Saturday, June 05, 2010

Barack is hard at work




Today on NPR's Diane Rehm Show, Susan Page filled in for Diane and the second hour's guests were MBC TV's Nadia Bilbassy, Christian Science Monitor Howard LaFranchi and's David Wood.
Susan Page: Well Iraq's high court ratified the results of the national elections that were held on March 7th, Howard, who won?
Howard LaFranchi: Well according to the uh the Supreme Court ruling bascially what they did was uh verify that the uh bloc led by uh Ayad Allawi uh who is a uh a secular Shi'ite that his bloc won the most seats. Uh the problem is that they didn't win uh anything near a majority. Coming in second, just uh a few seats behind was the bloc of the current prime minister Maliki. And uh so now uh although it sounds great that okay finally there's a ruling and uh the results have been certified but now the-the jockeying and the-the power struggle shifts to Parliament because someone is going to have to come up with a uh coalition that will be a majority -- to be able to form the government. Uhm. Last -- or recently anyway [C.I. note, May 4th] -- Maliki sort of envisioning this formed a coalition with the forces of uh . . . [pause] the Islamic Sh'ite Movement of uh of uh Sadr uh a name that I think many Americans will be familiar with.
We got to break in, there's too much wrong there. What the hell is he saying? He doesn't know what he's saying. He's got some names he almost knows and tosses them out but does so wrongly. Nouri's State of Law formed a power-sharing coalition on May 4th with the Iraqi National Alliance slate. Ammar al-Hakim and his Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq or Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council are part of that alliance along with 17 other components/parties as well some independent politicians. Moqtada al-Sadr is also a member of the Iraqi National Alliance with his Sadr bloc. His bloc won the most seats of any component/party in the Iraqi National Alliance (40, followed by ISCI and Bard Organization with 18 seats. The INA, chaired by Ibrahim al-Jaafari, holds 70 seats in the new Parliament. Ayad Allawi heads Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament. Nouri al-Malki heads State Of Law which won 89 seats in the Parliament. State Of Law's power-sharing coalition with the Iraqi National Alliance gives them 159 seats currently (after Parliament is seated, the candidates are MPs and cannot be removed by their party and replaced with another candidate on their party's list -- once seated, some members of some blocs may decide to cut their own deals). 163 seats are needed for the government (prime minister and council) to be formed.
Howard LaFranchi (Con't): Uhm but the question will be the-the right to try to form a government will go first to uh uh --
Nadia Bilbassy: Allawi.
Howard LaFranchi: Allawi and the question will be if he will be able to succeed.
Susan Page: And, Nadia, is this taking longer than we expected.
Nadia Bilbassy: I think every time I come on The Diane Rehm Show I ask the same question.When they going to from the government and, I think, I don't have an answer. Probably September. I mean it's a good thing the highest judicial body in Iraq has certified the results because that means that they're no disputed anymore. And we heard from Prime Minister Maliki who said, 'No, we won, we have to recount it by hand. We have to do this, we have to do that.' So now it's over except for two seats that were disputed -- ultimately, it's not going to effect the results. As it stands now, 91 and 89 for Allawi [she has the totals backward, Allawi's slate has the 91]. The problem now it is jockeying for power. Who is going to form the government and, funny enough, it reminds me of Israel because, if you remember, Kadima won the election but they couldn't form the government and therefore it lost so it doesn't mean the winning party who got the popular vote will ultimately form the government. What we have seen now is actually Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki trying to go and coordination with the second larg -- third largest bloc which is the Iraqi National Alliance which includes Sadr and Hakim and others. The problem is people already see it as a Shi'ite domination and it's not just Shi'ite domination but Shi'ite religious domination and that will alienate the secular and the Sunnis. So the problem now is where do you go now? The President Jalal Talabani has 15 days to ask the Parliament to convene and after they nominate the Speaker and the Deputy Speakers they will go forward to ask the winning party -- which is Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya Party -- to form the government.
Susan Page: Now, Nadia, says that the government may not be formed until September. We have an August deadline for the reduction of US troops in Iraq --
Nadia Bilbassy: I mean, I hope it's [government formed] before.
Susan Page: Yeah, we hope it's before. But it's obviously taking quite a bit of time and no end yet quite in sight. Could this imperil the timetable for the withdrawal of US troops, David?
David Wood: I don't think so, Susan. We're going to have General Ray Odierno, top US commander in Iraq, briefing at the Pentagon in about an hour so we'll get an answer from him. But he met with President Obama this week and what he said was that the withdrawal of US combat troops was on track and they will all be gone by August 31st. About 50,000 US military personnel [troops] will be left in Iraq, but let me stress they are not organized in fighting units. [Apparently, they're instead organized in sewing circles. Quilting bees?] And they are largely technicians and administrators so that if violence does break out and the US is needed they will have to come back in from the outside.
They are combat troops. That's what the US military trains the troops for. When Barack first presented this laughable idea of "noncombat" troops being left in Iraq, Michael R. Gordon (New York Times) rightly -- and repeatedly -- expressed bewilderment over how Barack could 'create' this category. Since then Thomas E. Ricks has called it out repeatedly and many others as well. Ricks has, in fact, been the most elequent on this topic. On The Diane Rehm Show, for example, March 4th, Ricks observed, "I hate the phrase 'combat troops.' There is no pacifisit wing of the Marine Corps or the 101st Airborne. And I think it's effectively a lie to the American people. When they hear 'I'll get combat troops out,' what they hear is 'No more American troops will die' -- and that is blatantly untrue. And I think the sooner the president addresses that, the better for him." Exactly. We'll include David Wood's uninformed comments. I went back and forth on it but the reality is we'll return to them months from now in order to hang him with his own words. Joost R. Hiltermann examines the current situation in "Iraq's Summer of Uncertainty" (New York Review of Books):

The outlook is ominous. As the politicians dither, governmental institutions -- never particularly effective -- could become paralyzed, as senior officials fear for their careers if they make decisions that would anger Iraq's future rulers. Uncertainty over the country's prospects could spread through society and the economy. In a political vacuum, outside regional powers would almost certainly gain greater influence and be tempted to meddle more than they already do. The United States, which has been so eager to depart that it failed to craft an exit strategy, would then have trouble being heard over the din. Lacking strong support in Baghdad, parties and politicians would have little choice but to seek succour in neighbouring capitals, insinuating these states' countervailing interests into what is already a combustible mix. And Iraq's insurgencies could get a second wind, again making violence the primary mode of politics.
Alsumaria TV states Iraqi National Alliance's Bahaa Al Araij is stating that an announcement will be forthcoming and that while State Of Law is going with Nouri, the Iraqi National Alliance will nominate their chair Ibrahim Al Jaafari and Adel Abdul-Mehdi. Ibrahim al-Jaafari was Iraq's second post-invasion prime minister. He was also the first choice, following the December 2005 elections, to be (remain) prime minister; however, the US government objected to him and Nouri al-Maliki was then chosen as a compromise candidate. In the 2005 elections, he had the support of Moqtada al-Sadr's followers. That allowed him to defeat Adel Abudl-Mahdi by a single vote in those elections. Adel Abdul-Mahdi currently serves as Iraq's Shi'ite vice president (Iraq has two vice presidents) he belongs to al-Hakim's political party. al-Jaafari spent his exile time in Iran and England while Abdul-Mahdi spent his exile time in France. Nouri spent his exile time predominantly in Syria and Iran while Allawi spent significant time in England. All potential prime ministers (thus far) are former exiles.
Nouri wants to continue in the post. There is opposition to that within the Iraqi National Alliance. Tossing out their two most popular figues from the last election appears to indicate that they do not see the power-sharing coalition as a rubber stamp for Nouri's continued reign.
Nouri's close ties with Iran have not resulted in Iraq's territorial sovereignty being respected. Tuesday some reports maintained the Iranian military had entered northern Iraq while other reports insisted no entry had taken place:
Sherko Raouf, Shamil Aqrawi and Matt Robinson (Reuters) report that there are rumors (denied by Kurdish officials) that Iran has entered northern Iraq but that over 100 Iraqi families have fled the area in the last seven days. Sunday Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN)reported the Iranian shelling claimed the life of 1 teenage Iraqi girl in nothern Iraq. Xinhua (link has text and audio) identified the 14-year-old as Basouz Jabbar Agha. As with the Turkish military, Iranian military claims their target is the PKK -- a group identified by many countries (including the US) and the European Union as a terrorist organization and one that has established a base in nothern Iraq (among other places). [They would actually claim their target is PJAK and we're not drawing a line between the PKK and PJAK here -- they have the same leader, the same goals and are 'mingled' in the northern Iraq bases.] The PKK seeks an official Kurdish homeland (usually within Turkey) and points to decades of persecution. One of their leaders is Abudllah Ocalan who has been in a Turkish prison since 1999. The BBC reported over the weekend that he was rumored to have announced "he was abandoning efforts for dialogue with the Turkish government." Hurriyet Daily News reports that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will hold a terrorism summit on Wednesday (Turkey labels the PKK a terrorist organization). Meanwhile AFP quotes an unnamed "security official" stating that Iranian troops have moved "three kilometers" into northern Iraq. Caroline Alexander and Kadhim Ajrash (Bloomberg News) quote KRG spokesperson Kawa Mahmoud stating, "These reports about an Iranian incursion into Krudistan are totally false. There may be Iranian activity near the border, but there is no incursion." The reality? At this point unknown. Iran's most recent invasion of Iran (December 2009) was greeted with denials from some Iraqi government officials and from some Iranian government officials. But the violation of sovereignty did take place.
This afternoon, Leila Fadel and Dlovan Barawri (Washington Post) report that Nouri's officials deny the Iranian military has entered northern Iraq; however, "Incensed by the intensity of the attacks and what they say is a brazen ground movement nearly two miles into Iraqi territory, Kurdish officials have reached out to the central government to stop the Iranian incursion and continued shelling, said Jabar al-Yawar, the spokesman for the peshmerga, the Kurdish regional force." Meanwhile the PKK in northern Iraq announced the end of their ceasefire with Turkey's military. This announcement came as KRG President Masoud Barzani was in the midst of a five-day visit to Turkey -- his first in approximately five years. Mehmet Ali Birand (Hurriyet Daily News) opines, "We shouldn't expect Barzani to grab a weapon and fight for Turkey up in the mountain or fight against the PKK. No matter how much he dislikes this terrorist organization and is against the interests of Iraqi Kurds, this means a war between Kurds. That's why we shouldn't expect Barzani to fight for Turkey against the PKK. But on the other hand, we expect him to take measures and stop the PKK strolling around freely. We can do this only by acting together." Today's Zaman reports, "While expressing support for the Turkish government's efforts to engage its Kurdish population with the aim of ending decades of fighting with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has killed tens of thousands of people, Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani on Thursday also voiced regret over the deaths of young people in the conflict between Turkish security forces, no matter if they are Kurdish or Turkish."

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