Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Not all that popular after all






Sammy Ketz (AFP) reports, "Fear could not stop hundreds of grieving Christians from packing a Baghdad church on Tuesday to mourn two priests [23-year-old Wassim Sabih and 32-year-old Saadallah Boutros] and dozens of others killed during a hostage drama by Al-Qaeda gunmen that ended in a bloodbath." Alsumaria TV reports today that the Iraq's Minister of Human Rights, Wijdan Mikhael, fears Sunday's assault on Baghdad's Our Lady of Salvation Catholic Church will result in even more Christians leaving the country. The concern is expressed as CNN reports the death toll has now risen to 58. Jane Arraf and Sahar Issa (Christian Science Monitor and McClatchy Newspapers) note the the total number of wounded stands at seventy-five and that "Church leaders blamed inadequate security by the Iraqi government for the deadliest attack in Baghdad since before March elections. [. . .] The Iraqi federal police and Army have been deployed outside churches during Sunday mass since a series of coordinated attacks on churches more than two years ago. On Sunday though, witnesses said there was no military or police vehicles deployed outside the church during the service." Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) speaks to survivors and reports survivor Bassam Sami says the assailants entered the church and began killing people: "They were well trained. They didn't say anything. It was like someone had cut out their tongues." Martin Chulov (Guardian) quotes another survivor, Ghassan Salah, declaring the assailants stated, "All of youare infidels. We are here to avenge the burning of the Qur'ans and the jailing of Muslim women in Egypt." Reality website summarizes a BBC News report: "Throughout Monday, mourners carried coffins from the church, loading them onto vehicles bound for the morgue ahead of funerals on Tuesday. Raed Hadi, who tied the coffin of his cousin to the roof of a car, said the raid had resulted in a 'massacre'. "We Christians don't have enough protection,' he said. 'What shall I do now? Leave and ask for asylum?'" Anthony Shadid (New York Times) notes, "Iraq was once a remarkable melange of beliefs, customs and traditions; the killings on Sunday drew another border in a nation defined more by war, occupation and deprivation. Identities have hardened; diversity has faded. Nearly all of Iraq's Jews left long ago, many harassed by a xenophobic government. Iraq's Christians have dwindled; once numbering anywhere between 800,000 and 1.4 million at least half are thought to have emigrtaed since 2003, their leaders say." Possibly due to the large number of reported dead and wounded, the US military is maintaining they had a tiny role in the whole thing. Sunday Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) quoted a US military spokesperson insisting, "The U.S. only provided UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) support with video imagery. As always we have advisers with the ISF (Iraqi security forces) command teams." However, Kelly McEvers (NPR's Morning Edition -- link has text and audio) reported Monday, "Witnesses said they saw American troops taking part in the raid. American officials would only confrim to us that they provided aerial surveillance. Under a security agreement between Iraq and the U.S., Americans can only provide such support if they're asked to do so by Iraqi commanders. But, that said, American Special Forces, who number about 5,000 here in Iraq, have more flexible rules of engagement."
BBC offers survivor Dr. Thanaa Nassir's account which includes:

The terrorists came into the church, closed the door and took us hostage. I was terrified. There were five or six of them - I do not know exactly because we were all on the floor and could not lift up our heads. They brought in a bomb.
I was lying on the floor and every now and then there would be an explosion or gunshots over our heads, over the lights, over the fixtures, over the Crucifix, over the Madonna, everywhere. After that, they started to say "Allahu akbar" [Arabic for God is great], and they blew themselves up.
And those living near the church shares stories with BBC including Julie who offers:

I heard shots and then explosions. I hurried back home as soon as possible.
One of my daughters has a Christian friend whom she feared would be at the church. She rang her mobile and the friend answered in hysterics - she was actually being held hostage at the time.
My daughter went to pieces at this point. There was not much we could do. We knew the army would be on the way after the explosions.
We got in touch with the young lady's family to let them know.
By midnight we heard that she had survived, but was in hospital with shrapnel injury. Her mother had also been held hostage and was also safe.
But another of my daughters has just now returned home from a funeral. Her friend's father was not so lucky - he died in the attack.
As a Muslim I am totally devastated and disgusted about what has happened. This is not what Islam is about.
The church is one of the biggest in Baghdad. Christians come from all over the city to worship there. It must be devastating for the community.
The defense minister has called the operation to end the church hostage crisis in Baghdad "quick and successful." "Successful" evidently has a different meaning for him than it does for rest of humanity.
It may be that this was a botched operation. Or it may be that there was never going to be any other outcome to the siege other than extreme bloodshed. The militants who took over the church were clearly in a murderous state of mind from the start. All the indications are that they started killing before the police attacked. Had the latter not moved in when they did, the militants might have slaughtered all the hostages. The statement from Al-Qaeda in Iraq claiming responsibility for the attack and threatening to exterminate all Iraqi Christians suggests that the church was the principal target, not the stock exchange, the first building they attacked.
In normally accepted parlance, 52 deaths -- 46 of them hostages, the rest police -- is anything but successful. It is a disaster. For the minister to use such language says he is living in a fantasy world.
As Baghdad was burying the dead, a new wave of bombings slammed the capital. BBC News notes, "The BBC's Jim Muir in Baghdad said the funerals for the victims of Sunday's attack had only just been carried out as the explosions went off." Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) quotes an unnamed official with the Ministry of the Interior stating, "We don't know what's happening right now. There are so many explosions and so many reports we're overwhelmed." Ali Almashakheel (ABC News) reports that "10 blasts ripped through several Baghdad neighborhoods, killing at least 62 and injuring more than 180 people." Kate Sullivan (Sky News Online) also counts at least 62 dead but notes a police source is stating the death toll "could pass 100" and that over 300 were injured in the bombings. Richard Spencer (Telegraph of London) reports the death toll has climberd to 76. Rebecca Santana (AP) quotes 26-year-old Hussein al-Saiedi, "They murdered us today and on Sunday, they killed our brother, the Christians." Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) counts "14 explosions. Ten were car bombs, three were roadside bombs, and another was what's called a sticky bomb: a device that's placed on an object, many times a vehicle." Martin Chulov (Guardian) adds, "Tonight's bombs all detonated within 90 minutes of each other. Hospitals were appealing for blood donors, and the city's main A&E centres were reporting large numbers of casualties amid chaotic scenes." Jack Healy (New York Times) quotes eyewitness Mustafa Mohammed Saleh stating, "I tried to escape, but there was chaos. You see what happens: The most secure part of Baghdad, they hit. Tension is in the air." Maher Abbas tells Xinhua, "I was walking in Baghdad's western Sunni neighborhood of Ghazaliyah when four mortar rounds landed on a market, killing and wounding many people. I heard the security forces forced the shops to close for safety, as more attacks may take place."
Andrew England (Financial Times of London) observes, "The attacks will exacerbate fears that extremists are seeking to stir up sectarian tensions and exploit a political deadlock that has gripped the nation for nearly eight months." Ned Parker and Jaber Zeki (Los Angeles Times) report, "One Sadrist lawmaker faulted the political blocs for Tuesday's carnage. Political leaders 'are occupied with who gets what positions and are busy with quarrels amongst each other. It feels so irresponsible,' said Hakim Zamili, a parliament member, beloved in Sadr City for fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq and reviled by Sunnis as a symbol of the Mahdi Army. 'I don't think people will resort to revenge. They just want peace and quiet and to live an honest life'." The International Crisis Group issued an executive summary of their new [PFD format] report released last week "Loose Ends: Iraq's Security Forces Between U.S. Drawdown and Withdrawal."
Much is at stake in the never-ending negotiations to form Iraq's government, but perhaps nothing more important than the future of its security forces. In the seven years since the U.S.-led invasion, these have become more effective and professional and appear capable of taming what remains of the insurgency. But what they seem to possess in capacity they lack in cohesion. A symptom of Iraq's fractured polity and deep ethno-sectarian divides, the army and police remain overly fragmented, their loyalties uncertain, their capacity to withstand a prolonged and more intensive power struggle at the top unclear. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has taken worrying steps to assert authority over the security apparatus, notably by creating new bodies accountable to none but himself. A vital task confronting the nation's political leaders is to reach agreement on an accountable, non-political security apparatus subject to effective oversight. A priority for the new cabinet and parliament will be to implement the decision. And a core responsibility facing the international community is to use all its tools to encourage this to happen.
Iraq's security forces are the outcome of a seven-year, U.S.-led effort, which began after it comprehensively uprooted and dismantled remnants of the previous regime. This start-from-scratch approach entailed heavy costs. It left a dangerous security vacuum, produced a large constituency of demoralised, unemployed former soldiers, and fuelled the insurgency. The corollary -- a hurried attempt to rebuild forces through rapid recruitment, often without sufficient regard to background or qualifications -- brought its own share of problems. Iraq's increasingly fractured, ethno-sectarian post-2003 politics likewise coloured recruitment and promotions. Facing a spiralling insurgency, the U.S. felt it had no choice but to emphasise speed above much else; today, some one in seven Iraqi adult males is under arms. And so, even as they have gained strength in numbers and materiel, the army, police and other security agencies remain burdened by this legacy of expediency.
There is no legitimate government in Iraq, not even a puppet government with the appearance of legitimacy. The US government endusred that would be the case when they rejected calls for a caretaker government to be put in place while the election results were sorted out. Instead, they insisted that keeping Nouri al-Maliki on as prime minister -- while he launched attacks on opponents using his post as prime minister -- was 'fair' and 'reasonable.' Ernesto Londono and Aziz Alwan (Washington Post) quote Iraqi Hamid Ahmed al-Azawi stating, "There is no government. If the Americans leave tomorrow, we will assemble a team of 500 armed men to topple the Green Zone. How much longer are the Americans going to protect them?"

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. They are claiming they have the right to form the government. In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister. It's seven months and twenty-six days and still counting.

John Drake (A Take On Iraq) notes it is now 34 weeks since elections were held. Hoshyar Zebari is the country's Foreign Minister and Rudaw interviews him. Excerpt:

RUDAW:The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) seems to prefer Maliki's State of Law and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) is trying to make sure that Iraqiya is included in the new government. Can you tell us where does the Kurdish position exactly stand now?

Zebari‪:‬ There are now two ways to form a government‪.‬ The Parliament way ‪,‬ after the ‪[‬Iraqi‪]‬ Federal Court issued a verdict for the parliament to convene in two weeks time. This way is going towards imposing a solution based on a majority voting. Even a government is not created; the speaker of parliament can at least be elected. The president can also be elected to appoint a candidate to form a government. The other way is an initiative made by His Excellency President of the Kurdistan Region [Massoud Barzani] calling on all wining lists and coalitions to meet altogether. Obviously, they have not met thus far and the meetings have all been bilateral 8 months after the elections. A possible government has to be nationally inclusive. Everybody should be part of the government. The initiative has two phases. The first phase is about allowing wise leaders of each coalition to meet with others to find common grounds. Clearly, each party or coalition has its own demands. They should be matched in order to come up with a common thing. Whatever is subject to disputes shall be put aside. The issue of posts and this sort of things will be left for the next phase. There should be a leading meeting where all the leaders sit together and decide about a government. Both of these ways have started and kept going along each other. If these two ways match, they would be helpful to each other. It means that they are not two different ways.

Alsumaria TV reports today that Al Fadhila Party has announced it will back Nouri. Of course, with Al Fahila Party there is generally the announcement followed by an announcement that the previous announcement should be discarded. (As was most recently demonstrated in September when they announced they had left the National Coalition only to turn around and issue a statement denying they had left the National Coalition.) Equally true is that the group holds 6 seats in Parliament -- should it stay with Nouri, it gets him closer, it does not get him to 163. The Dinar Trade reports that Nouri has declared it a foregone conclusion that he will be prime minister.

RECOMMENDED: "Iraq snapshot"
"Stalemate drags on, Nouri cracks down on press"
"More details on the deadly church siege"

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