riyad Mohammed and Rod Norldand (New York Times) reported on Saturday that the reaction in Iraq was outrage from officials and they quote MP Ammar Tuma stating, "This company not only caused grave and massive losses of funds, but it has caused grave and massive losses of the lives of innocent Iraqi civilians, by the hundreds and thousands, from attacks that we thought we were immune to because we have this device." Despite the turn of events, the machines continue to be used in Iraq but 'now' an investigation into them will take place orded by Nouri. As opposed to months ago when they were first called into question. Muhanad Mohammed (Reuters) adds that members of Parliament were calling for an end to use of the machines on Saturday. Martin Chulov (Guardian) notes the US military has long -- and publicly -- decried the use of the machines, "The US military has been scathing, claiming the wands contained only a chip to detect theft from stores. The claim was based on a study released in June by US military scientists, using x-ray and laboratory analysis, which was passed on to Iraqi officials." October 25th brought Bloody Sunday to Iraq's calendar, December 8th brought Bloody Tuesday, August 19th brought Bloody Wednesday and, apparently, today brings Bloody Monday. All the "bloody" days share the common threads of multiple bombings in Baghdad and the expectation that this is part of the violence to do with elections. Whomever is responsible for the bombings (al Qaeda in Mesopotamia is already being blamed -- and that's usually where the 'investigation' begins and ends -- blame them and it's 'solved') may be testing and/or exhibiting weak spots. If that is the case, that could mean some spectacular bombings are planned for when elections get closer. Martin Chulov (Guardian) offers these observations:

The ease with which the hotels' security perimeters were penetrated, especially the Hamra and Babylon, has rattled locals who want to believe that things are safer now. But even more shocking is how big car bombs were again driven through highly strategic and ostensibly secure areas of the capital, past numerous checkpoints and security forces that are more competent now that at any time since the invasion.
Of further concern is the timing of today's blast, within minutes of the execution of one of Saddam Hussein's most ruthless loyalists, Ali Hassan al-Majid, better known as Chemical Ali. He is the man who gassed the Kurds of Halabja, killing more than 5,000 in 1988. Chemical Ali is the most high-profile figure executed since Saddam himself.

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"How does it smell down there, Jon Meacheam?"

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