Wednesday, August 04, 2010

The Cult of St. Barack (and Judy!)






Today United Nations Secretary Ban Ki-moon addressed the issue of Iraq in a report the the United Nations Security Council. His [PDF format warning] remarks included:
I am concerned with the overall human rights situation in the country, notably the high rate of indiscriminate and targeted attacks against the civilian population. Ongoing violence and targeted assassinations also continue to be reported against government officials, newly elected members of the Council of Representatives, media workers, minority and ethnic and religious groups. In May, approximately 100 Christian students travelling in buses to the University of Mosul were injured and a bystander was killed when two roadside bombs exploded as the buses passed. In April, approximately 50 civilians were killed as the result of bombings in Shi'a neighbourhoods in Baghdad. Between May and June, political figures were also the target of indiscriminate attacks: five family members, including three children, of an Awakening Council member were killed in Baghdad; a newly elected member of the Council of Representatives, Bashar Hamid al-Egaidi, was assassinated in Mosul; and a parliamentary candidate, Fares Jasim Al Jabour, was killed in his house in West Mosul on 5 June. Journalists and media workers continued to be targeted in attacks aimed at restricting freedom of expression and opinion. A 23-year-old freelance journalist, Sardasht Othman, was kidnapped outside the Salahaddin University in Erbil and was later found shot dead on 6 May near the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan office in eastern Mosul. Mr. Othman was known for his writing critical of members of the Government. KRG is currently investigating the matter.
The UNAMI Human Rights Office continued to monitor government detention centres in Kirkuk, Basra and Erbil, in which poor conditions have been reported. In the detention cenre in Basra, the Human Rights Office reported that the physical conditions of the prison did not meet minimal international standards. In another incident of concern, on 12 May, seven detainees suffocated while in transit from Al-Taji detention centre to Al-Tasfirat pretrial detention facility in Baghdad. It was reportedly the result of Iraqi army personnel transporting 100 detainees in two windowless vheicles whose capacity was for only 15 persons.
Not quite the rah-rah Barack Obama spun earlier this week. He also spoke of the political stalemate. March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. They are claiming they have the right to form the government. It's four months and five days and, in 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister. It's now 4 months and 28 days. The Secretary-General noted:
[. . .] I am concerned that continued delays in the government formation process are contributing to a growing sense of uncertainty in the country. Not only does this risk undermining confidence in the political process, but elements opposed to Iraq's democratic transition may try to exploit the situation. The number of recent security incidents throughout Iraq, mainly in the north of the country and in Baghdad, including attacks against newly elected members of parliament and religious pilgrims, are of particular concern.
In this context, I urge all political bloc leaders to work together through an inclusive and broadly participatory process to end the present impasse. After exercising their right to vote on & March, there are high expectations among the Iraqi people that their leaders will adhere to the Constitution and ensure an orderly and peaceful transition of power. I firmly believe that this will contribute to the country's stability and the prospects for national reconciliation. In accordance with their mandate, my Special Representative and his team in UNAMI stand ready to assist.
Salam Faraj (AFP) reports that Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya is supposed to be in a better position currently as a result of the split between the Iraqi National Alliance and State of Law over Nouri's insistance that he remain prime minister. Tariq Alhomayed (Al Arabiya) ponders the stalemate:
[. . .] what is the difference between Nouri al-Maliki and Saddam Hussein? Al-Maliki is saying that Allawi won the elections by only one vote, and that he does not consider this to be an election defeat, while Saddam used to say that the Iraqis had elected him with 100 percent of the vote; therefore what is the difference between them? The most important question that must be asked here is, in this case, why did the US forces even topple Saddam Hussein, if they are going to allow another Saddam -- Nouri al-Maliki -- to rise up and appear to us and the people of Iraq, but this time with democratic cover?
This latest phase in Iraq's struggle began with March's parliamentary elections. Allawi, a secular Shiite and former Prime Minister who was initially placed in power by the United States, won a slim majority over the incumbent Nouri al-Maliki. Allawi won in part through support from secular-minded Iraqis, but also through the votes of many Sunnis -- who were wary of al-Maliki -- and divisions between al-Maliki and some of the religious parties who had been his partners. The vote was too close to call, however, and al-Maliki refused to relinquish power. The ensuing stalemate continues -- despite intervention by Vice President Biden -- resulting in sectarian tensions and degraded government capabilities.
My arguments about the danger al-Maliki poses still hold true. Al-Maliki proved willing to stir up sectarian sentiment when it benefited him politically, then reframed himself as an Iraqi nationalist when facing opposition among some Shiites. His attempts after the election to hold on to power, which included threatening comments about his role as commander of the military and a move to disqualify some candidates in Allaawi's bloc due to reputed Baathist ties, demonstrate he is still likely to place personal advancement over Iraq's stability.
Yet, there is also much going for Allawi besides not being al-Maliki. Despite becoming Prime Minister while Iraq was under U.S. control, Allawi proved a responsible and effective leader, albeit one undone by his U.S. ties. Moreover, his Shiite identity and secular tendencies make him legitimate to a majority of Iraqis and less threatening to its Sunni and Kurdish minorities than the more Islamist al-Maliki. Finally, his Sunni-Shia coalition gives him cross-cutting appeal. This provides Sunnis a stake in the system and Allawi a disincentive to draw on sectarian tensions to increase his political standing, as this would alienate many of his supporters.
For those late to the party, you have not missed this site's endorsement. I'm not an Iraqi. Their leader is a decision for them to make. Nouri is a thug and he's always been a thug and we've called him out since he first showed up as the compromise candidate. Iraq would be a lot better off if Nouri were out of office for a number of reasons. But other than that, we're not making any calls because the issue goes to Iraq to decide. That should not be read as, everybody kick back and relax. The White House has done an awful job of helping to resolve this crisis. Iraq continues to receive money from the US and it continues to receive special status that other countries (Iran, for one) do not. It would be very easy to convey that if talks are not conducted and a leader not chosen quickly, certain favors and actions will be placed on hold. The US could have done that and should have done it. Long gone are the White House claims that Iraq would install a new government long before the August drawdown. Does the press even remember those claims? They don't appear to.
But instead of the White House doing the above, insisting that the groups come up with a leader, they've interfered. It's one thing to say, "We'll take this back, we'll place this on hold." That's fine. It's another to say, "You will choose this person." And, as UPI again reminds today, the White House continues to insist that a deal must be worked out (okay so far) which allows Nouri and Allawi to share power.
No, no such deal MUST be worked out. In fact, such a deal isn't even genuinely possible in Iraq's Constitution. Part of the reason for the stalemate has been that instead of putting pressure for parties to come to a decision, the US government has felt the need to tell Iraqis, "This is what your decision will be." That's how colonialism worked (or 'worked') and how empire works (or 'works') but it's not how democracy works.
Since the White House appears to have forgotten the Iraqi Constitution (or maybe Barack never knew it -- Joe Biden used to know it), let's go over how it works. Parliamentary elections are held. Votes are counted and certified. The political slate or party receiving the most votes has first crack at forming a government. They need 163 seats in Parliament to become the ruling government. If they get that either due to the results of the Parliamentary elections or due to being able to assemble a power-sharing government with other slates and parties, then that's that. If not? First crack only. If, after the first attempt, others want to form their own, that's fine. It's a scramble and whomever can get to the magic number first (163) is the government. That's how it works. It's a winner take all system. There is nothing in the Constitution about "You be prime minister this year, then I'll be prime minister. We'll share the term."
By insisting that Nouri and Allawi enter into such an agreement, the US government is sending a number of messages and none of them are appropriate. The most irresponsible message is: If you don't like what the Constitution says, just ignore it. The March elections were only the second Parliamentary elections since the start of the Iraq War. If the Constitution is being tossed aside now, don't expect it to last through a third round or Parliamentary elections.
By insisting that Nouri and Allawi enter into a power-sharing arrangement, the US is also guaranteeing Nouri a seat at the table -- the government table, not the formation. And yet one of the biggest stumbling blocs has been Nouri. State Of Law was supposed to trounce everyone and come in far ahead of the others. That didn't happen and the fact that it didn't happen is a reflection of the will of the Iraqi people. The will of the bulk of Iraqi leaders is that Nouri needs to go. That's why the alliance between State of Law and the Iraqi National Alliance just collapsed. As Iraqi leaders work to convey the message of the people (as well as their own message) that Nouri's not welcome, the US government should not be demanding that Nouri get a spot in the new government.
And to be clear, my criticism above is of the White House and the 'leadership' provided by Barack Obama. Peter Henne can have any opinion he wants and is free to express it (and, having expressed it, he's open to any and all criticism -- that's life in the public square). I'm not slamming him for his opinion and I'm not endorsing his opinion.

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