Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Apparently, he grew up playing with dolls






Starting with elections, on the latest Inside Iraq (which Al Jazeera began airing Friday), Jasim al-Azawi spoke with the Ministry of National Dialogue's Saad al-Mutallibi and King's College's Mundher al-Adhami.

Jasim al-Azawi: Saad al-Mutallibi, back in the 2005 election the ruling was that the biggest winner of the election would be called upon to form the government. Now the rulings have changed, the game has changed and, instead, the biggest bloc in Parliament will be called upon to form the government. Isn't that a manipulation?

Saad al-Mutallibi: Uh, I don't know. I wouldn't call it a manipulation. I call it a necessity of circumstances. In 2005, there was a clear majority to one political bloc, 132 to one political bloc. That naturally, that inherited the formation of the government which looked normal in the circumstances. Today we don't have such a clear cut. Nobody achieved majority. Everybody achieved minority, really. Unfortunately, we do not have a Constitutional Court. That was another failing of the last Parliament. They could not reach an agreement on forming the Constitutional Court so we have to rely on the federal court. The federal court ruled that if a group, by election, forms a majority then that group will be called upon to form the government. If no such group exists, then a coalition of political parties should form together to reach the 163 margin, then they will be able to form the government.

Jasim al-Azawi: Perhaps we should clarify, Mundher al-Adhami, that federal court is a left over from the previous government and this Constitutional Court Saad al-Mutallibi referred to has never been established, was never formed, although Articl 92 in the Constitution calls upon the formation of a Constitutional Court in order to have the jurisidiction over Constitutional problems like the election. The federal court is simply a one-man person. This is Madhat Al Mahmood and his ruling is not even binding so why is is that the government as well as all of the political rivals are taking heat from him?

Mundher al-Adhami: You know, Jasim, I am sickened by the whole process in Iraq. That's from the beginning of the occupation. These elites -- the new elites, the new political class created by the American invasion has been playing these games from the beginning. And while Iraqis are dying or they are [. . .] by an education, they are deprived of basic services. These politicians are after the one thing for themselves and they're not -- they can't even agree among themselves to share the spoils of this destruction of the country between themselves. It is a sickening process. This so-called court has been changing their mind every now and then according to the pressures applied by this quarter or the others.

Jasim al-Azawi: Since you mentioned changing of minds and subcoming to pressures and Saad al-Mutallibi is in the camp of the State of Law bloc headed by the prime minister, Saad al-Mutallibi, how conveinent for the prime minister when he was edging and he was leading in the poll he said, "The biggest winner should be called on to form the government." Now that he is lagging behind not only he is using scare tactics, the policy of fear, that unless there is a recount the country will deginerate into civil war. What kind of scare tactics is this?

Saad al-Mutallibi: Well, it's not exactly like this. What happened is that three months ago Madhat Al Mahmood ruled that the biggest bloc in the Parliament should form the government and Mr. Maliki was upset with that ruling because naturally he thought he would form a majority or gain a majority of the Parliament. But he didn't do anything about it. He just leaves it to express his feelings that he wasn't happy about it. Now the ruling has turned to his advantage, he has expressed his feelings again. And there wasn't any idea that people would right in the streets and going to start violence. Far, far from that. Actually the political, the security environment is not bad at all in Baghdad. It's quite comfortable. People are moving about daily life.

We'll stop there. The problem with waves of Operation Happy Talk is you're not always able to ride one to the shore. Reality often has a way of slamming into you before you make it that far. Such is the case with al-Mutallabi's ridiculous claims that Baghdad's "security environment is not bad at all". Yesterday, Baghdad was slammed with bombings. Focusing only on the three aimed at foreign embassies, at least 41 people were killed and over 200 were left injured. Laith Hammoudi's McClatchy Newspapers observed, "The blasts will color the intense political negotiations that are under way after the March 7 parliamentary election, raising questions about which candidates have the security credentials and the ability to cut across sectarian lines to lead a still-unstable Iraq". Alice Fordham (Times of London) quoted survivor Ali Sanz Ali stating, "I heard the sound of the explosion and ran out into the street to see a big cloud of dust and smoke. On the other side of the street, many cars had been destroyed and burnt. You could see the dead." Fordham also notes that the Iranian and Egyptian embassies were clearly targeted but the other bombing may have been meant for the Syrian Embassy, the Spanish Embassy or the German Embassy. Or it might have been a way to strike all three ("the third struck an intersection near the Germany, Spanish and Syrian missions"). Jamal Hashim (Xinhua) notes that they were suicide bombers who "detonated car bombs wihtin minutes of each other" at the three embassies with the Iranian Embassy being the third one attacked. Cab driver Abu Ahmed tells Prashant Rao (Australia's The Age), "The explosion was really strong. They never kill ministers, officials or heads of state. They kill tax drivers, public employees and shopkeepers. How much longer will this last?" Adam Schreck (Daily Record) adds, "TV news footage showed civilians loading casualties into police vehicles and ambulances as bloodied survivors tried to flee." Jim Muir (BBC News) explains of the near bi-montly Baghdad bombings targeting government buildings since August of 2009, "Each of the multiple bombings which have hit Baghdad over the past year has been 'themed' - clearly with the aim of conveying the message not only that the insurgents can strike several targets simultaneously, but that they can focus on a particular type of target each time." Martin Chulov (Guardian) gets reactions from Iraqi men and women such as Abeer Ahmed who states, "Security won't be sorted out here any time soon. Look at the situation. All our leaders are busy fighting with each other for good positions for themselves and leaving the country to drown in blood. My child refuses to go to school and how can I blame her. There are many parties to blame for this carnage, firstly the current government, which can't stop it, and secondly the regional countries who are not happy with democracy in Iraq." Al Jazeera's Zeina Khodr reports (video link embedded in page) in the aftermath and shows much of the damage from the bombings.

That was Sunday. Saturday brought news of an early morning attack. Mohammed Al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reported, "Gunmen dressed in Iraqi army uniforms stormed three houses overnight Saturday in a Sunni Muslim village south of Baghdad and killed 24 people, including five women, Iraqi authorities said. Most of the slain villagers belonged to 'Awakening' groups, the bands of U.S.-backed Sunni fighters who helped in the fight against al Qaida in Iraq. The attack occurred in Al Bu Saifi village south of Baghdad." Muhammed al-Obaidi and Timothy Williams (New York Times) added that the nineteen males were predominately Sahwa members and quote Luyai Khadum stating of his four brothers and father, "They were all killed. I lost five family members. We are a Dulaimi family, so why would they do this to us." David Batty (Guardian) revealed, "The victims were bound with handcuffs and sprayed with machine-gun fire. Some of the bodies were 'beyond recognition', according to a senior Iraqi army official who wished to remain anonymous." BBC News quoted Muhammad Mubarak stating, "A group wearing National Guard uniforms and carrying night vision equipment stormed the homes of the victims and took them to their front gardens. Then they handcuffed them with plastic tape and shot them in the head with guns fitted with silencers." Leila Fadel and Aziz Alwan (Washington Post) reported the assailants arrived with a list, gathered all the possible Sahwa members, "looked through a list of names and then used guns with silencers attached, shooting people one at a time" and that the murders "were reminiscent of those carried out against Sunni Arabs by Shiite death squads from Iraq's interior ministry." Sara Hashash (Times of London) observes, "The massacre intensified fears of renewed violence as Iraq's two main political coalitions (led by Iyad Allawi, the former prime minister, and Nuri Al-Maliki, the incumbent prime minister) battle to form a government following elections that left neither with enough seats to rule alone." Meanwhile Al Jazeera's Zeina Khodr wonders if this "could be the Iraqi style of negotiating." Today violence continued and Saad Abdul-Kadir and Elizabeth A. Kennedy (AP) reports that a family was shot dead outside their Baghdad home -- both parents and four children ages six to eleven. Two daughters, who were upstairs when the assailants came to the the home, survived. Reuters notes a Basra roadside bombing claimed the life of 1 police officer and left three more injured and, dropping back to yesterday, that 1 man was shot dead outside his Mosul home.

Violence is in the news today as WikiLeaks has released "classified US military video" from 2007 "depicting the indiscriminate slaying of over a dozen people in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad -- including two Reuters news staff" Nami Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh. Reuters has repeatedly been denied the video despite multiple FOIA requests. Al Jazeera interviews Julian Assange about the leaked video.

Imran Garda: Now a video has been released on the internet purporting to show US military personnel firing at civilians in a Baghdad square in 2007. Two journalists -- one journalist, Reuters journalist and his driver were killed in that attack. This video has just been released by the online whistler blower WikiLeaks. We can now speak to a member of WikiLeaks. Joining us from Washington is the editor of WikiLeaks.org Julian Assange. Thank you very much for joining us. So, first of all, take us through what exactly, in a nutshell, this video shows.

Julian Assange: This is a video of an Apache helicopter on the 12th of July, 2007 in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad. It shows a number of things. It shows an attack on a group of people. Two of which are Reuters journalists from Baghdad. Those men are killed by 30 milimeter cannon fire. There seems to be some initial confusion as to whether those people are carrying weapons and that the Reuters' photographer's camera was a weapon. But it proceeds from what might have been an excuse for not concentrating too much, to something far more serious. When one of the Reuters photographers is crawling away, wounded, clearly he doesn't have a weapon, clearly of no threat and a van tries to rescue him which passes by and two children inside. That van is then attacked and the Reuters staff member, Saeed, is killed along with all the people in that van except for the two children who survived but were seriously wounded.

Imran Garda: Yes, I was --

Julian Assange: After that -- I'm sorry, go on.

Imran Garda: No, no. Please continue. Please continue.

Julian Assange: Just 20 minutes after that serious and disturbing event, a Hellfire missile attack is conducted on a nearby house. That from -- The roof appears to be under construction. And that attacks kills another -- by the military record -- six people. But maybe potentially more, anotehr six. The military say that insurgents went in that hour or lived in the house or went into the building. But our people have shown that in fact there were three families in that house and we have the records of some of their deaths -- including two women. And so on. It is possible that some armed men walked into that house but the majority of the people in that house seemed -- at least the majority of the people that lived there seemed to be regular families and we have evidence from the person who owned the house and photographic evidence of the Hellfire missile and so on.

Imran Garda: How sure can we be of the authenticy of this video? Not only the picture itself but also the voice over -- the voices we hear which I'm assuming are the pilots in the cockpit of the helicopter.

Julian Assange: Yes, yes.
Imran Garda: Because those are quite revealing in many ways.

Julian Assange: Yes.

Imran Garda: How sure can we be that this is the real deal?

Julian Assange: As sure as one can be of anything in life. The material is internally totally consistent but also there was a Washington Post reporter [David Finkel] who was with that unit, the US military unit, on the ground, on the day. And he wrote a chapter in a book which was published last year, a book called The Good Soldiers which correlates directly to the material in that video, including to the radio transcript for the first half.

Imran Garda: Right.

Julian Assange: That's a strong correlation. Also Reuters conducted a number of investigations, interviewed two ground witnesses at the time.

Imran Garda: Right.

Julian Assange: That report really wasn't taken seriously by [. . .] 'It's just another few reporters dying in Baghdad.' And nothing to back up the witnesses. But now we have the video that shows the witnesses were correct. Also there was an Iraqi police report that Reuters says agrees with with their witnesses and all of them agree with the video.

Imran Garda: Sorry to interrupt you. Not long afterwards, Lt Col Scott Blackwell from the US military told the New York Times that, "There's no question that coalition forces were clearly engaged in combat operations against a hostile force." You even mention that quote on your website and on the video itself. And, of course, when Reuters requested the video from the Pentagon under the Freedom of Information Act, they didn't get it. With all of that in mind, do you firmly believe that there was a cover up at play here?

Julian Assange: They were certainly spinning the message and it does seem like there has been a cover up. The Rules of Engagement that were used for that circumstances, if the internal assessment was -- those rules were correctly applied -- and that is the statement the US military applied, that is the statement the US military made to Reuters, then those rules are a serious, serious problem if they permit such events. But-but there were clear lies made at the time and shortly after about the military not knowing, for example, not knowing how the children were injured and trying to suggest they didn't know how the jounalists were killed. And very early on they listed all the people killed -- other than the children -- as insurgents.

Imran Garda: Julian Assange, pleasure hearing your thoughts. Thank you fvery much for agreenin to talk to us here on Al Jazeera

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