Monday, March 15, 2010

Move On -- no one's friend








Sunday Reuters reported the US base in Baquba was attacked Saturday, two US service members were wounded and a third was killed. But there were two deaths. Margaret Griffis (Antiwar) explains there were two deaths, "One U.S. soldier was killed and two others were wounded during a mortar attack on a base in Diyala province. Another U.S. soldier died of non-combat causes in Ninewa province." The US military has still not posted any press release on the deaths. The two deaths bring the total number of US service members killed in the Iraq War to 4384.
Renowned journalist Robert Fisk speaks to the Iraqi elecitons, "Well first of all I rather suspect that the battle is between Iran and the West not between Iran and Arab Nationalism and the Arab fold as you put it. It was very interesting, wasn't it, that when Maliki's people and basically -- let's be sectarian for a moment, I'm sorry to say -- the Shia tried to stop Ba'athists who -- people with Ba'athists backgrounds from participating in the elections. This was very similar, was it not, to the Committee of Experts in Iran who also have the right to ban for various reasons certain candidates and elections. I thought that was a bit chilling. Although I notice that none of the commentators or analysts covering the election -- this election -- actually chose to mention this."
Robert Fisk was speaking on the latest Inside Iraq (Al Jazeera) where he, the National Endowment for Democracy's Laith Kubba and Iraqi Foundation for Development and Democracy director Ghassan Aityyah joined host Jasim Azzawi.
Jasim al-Azawi: Robert, let me start with you. Your recent article about Iraq, you praise Iraqis for going to the polls while bombs exploding all over Iraq. And yet you cast a measure of doubt -- and perhaps even cynicism -- on whether Iraqis or more importantly the leaders of the Iraqi political blocs will be able to translate this good will this good gesture by Iraqis into reality and into progress.
Robert Fisk: Yes. I think there are two things here. First of all, by the way, when the Americans have "withdrawn," they're still leaving 50,000 troops behind. But I think there's a danger, you know, that we're going to get caught up in what was the Constitutionality of this and how many, what was the percentage swing here and there' -- as if this is an ordinary, European-style election. My doubts are that you can really have a serious election when you're under foreign occupation. And the Iraqis are -- with tens and tens of thousands of foreign troops on their soil. The same applies to Afghanistan. The same applies to the French way back when back in Lebanon. The British did it in Cyprus and in Northern Ireland. My suspicion and my fear is that however "democratic" the vote may be. It will be sectarian if it is under foreign occupation. And that the issues at the end of the day here are always going to be: When are the Americans going to go? Not the "combat" troops but all the troops. And I think that that is very much what we're talking about. And, for example, Iran wants to see the Americans out of Iraq. The Dawa Party was nurtured in Iran. We forget now that the wonderful Dawa Party to which we bow at the knee of respect and democracy was not that many years ago seizing Western hostages in Beruit, trying to blow up the Emir of Kuwait, attacking the American embassies -- the American and French embassies in Kuwait. And this is a grouping which has direct umbililcal links with Iran. I don't actually think Iran wants to overthrow or create chaos, anarchy in Iraq, but that connection remains there. And as along as the Americans remain, these will be the strings and the issues with which we have to contend with. Sectarianism, sectarianism, sectarianims is already there. That's what the election was about. That's what the election in Afghansitan was about. And then we have to pretend it was fair even though we know it was false.
Jasim al-Azawi: Laith Kubba, the American presence in Iraq notwithstanding to what extent, as Robert Fisk said, Iraqis will be able to escape the sectarianism? Is sectarianism and sectarian quotas going to be the destiny of Iraqis for generations to come?
Laith Kubba: Well all the points that Robert raised are valid. I think we need to keep an eye on the big picture. In the big picture, there has been a real transformation -- slow, painful, full of risks, true -- but there has been real transformation in Iraqi political landscape. I think voters have been awakened over the last five years. I think initially voters were all polarized by sectarian-ethnic identities. We're seeing an awakening of the voters. That was not only manifested itself in the provincial elections [2009] but I think even politicians like Maliki and others have fine-tuned their message rhetoric. New alliances emerged. I think, by and large, we're seeing voters pushing the political elite towards a national, central, moderate position. We do not hear the rhetoric of the Dawa Party on anything to do with Islamic state or anything to do with a broad Islamic agdena. We're seeing politics. Maybe raw, maybe rough, but I think we're seeing politics. I would argue sectarianism has not disappeared but it is on its way out. We're moving slowly and painfully towards real politics in Iraq and I think Iraqis deserve a lot of credit despite bombs -- over 130 bombs went off the day of the elections.
Jasim al-Azawi: Ghassan Aityyah. is this a genuine transformation among Iraqi political groups and political leaders? Or this is basically changing the tune simply because the provincial elections last year indicated that enough is enough?
Ghassan Aityyah: Jassim, to start with, Iraq is still not out of the wood. The problem are there and the American realize this. The question is the incremental changes that will bring stability to Iraq. As an Iraqi, as any ordinary Iraqi, he thinks in terms of stability where he can have his job, he can go along, he is not thinking in big slogans. The fact that the election took place no doubt better than [20]05. Logistically and the way, the manner it was done, this is a plus. Second question, will the party concerned in this election accept the result if it is not to their liking or are we going to see a repetition of the Iranian scene when the opposition defied the result and accused the government of rigging it? This is, we cannot tell unless we know exactly the result. The other thing: Iraqi is bascially divided and sectarian. This is a fact. The question how to deal with it? How to help Iraq survive and grow on on this situation? By simply cursing the-the darkness is not a solution. The Palestinian had election under the occupation and the election was considered fiar and acceptable. Other countries in Japan and in Germany, they had elections under occupation. So this is not a question really. The question is you have to take according to the Iraq situation.
Last Sunday, voting completed in Iraq and as Tom Petty (and the Heartbreakers) put it so well, "The waiting is the hardest part." Jackie Lyden spoke to Quil Lawrence Saturday on Weekend Edition (link has audio and transcript):

LYDEN: So, how are Iraqis reacting to this long wait and what are the politicians doing in the meantime?

LAWRENCE: It seems to kind of depend on who people voted for whether they said this wait is okay. I've talked to a lot of people who support sitting Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in the capital. They say they think it's going fine. Similar results in Basra. But up in Mosul, for example, it's a bit more worrisome. People are saying that they think there might be attempts at fraud during this delay, but they are still convinced that they'll win, meaning that they're Sunni supported list probably Ayad Allawi will win. I can tell you right now that list is not going to win a majority. No one expects that to be the winner. So, it's a little bit disturbing to hear from the still the most troubled and violent part of the country saying they're confident they're going to win and it makes you wonder what they're going to say when the results do come out.

Saturday Al Jazzera reported that partial election results are in from 10 provinces but that it is "too close to call six days after the March 7 vote." Marc Santora (New York Times) notes that the counting continues and that "no clear winners likely to emerge anytime soon" leading to some frustration/anger over the counting. NBC's Richard Engel was back in Iraq for the elections. Last week, he blogged at MSNBC about Iraqis attempting to handicap their elections:

None of the guests at the villa thought Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki would win enough votes to form a new government on his own. Everyone agreed that he will have to join his main rivals in a coalition. But how? When? Who's in? Who's out? How will it play out? No one knew, but everyone was happy to speculate.
After four hours, I was stuffed -- and twitching from so much coffee -- and utterly confused. One thing, however, was clear: it will take weeks, or more likely months, to put together a new government.
Sunday Oliver August (Times of London) reported that his paper had "a high-level Iraqi report" -- put together by the Tammuz Organization for Social Development, the Election Integrity Monitoring Team and Shams Network for Monitoring Elections -- which listed "violations across the country and includes evidence of the army and police interfering direclty with voting on March 7. Based on testimony compiled by three non-governmental agencies, the report says that in some Iraqi provinces 'security forces were urging people to vote for a specific list'." Alsumaria TV notes the European Union's delegation from parliament is led by Struan Stevenson who states that they will present evidence of "widespread fraud" in the Iraqi elections. Andrew North (BBC News) adds, "Evidence his supporters have presented includes ballot papers marked for his Iraqqiya list but allegedly found discarded outside polling stations. They say many of their supporters couldn't find their names on electoral lists, preventing them from voting, and that workers at the Baghdad election centre tampered with the count."
Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reports that Nouri al-Maliki is busy attempting to form power-sharing coalitions. She leaves out the fact that were it not for the media presenting him as a 'winner' (when results are still unknown), he wouldn't be able to do that. She leaves out the part where the Western press goes from observers to participants. On this week's Listening Post (Al Jazeera), Richard Gizbert observed, "As they scan their new media landscape, Iraqis are under no illusions about what they see. They know the channels covering the elections had their favorite candidates as did the newspapers." And presumably all Iraqis following the Western media were clearly attuned to the fact that the elections was being thrown to Nouri. As the Western media has rushed to portray him as the 'winner' (as early as last Monday for NPR -- before even any tally -- partial or otherwise -- was released), the message was sent to Iraqis that the US government wants Nouri al-Maliki as Prime Minister. Is that true? It doesn't matter. It's the message. In Iraq, the political parties control the media. As they watch Western media and see it mimic their own (as opposed to doing what reporters should have done which was to have covered other stories and not engaged in the horse race and gas baggery), they will conclude that the US media represents that country's government. Hannah Allam (McClatchy Newspapers) points out, "Maliki's opponents and independent political observers, however, cautioned against calling the election just yet because the tallies so far are incomplete and, in some provinces, based on just 10 percent of votes counted." Marc Santora and Stephen Farrell (New York Times' At War blog) share photos of ballot counting and video of Santora inside while ballots are counted. The US Embassy in Iraq has photos of Iraqis voting at this webpage. The US Embassy also offers statements on the election from US Senator Richard Lugar and the Iraqi Ambassador to the US Samir Sumaida'ie. (Other statements are there as well but those statements appeared on other US government sites and were noted last week.)
Anthony Shadid and Sam Dagher (New York Times) report that the appointed (and ceremonial) President of Iraq position is becoming an issue. They describe Jalal Talabani as "avuncular" and deserve credit for that. (He's grossly overweight, under doctor's orders to lose weight that he's never lost, regularly comes to the US for treatment and, in the US, passed out at a bookstore and his bodyguards had to struggle to lift him and carry him out of the store.) Jalal, of course, angered Kurds by saying an independent Kurdish region was 'just a dream'. After that infamous remark, Jalal announced he would not attempt to seek the presidency again (and that infamous remark also impacted his political party's showing in the July 2009 elections). But, in the tradition of H. Ross Perot, Jalal attempted to walk back the remark and now wants to continue as President of Iraq. You would too if you needed the intense health care because you refuse to follow doctor's guidelines. The reporters note (previous remarks are my own and not in the report) that Tareq al-Hashimi, currently one of Iraq's two vice-presidents, wants the post. Again, it's a ceremonial post.
Meanwhile Nouri al-Maliki surfaced yesterday -- no word as to whether or not his saw his own shadow. Tim Arrango (New York Times) reports Nouri had a cyst removed from his stomach Wednesday. Or maybe it was from his hand. Or maybe it was a kidney stone. From his hand? Or maybe it was a bullet from an assassination attempt. No one's really sure of much of anything except that he "went through a surgical operation" and that when Ahmed Chalabi (said to have set up his own deal for the Iraqi prime minister post with the Iranian government) heard the news he "smiled and shook his head".

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