Thursday, February 18, 2010

Look who's talking






"After eight long years of bloodshed, and who knows how many more to come, we're still not sure why we fight, and our understanding of war is only growing more blood-dimmed and confused," writes Stephen Marche (Esquire). Marche's point is a solid one. Why did the US go into Iraq, the truth not the many discredited lies? Why does the US remain in Iraq? Those are questions that are never answered and really aren't even raised by the bulk of the press these days.

Today Ramadi was slammed with a bombing. Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) reports it was a suicide bombing and that the death toll has reached at least 12. Ali al-Mashhadani, Waleed Ibrahim, Mohammed Abbas, Jack Kimball and Louise Ireland (Reuters) note twenty-one are wounded, that a hospital source says 13 corpses have been received with 26 people injured, and "A restaurant worker in Ramadi, capital of Anbar province, said that bodies littered the scene, close to a complex housing provincial government buildings. Blood stained the ground, and gutted police and army vehicles smouldered nearby." Mu Xuequan (Xinhua) quotes Khalaf Mahmoud who was wounded in the bombing, "I was heading to the government compound when the blast took place some 50 meters away from me. I remember I saw one of the civilian cars with two men inside approached to the checkpoint and blew up. It was a terrible blast, thanks God, I am lucky to survive." Al Jazeera adds:Mohammed Dulaimi, the owner of a restaurant that was badly damaged in the blast, said the attackers were "trying to undermine the political process and prevent us from taking part in the election"."They want us to miss the opportunity to vote, as we did before," he said, referring to a boycott of 2005 general elections by Sunni-led political parties.Yousif Bassil and CNN report that the attack took place at a security checkpoint "close to the provincial council office." In addition, Reuters notes a Mosul bombing injured "a former police officer and a tribal chief" and a Mosul car bombing left twenty-four people injured.

Turning to the elections, Swarthmore College's War News Radio is a weekly show and the most recent program (first began airing last Friday) covered the elections. From the headlines, we'll note this for background.

Emily Hager: One day before campaigns are due to start, Iraqi judges released a list of previously banned candidates who will be allowed to run in next month's elections. But two of the most prominent Sunni candidates, both current Parliament members, still haven't been cleared to campaign. In January, Iraq's de-Ba'athifcation committee banned more than 500 candidates from competing for seats because of alleged connections to Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party. The decision was appealed to an Iraqi court where judges have been considering the issue. At first, the court announced that all of the challenged candidates would be able to run and that they would be reviewed after they won seats. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki pushed to have the review before the elections. Official campaigning begins this week for the March 7 vote.

Earlier today at the United Nations in New York, Ad Melkert (the Secretary-General's Special Representative to Iraq) declared, "Generally speaking, I should say that the elections are on track in terms of their technical preparation. Still a lot needs to be done. Security remains a big challenge to all, to the Iraqis in the first place, but also to the international community." Melkert sounds a great deal like US spinner Chris Hill. He went on to add, "Elections is not only about politics but requires a lot of hard work on the ground. The UN electoral team has continued to play a key role in advising and technically support the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC). As a result of a huge collective effort the infrastructure is in place in order to allow approximately 18.9 million Iraqi voters to visit 48,000 polling stations on election day." Today the Los Angeles Times offered the editorial "Baath-bashing in Iraq."

Iraq's upcoming parliamentary elections should be about jobs, public services and government competence. Candidates should be focused on the country's security and on reconciliation among Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds. Instead, the national vote once again is turning into a sectarian brawl in which Shiite parties jockeying with one another for dominance are stirring populist fears of a return of Saddam Hussein's Sunni-led Baath Party. Never mind that Hussein was executed in 2006 or that the discredited Baath Party already is outlawed. The Accountability and Justice Committee, led by Ahmad Chalabi, the Shiite politician and onetime darling of the George W. Bush administration, has been purging candidates who were members of the Baath Party and, in the process, fueling minority Sunnis' suspicions that the real motive is to further reduce their power.

Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) adds, "Although a significant number of Shiites as well as Sunnis have been barred from running because of alleged Baathist ties, the move has been seen as furthering a Shiite agenda because the heads of the commission are prominent Shiite members of parliament. Adding fuel to the controversy over the ban, the top US general in Iraq, Ray Odierno, and other US officials, have accused the two men, Ahmed Chalibi, and Ali Faisel al-Lami of ties to Iran" Along with the bannings, many political parties are finding their candidates Yesterday's snapshot noted Michael Hastings (The Hastings Report, True/Slant) report on the attacks on the Ahrar political party -- Saturday, four were held for 24 hours in Sadr City where they were attempting to put up campaign visuals and Tuesday a group of worker were attacked leading up to today where an Ahrar Party candidate was attacked in Maysan Province with at least one body guard killed in the attack. The Ahrar Party has released the following statement on the attacks:

Amid increasing signs that the Maliki government has completely lost control of the security situation in Iraq, violence and sectarian intimidation have increased in spite of a non-violence pact, signed by some parties. As a non-sectarian party, Ahrar has been singled out for special treatment.
Over the past five days, Ahrar has had campaign workers shot at, captured and even killed, for the 'crime' of putting up our election posters.
In Maysan on Wednesday, an Ahrar candidate was the victim of a carefully-planned ambush, narrowly escaping capture. One of his team was murdered at gun-point.
Ahrar Party leader Ayad Jamal Aldin said: "These politicians are all talk. It is their weakness that has allowed outsiders and corrupters who are intent on dividing and destroying Iraq to take control of our country. Ahrar stands for a united and peaceful Iraq. For jobs, security and electricity for the Iraqi people."
"Now ask yourself, who would oppose this? These corrupt outsiders are scared because they know that the people of Iraq can make a change for the better. Ahrar will not be intimidated because Ahrar is the party of Iraq's people, and on March 7 it is they who have the power to end this intimidation."
For further information, contact:
Ahrar Media Bureau Tel: +964 (0)790 157 4478 / +964 (0)790 157 4479 / +964 (0)771 275 2942

About Ayad Jamal Aldin:
Ayad Jamal Aldin is a cleric, best known for his consistent campaigning for a new, secular Iraq. He first rose to prominence at the Nasiriyah conference in March 2003, shortly before the fall of Saddam, where he called for a state free of religion, the turban and other theological symbols. In 2005, he was elected as one of the 25 MPs on the Iraqi National List, but withdrew in 2009 after becoming disenchanted with Iyad Allawi's overtures to Iran. He wants complete independence from Iranian interference in Iraq. He now leads the Ahrar party for the 2010 election to the Council of Representatives, to clean up corruption and create a strong, secure and liberated Iraq for the future.

Robert Dreyfuss (The Nation) declares Iraq "once again on the brink of a civil conflict" and offers this:

Starting last spring, at the urging of top officials in Iran--including Ali Larijani, the conservative, Iraqi-born speaker of the Iranian Parliament, and Brig. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, commander of the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps--a group of sectarian Shiite religious leaders patched over their differences to establish the Iraqi National Alliance (INA), linking ISCI with the forces of rogue cleric Muqtada al-Sadr; former Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari of a renegade Dawa faction; and Ahmad Chalabi, the former darling of US neoconservatives, who has long maintained close ties to Iran's hardliners.
The creation of the INA was widely seen, inside and outside Iraq, as an Iranian project. Reidar Visser, a close observer of Iraqi affairs at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, says efforts to rebuild the Shiite sectarian alliance began last spring, after a visit to Baghdad by Larijani. Soon afterward, a stream of Iraqi officials made pilgrimages to Tehran, where a deal between the Hakim family (the founders of ISCI) and Sadr was brokered by Iran. "Part of the Iranian strategy has been to put politics in Iraq back on the sectarian track," says Visser. Both Iran and the new Shiite alliance pressured Maliki to join, but at that time the prime minister felt strong enough to run independently.
Then, this past January 14, Iraq's electoral overseers ratified a decision by the so-called Accountability and Justice Commission, an unelected body controlled by Chalabi and one of his cronies, Ali al-Lami, to ban more than 500 candidates for Parliament. They were barred from running, said the commission, on vague charges of ties to the deposed Baath Party. Among those banned were current members of Parliament and Iraqi officials, including Defense Minister Abdul-Kader Jassem al-Obeidi and Mutlaq, who'd joined forces with Allawi. The commission's action was a bomb thrown into the center of Iraqi politics and sparked talk of a boycott and even a new antigovernment insurgency.

Chris Hill is the US Ambassador to Iraq. We'll note this exchange between him and CNN's Elise Labott from yesterday at the State Dept (link has text and video):

Elise Labott: Can we go back to the idea of the Ba'athists and the election -- on the banned candidates? You spoke earlier this morning about the sensitivities about the Ba'athist issue, but more from the kind of whole Iraqi population. I was wondering if you think that there's any danger of not a resurgence of the Ba'athists, but a kind of backlash by pro-Ba'athists in terms of, you know, more violence or anything like that as a result of this.

Chris Hill: Well, the country, there's no question there are Ba'athist elements in the country and there's no question that some of these Ba'athist elements are very unhappy with the current state of affairs. I will say that the -- in terms of violence, we have a government that is increasingly capable of handling violence, and we did not see any signs of insurgency of the kind that we saw back in the wake of the '05 --

Elise Labott: Right.

Chris Hill: -- elections. So what we see are acts of terror that are – have already happened; in many cases, in our judgment, happened because of al-Qaida elements. But we don't see that this issue of excluding Ba'athist candidates is one that is leading to violence. Frankly, they were able to come together and work out a solution, and I think it's a solution that most people are living with.

Elise Labott: But-but if I could just quickly follow up, I mean, some of these banned candidates were, if I'm correct, previous -- some of them were even in parliament previously; is that right?

Chris Hill: Yeah.

Elise Labot: And so, I mean, do you think that there's a danger that they feel like they used to have the political process and now they feel disenfranchised and --

Chris Hill: Well --

Elise Labott: -- and that's a kind of, you know, formula for, you know, being bored and not having a lot to do and being kind of bitter and, you know, turning back? Chris Hill: Well, being bored is not a formula for getting elected, but --

Elise Labott: Well, you know I'm being -- well, but you know what I'm saying.

Chris Hill: I think it's important to understand that there are candidates who are unhappy at having been on the list, but there was a process by which they were able to appeal, there was a sequestered panel of judges from the cassation court that looked at these cases. In some cases, they ruled that the people should be able to stand for office; in others, they ruled against it. We know that some of the candidates who were disallowed or not permitted to run, they have accepted the result and they've called on their -- on people to vote. So we don't see a sign that this type of dissatisfaction is of the quality that would cause an outbreak of an insurgency. But obviously, we track these issues very closely. We're in very -- we really follow these things. We're in touch with all the politicians. And this is going to -- this is, to be sure, a rocky road, but I think we can -- we have every reason to believe that we'll get through this election process.

For those paying close attention, the US has thrown in the towel re: elections. They word now is that it doesn't matter if some candidates are excluded or not, it's not big deal. And with that nonsense, the US attempts to paint a pretty picture. Sami Moubayed (Asia Times) notes that elections might take place but . . . "Another scenario is that the elections will be called off altogether, due to rising violence and Sunni resentment with Maliki's handling of the pre-election process. The controversy of disqualifying candidates, which has rocked the Iraqi scene for more than three weeks, is ongoing as 145 candidates are now officially confirmed as ineligible to run for office, due to their alleged ties to the outlawed Ba'ath Party." Mohammed A Salih (Asia Times) adds, "The ban on high-profile Sunnis who have been part of Iraqi politics after the war is considered a significant blow to Washington's efforts to bring back the moderate elements of the mostly Sunni-led Ba'ath Party into Iraq's political process and reintegrate Sunnis into the country's politics."

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