CELEBRITY IN CHIEF BARRY O IS FACING CRITICISM FOR HIS CAT FOOD COMMISSION.
BARRY O DECLARED TODAY TO THESE REPORTERS, "I AM ADDING VALUE TO LIVES, OFFERING EVERY RETIRED PERSON 3 CANS OF CAT FOOD A DAY FOR FREE. THEY'RE NOT GETTING THAT NOW. BUT UNDER MY PLAN THEY WOULD GET THREE CANS OF FREE CAT FOOD. AND THEY COULD FEED IT TO THEIR CATS. OR THEY COULD GRAB SOME TUNA HELPER -- PROBABLY NEED TO WORK PART TIME TO AFFORD THAT AFTER I SLASH THE MONTHLY CHECKS -- AND MAKE A CAT FOOD SURPRISE TO EAT THEMSELVES."
FROM THE TCI WIRE:
Larry Kaplow (Foreign Policy) has a major essay on Iraq and we'll note the opening:
"Iraq Is a Democracy." In theory, but it doesn't work like one. Yes, it has had three, free national elections and a constitutional referendum and there are elements of democracy. I started covering Iraq in 1998, living there from the start of the war until late 2009, and it certainly feels freer than before. Saddam Hussein held his last election, a plebiscite in 2002, and claimed 100 percent of the vote (and maybe it was true -- who would risk voting against him?). Under the old regime, even when I could slip away from government minders, people were usually too scared of informants among their family and friends to speak openly. You weren't even allowed to keep your mouth shut. Failure to join the chanting crowds at pro-government rallies -- watched closely by neighborhood-level Baathists -- could cost you your job, admission to university, or worse. Now there's lots of open talk, government criticism, and widespread Internet access.
But Iraq is not democratic in a reliable or deep sense, where people can expect equal rights, legal protections, or access to their leaders. Free speech is still a dangerous pursuit. At least seven reporters or their staff have been killed this year in what appear to be direct attacks on news agencies, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Most others are afraid to get too specific in their criticisms of the leadership. Regulations are tightening, and the track record of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has just maneuvered himself into another term in office, is getting darker. The government has started requiring that news agencies register their staff and equipment. Media regulations ban quotations from anonymous sources. Human Rights Watch recently documented government efforts to ban public demonstrations and encourage security forces to violently disperse attempts at peaceful protest.
Some people, like Kaplow, claim three national elections. We don't. There was the 2005 elections (December 2005) and there was the March elections this year which were national elections. The way they're getting three is they're counting the 2009 elections which were provincial elections. Could they be considered "national elections"?
Most of the time a national election takes place on a set date. Whereas the 2009 provincial elections were held on two different dates, months apart. The KRG voted on their own and were not part of that. January 31, 2009 was election day for 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces. The KRG held their elections July 25, 2009. And Kirkuk wasn't allowed to hold elections -- which is why only 17 of 18 provinces held elections in 2009. In addition, if we were going to count those, it would be four elections because January 30, 2005 saw governorate council elections. National elections, for our purposes here, were the December 2005 and March 2010 parliamentary elections. Only the parliamentary elections result in the creation of a national government so we only count the two parliamentary elections as "national elections" here. Others can count as they want.
Let's stay with the most recent elections. March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board noted in August, "These elections were hailed prematurely by Mr Obama as a success, but everything that has happened since has surely doused that optimism in a cold shower of reality." 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. November 10th a power sharing deal resulted in the Parliament meeting for the second time and voting in a Speaker. And then Iraqiya felt double crossed on the deal and the bulk of their members stormed out of the Parliament. David Ignatius (Washington Post) explains, "The fragility of the coalition was dramatically obvious Thursday as members of the Iraqiya party, which represents Sunnis, walked out of Parliament, claiming that they were already being double-crossed by Maliki. Iraqi politics is always an exercise in brinkmanship, and the compromises unfortunately remain of the save-your-neck variety, rather than reflecting a deeper accord. " After that, Jalal Talabani was voted President of Iraq. Talabani then named Nouri as the prime minister-delegate. If Nouri can meet the conditions outlined in Article 76 of the Constitution (basically nominate ministers for each council and have Parliament vote to approve each one with a minimum of 163 votes each time and to vote for his council program) within thirty days, he becomes the prime minister. If not, Talabani must name another prime minister-delegate. . In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister-delegate. It took eight months and two days to name Nouri as prime minister-delegate. His first go-round, on April 22, 2006, his thirty day limit kicked in. May 20, 2006, he announced his cabinet -- sort of. Sort of because he didn't nominate a Minister of Defense, a Minister of Interior and a Minister of a Natioanl Security. This was accomplished, John F. Burns wrote in "For Some, a Last, Best Hope for U.S. Efforts in Iraq" (New York Times), only with "muscular" assistance from the Bush White House. Nouri declared he would be the Interior Ministry temporarily. Temporarily lasted until June 8, 2006. This was when the US was able to strong-arm, when they'd knocked out the other choice for prime minister (Ibrahim al-Jaafari) to install puppet Nouri and when they had over 100,000 troops on the ground in Iraq. Nouri had no competition. That's very different from today. The Constitution is very clear and it is doubtful his opponents -- including within his own alliance -- will look the other way if he can't fill all the posts in 30 days. As Leila Fadel (Washington Post) observes, "With the three top slots resolved, Maliki will now begin to distribute ministries and other top jobs, a process that has the potential to be as divisive as the initial phase of government formation." Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) points out, "Maliki now has 30 days to decide on cabinet posts - some of which will likely go to Iraqiya - and put together a full government. His governing coalition owes part of its existence to followers of hard-line cleric Muqtada al Sadr, leading Sunnis and others to believe that his government will be indebted to Iran." The stalemate ends when the country has a prime minister. It is now eight months, eleven days and counting.
David Romano (Rudaw) offers his take on the power-sharing arrangements, "A Sunni Iraqiya parliamentarian, Osama Al Nujaifi, became Speaker instead. The Kurds remain weary of Al Nujaifi and his penchant for strident Arab nationalism, reminding them a bit too much of yesterday's Ba'athist discourse. Nujaifi will likely remain a fierce opponent of most of the Kurdistan Bloc's aspirations in the new government. Meanwhile, something clearly had to be done to placate Allawi, so a new 'National Security Council' was created for him to lead. The only problem is that no one seems to know what powers, if any, this new National Security Council will have. Muqtada Al Sadr's group of parliamentarians is also entering this new government, despite their bitterness towards Maliki for the offensive against them in 2008 as well as their abiding distrust of the Iraqiya bloc. They will want some important portfolios which no one trusts them enough to give them. Nuri al Maliki, once again, isn't particularly liked by any of the other groups, but somehow he has managed to engineer his resurrection as Prime Minister for another term. Finally, virtually all the other parties remain deeply suspicious of Kurdish aspirations, especially fearing that implementation of Article 140 could set the stage for eventual Kurdish secession from Iraq." The Economist emphasizes a number of issues -- including the Kurdish issues, "Mr Maliki has agreed to nearly all of the 19 demands made by the Kurds, including a commitment to hold a referendum on who should control the disputed city of Kirkuk. Mr Maliki is also said to have promised some powerful ministries to a Shia group led by a populist anti-Western cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr." Writing today, The Economist also grasps what few other outlets can:
A new government has not yet been born.
Why The Economist has the ability to grasp that and so many others don't is puzzling but credit goes to them for noting reality in their opinion piece when most pieces passing for reporting from news outlets continually hail the 'new' 'government'.
On the issue of the National Security Council, Alsumaria TV reports, "State of Law Coalition senior official Hassan Al Sunaid stated that the political parties have started the legislation of a special law for the national policy council which will play a major advisory role in shaping Iraq's future policies, he said." Bernard Gwertzman (Council on Foreign Relations) interviews Charles W. Dunne (NSC during the previous Bush administration) about the developments. Gwertzman notes of the power-sharing deal, "Allawi is supposed to have an important policymaking role, says Dunne, although it remains to be seen whether Maliki keeps his word and whether the Obama administration will press him to do so." Excerpt.
Bernard Gwertzman: A key question is how important this new National Council for Higher Strategic Policies that Allawi is supposed to head, will be, right?
Charles W. Dunne: This council has not yet been enshrined in Iraqi law. There is a school of thought that believes there will need to be a constitutional amendment to make it serve as an effective check on the prime minister's power. This is all going to be very contentious and the outcome is very uncertain, which is probably one of the reasons why Allawi said, before he departed for London, that the power-sharing deal is dead. In addition, there are very different views among the Iraqi political leadershipr about how this council should function. Maliki clearly sees it as an advisory body, whose advice he can ignore. Allawi and a number of his supporters see it as a venue in which national security decisions by the prime minister, and important economic decisions, can be altered or veteoed. Even if legislation has passed to create a fairly robust council, the concept of this council as it exists right now will require 80 percent consensus within the council in order to implement a decision, which in this political system -- as in any political system -- is going to be difficult.
At Foreign Policy, David Bender offers an analysis of the deal that sees the new council and other efforts themselves as being of little value and noting that the council -- under Allawi or another Iraiqya member -- is not going to have grand powers:
But formally changing the chain of command in Iraq would require a highly unlikely constitutional change, and it seems unlikely that Maliki will ultimately agree to a significant reduction in his powers. He has argued that the new council will function as an advisory panel with no independent authority. If Allawi decides he is powerless in his new position, he could resign and become a forceful leader of the opposition.
Between an unclear Iraqiya role, an uncomfortably large Sadrist contingent, rising Kurdish demands, and no unity of purpose among any of the political groups, the prospects for the next government are not great. But the overall situation in Iraq will probably improve anyway. The next government isn't going to resolve much of Iraq's deep social and political dysfunction, but having it in place will finally allow the oil sector, budget, and infrastructure projects to begin to move ahead.
Was it worth the eight (soon to be nine) month wait? No.
But is it a good thing that there's likely to be a government by the new year? Absolutely.
Meanwhile Currency Newshound reports that the Ministry of Planning declared today that 10 times the current allocation of the investment budget is needed to address issues of operations such as government salaries and the rations card system. Shashank Bengali (McClatchy Newspapers' Middle East Diary) crunches other numbers -- the latest Brookings Institution figures for Iraq -- and notes, among other things, that Iraq is "on track to exceed the 2009 death total of 3,000". Bengali picks many interesting figures. Some he doesn't note include that landlines are down in Iraq as compared to the middle of 2004 -- this may be partly due to the large increase in cellular phones (and there was no cell phone industry prior to the start of the Iraq War according to Brookings). The report finds that an estimated 20,000 Iraqi medical doctors have left the country since the start of the war and only 1,525 of that number have returned -- so (check my math) 18,475 doctors have left and not returned. In addition, 2,000 Iraqi medical doctors have been killed since the start of the Iraq War. So the Iraq War has resulted in the country losing an estimated 20,475 doctors. The most recent estimate finds approximately 16,000 medical doctors remain in Iraq. CIA estimates put the Iraqi population at between 26 and 30 million. Check my math but that should put the number of doctors at 0.053% of the population. The median age in Iraq is 20.6 years-old. In 2008, the official unemployment rate in Iraq was 15.2%. Though there are no figures for this year, there's been no improvement and that official figure is much lower than the actual unemployment figure (the CIA notes that the unofficial estimate is 30%). But in 2009, a number of Iraqis were surveyed and asked if they thought unemployment would improve in 2010? 37% hoped it would "fall slightly" or "fall a lot," 35% thought it would increase -- slightly or a lot) and 24% expected it would remain the same.
RECOMMENDED: "Iraq snapshot"
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"THIS JUST IN! NO GOOD NEWS IN THE POLLS!"