Saturday, February 06, 2010

Keep kissing his ass





Today, Iraq is again slammed with bombings resulting in mass fatalities. Fang Yang (Xinhua) reports, "Two car bombs went off at the same time on a bridge named Wadil- Salam which is located east of Karbala, 80 km south of Baghdad, an Iraqi interior ministry source told Xinhua. The two cars loaded with heavy explosives were parked at the two ends of the bridge respectively, said the source who refused to give his name." AFP states it was a mortar bomb. Chelsea J. Carter (AP) reports it was a suicide car bombing immediately followed by the mortar attack. CNN goes with two car bombings. The Washington Post's Ernesto Londono (at the Financial Times of London) explains, "Investigators were trying to determine whether there had been one or two explosions." Skipping the specifics of the bombing types, Al Jazeera notes, "Al Jazeera has learned that three Iraqi army vehicles were also destroyed in the attack." This morning AP counted 27 dead thus far and at least sixty injured. Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) also counted 27 dead but 131 injured while noting that the numbers would likely rise throughout the day -- which they did. Muhanad Mohammed, Sami al-Jumaili, Michael Christie and Jon Boyle (Reuters) report the death toll has now reached "at least 40 people [dead] and wounded 145 others" according to "health officials". The US State Dept released the following statement from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:
The United States condemns the series of bombing attacks against Shi'a pilgrims in Iraq over the past week. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families. Attacking men, women and children engaged in religious pilgrimage is reprehensible and exposes the cynical immorality of the terrorists who seek to replace Iraq's hard-won progress with violence and intimidation. They will not succeed in breaking the will of the Iraqi people. Iraqis are committed to realizing the promise of their democracy. There is no better rebuke to those who traffic in terror.
BBC News (link has text and a clip of the aftermath of the bombings) offers, "The BBC's Gabriel Gatehouse in Baghdad says that the stakes are high; a peaceful and credible election would allow the country to draw a line underneath the bloodshed and turbulence of recent years, he says. But, he adds, these recent bombings have raised fears of a return to sectarian violence, just as American forces prepare to withdraw." Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) and Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) explain, "The bombings play to the worst fears of Iraqi and US officials that attacks could re-ignite the kind of sectarian violence that plunged this country into civil war three years ago. They sparked anger even among security officers." Anthony Shadid (New York Times) observes, "There was a sense of fatalism to the attacks, one of dozens this week on pilgrims that the Shiite-led government had girmly predicted but was powerless to stop. The killings have underlined the very meaning of the pilgrimage: a religious ritual to commemorate Imam Hussein, the grandson of the prophet Mohammed whose death in the battlefield in Karbala in A.D. 680 gave Shiite Muslims an ethos of suffering, martyrdom and resistance." Sayed Mahdi al-Modaressi (The New Statesman) explains:
For Shias, Hussein is the ultimate moral exemplar: a man who refused to bow in the face of tyranny and despotism. Shias see his martyrdom as the greatest victory of good over evil, right over wrong, truth over falsehood. In the words of the Urdu poet Muhammad Iqbal: "Imam Hussein uprooted despotism for ever till the Day of Resurrection. He watered the dry garden of freedom with the surging wave of his blood, and indeed he awakened the sleeping Muslim nation . . . Hussein weltered in blood and dust for the sake of truth."
But why would all these people walk for hundreds of miles to remember a painful event that took place over 13 centuries ago? Visitors to the shrine of Hussein and his brother Abbas in Karbala are not driven by emotion alone. They cry because they make a conscious decision to be reminded of the atrocious nature of the loss and, in doing so, they reaffirm their pledge to everything that is virtuous and holy.
The first thing that pilgrims do on facing his shrine is recite the Ziyara, a sacred text addressing Hussein with due respect for his status, position and lineage. In it, the Shia imams who followed him after the massacre in Karbala instruct their followers to begin the address by calling Hussein the "inheritor" and "heir" of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus.
There is something profound in making this proclamation. It shows that Hussein's message of truth and freedom is viewed as an inseparable extension of that list of divinely appointed prophets.
Pilgrims go to Karbala not to admire its physical beauty, or to shop, or to be entertained, or to visit ancient historical sites. They go there to cry. They go to mourn. They go to join the angels in their grief. They enter the sacred shrine weeping and lamenting.

Liz Sly and Caesar Ahmed (Los Angeles Times) provide this context, "Overall, there have been eight suicide bombings in Iraq the past 11 days, targeting hotels and government buildings as well as pilgrims, in a sign that the Sunni extremist insurgency appears to be regrouping in an attempt to destabilize the country ahead of the March 7 election." In other reported violence . . .
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadise bombing which claimed the life of 1 pilgrim and left fifteen more injured.
Reuters notes 1 pilgrim was injured by a Baghdad sniper shooting and that 2 police officers were shot dead in Mosul.
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports Interior Ministry employee Brig Gen Ali Ghalib was kidnapped last night in Baghdad.
Reuters notes 1 corpse was discovered in Mosul ("kidnapping victim riddled with bullets").
The war that never ends. Jake Armstrong (Pasadena Weekly) notes that Tuesday, February 2nd was the 2,405 day of the Iraq War and, using DoD figures, notes 4,378 deaths of US service members in Iraq since the start of the Iraq War. The elections and violence were discussed today on the second hour of The Diane Rehm Show (NPR -- which is archived and you can also podcast) when Diane spoke with Bryan Bender (Boston Globe), Youchi Dreazen (Wall St. Journal) and Elise Labott (CNN).
Diane Rehm: And now let's talk about Iraq and it's election commison which has delayed start of campaigning for Parliamentary elections. How come, Elise?
Elise Labott: Well an Iraqi appeals court this week overturned an effort to bar hundreds of candidates from upcoming elections. Many of these were aligned with Saddam Hussein's former Ba'ath Party. Many of them were members of Parliament to begin with, in previous elections [post-invasion, previous elections] and they had already been vetted. But the ban, you know, really threatened to disenfranchise Sunnis once again and open up possible sectarian tensions that we've seen over the last few years. The court overturned this ban. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had said, you know, no, that's fine, it's a Constitutional -- it's unconstitutional to overturn the ban. And so now they've postponed the elections [she means the start of campaigning for the elections].
Diane Rehm: So what's that going to mean for the whole government, Youchi?
Youchi Dreazen: There's that wonderful line in [Francis Ford Coppola's] The Godfather III where Al Pacino says, "Every time I think I'm out, they pull me back in." And the US, we've thought that the war is over, that the violence has stopped, the sectarian tensions are gone, Maliki's a strong leader, we can focus on something else and pull our troops out. And what's been made clear over the last few weeks -- both politically as Elise talked about but much more horrifically in terms of suicide bombings, one of which destroyed our office -- the [Wall St.] Journal offices and, of course, much worse, many human lives at the Hamra hotel in Baghdad where I lived myself for close to two years.
Diane Rehm: Really.
Youchi Dreazen: The violence is back in force and what you're seeing is the kind of syncronized attacks throughout Baghdad that you saw in the worst days of '06, '07. So this belief that we won was resting, basically, on two pillars. One, violence was gone. Two, sectarian tensions are gone. What we're seeing now is that both are still back.
Bryan Bender: I think the seriousness with which these recent developments are viewed in Washington was evident by the fact that Vice President Joe Biden was sent to Iraq a couple of weeks ago in the wake of this decision to bar these candidates because there's some real concern that the longer the elections are delayed, the more this friction is there -- and the violence increase, that you could see things unravel there.
On the elections, Leila Fadel and Aziz Alwan (Washington Post) report that the ruling -- which didn't clear the 500-plus candidates of charges, only stated the charges would be evaluated after the election -- is questioned by the electoral commission, will result in Little Nouri meeting with "the Presidency Council, the parliamentary speaker and the top judge on the supreme court" and, if needed, with Parliament Sunday. As Nada Bakri (New York Times) points out, already the conflicting back and forth means that election campaigning is now scheduled to start February 12th and Bakri observes: "The latest escalation in the dispute over who is permitted to run in the elections has unsettled the political landscape. Iraqi law remains untested and perhaps bereft of mechanisms to reach a solution just a month before the vote." Anne Barker (Australia's ABC) covers the issue here. Mu Xuequan (Xinhua) reports that the potential Parliament meeting on Sunday is "an extra-ordinary session" Little Nouri is calling and that, meanwhile, other avenues are being stopped such as yesterday when "the seven-judge appeals panel postponed the review of the demands submitted by some of the banned politicians to check their charges till after the March 7 elections, giving a green light to the banned politicians to run in the elections." Should Little Nouri succeed with the supreme court or the Saturday meeting of the Sunday meeting, the banned candidates will once again have to scramble in an attempt to run for office via appeals -- appeals which have currently been stopped. Pakistan's The News reports Iraq's Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi stated in DC yesterday, "The decision taken by the appeal committee should be espected by all parties. Hopefully, it will be debated in the parliament but at the end of the day I think nobody (has) the right to block the decision taken by the committee." Alsumaria TV breaks the news that Nouri's decrying the decision as foreign interference and "State of Law Coalition political committee held on Thursday an urgent meeting attended by head of Party Nuri Al Maliki. The meeting discussed the appeals panel decision and political pressure and interference in this regard." The New York Times editorial board offers the suggestion that Iraq 'get on' with the March 7th election:

Right now, Mr. Maliki and the Parliament should get on with the campaign. Instead of trying to keep competitors off the ballot, Iraq's leaders should be debating their country's many serious problems and telling voters how they will fix them. For Iraq to be stable and to thrive -- and for American troops to safely go home -- the candidate list, and the next Iraqi government, must represent all of Iraq's people.
Following a request by the Iraqi Election Commission (IHEC), UNHCR stands ready to facilitate the participation of Iraqi refugees living in the countries neighbouring Iraq in the forthcoming elections. The 7 March elections are considered to be a major opportunity to consolidate national reconciliation.
As of December 2009, UNHCR had on its records some 300,000 Iraqis who are believed to still be present in the region (including over 210,000 in Syria), of whom close to 190,000 are of voting age. Based on host government sources, the total number of Iraqis in the region is much higher, as hundreds of thousands of Iraqis do not register with UNHCR for a variety of reasons.
In close cooperation with the competent Iraqi authorities and the host governments, UNHCR's assistance will be limited to providing demographic data on the registered Iraqis, informing them of their rights to participate in the elections, and providing logistical support that may be needed for a smooth and orderly election process.

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Thursday, February 04, 2010

Sour grapes of a one time press queen






Shortly after being installed, the first thing Nouri al-Maliki (thug of the occupation) did was begin floating notions of curtailing media freedoms. When the Green Zone was stormed in June of 2006 (stormed but not breached), the 'crackdowns' became a regular feature of daily life and Little Nouri worked on a 'plan' that the media repeatedly misrepresented -- US media repeatedly misrepresented. It applauded the various planks -- including the neighborhood patrols which were already taking place and were neither an idea of Nouri's nor something that needed to be implemented. In addition, considering the ethnic cleansing that would soon take place (what some dub the civil war of 2006 and 2007), maybe armed militias really weren't something to applaud? But if they weren't giving Nouri credit for things he didn't do, the US press might have to call out the plank attacking journalism. The BBC called it out. Foreign outlets called it out. It was in the US reporting that you never heard about it. Nouri had been installed only months prior and had already made repeated anti-media remarks publicly, but his plank attacking journalism, his plank that required registration and more, it didn't register in the US media.
Considering all the waves of attacks on journalism that have followed under Nouri (most infamously when a New York Times reporter was 'fired' on by a member of the Iraqi military who then laughed because there was no bullet . . . this time), maybe the post-war mea culpa that's needed is the one for refusing to loudly and vocally defend the rights of the press? Nouri's at it again. From the Committee to Protect Journalism:

New York, February 4, 2010 -- An Iraqi government plan to impose restrictive rules on broadcast news media represents an alarming return to authoritarianism, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. CPJ denounced the rules and called on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his government to abandon their repressive plan.

CPJ's review of the plan found rules that fall well short of international standards for freedom of expression and that appear to contravene the Iraqi constitution, which provides for a free press. The new rules would effectively impose government licensing of journalists and media outlets, a tool that authoritarian governments worldwide have long used to censor the news.

The rules would also bar coverage that the government vaguely describes as incitement to violence. CPJ research shows that such broad and unspecified standards are often used by repressive governments to silence critical coverage.

A copy of the plan, obtained by CPJ, can be downloaded here as a PDF (9 MB, Arabic).

"The regulations suggest either a lack of understanding of the news media's role in a democratic society, or a deliberate attempt to suppress information and stifle opposing views," said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon . "Either way, the rules should be rescinded immediately so that the media can do its job free of government intimidation."

The new regulations were drafted by the Iraqi Communications and Media Commission (CMC), a government body that does not appear to have legal authority to draft such rules, CPJ research shows. The CMC was created with a narrow mandate to administer broadcast frequencies and other technical issues.

CPJ's review found that the rules are replete with broad and vaguely expressed restrictions. While demanding that all local and international broadcast media be licensed and that all individual journalists be accredited by the CMC, the rules provide little information on the criteria the government would use in issuing such licenses. (All equipment must also be registered with the government.) The plan also states that news media must abstain from "incitement to violence," but it does not define what would constitute a violation.

Media deemed to violate the rules could face closure, suspensions, fines, and confiscation of equipment.

CPJ found other alarming aspects to the rules. They stipulate, for example, that media organizations submit lists of their employees to the government. While the clause raises privacy concerns, it is particularly ominous in light of the recent history of journalist murders in Iraq . Of the 140 journalists killed in Iraq since 2003, at least 89 were targeted for murder, CPJ research shows. Another 43 media support workers, such as drivers and interpreters, were also murdered. In case after case, CPJ research shows, these journalists were targeted because of sectarian or work affiliations; many have gone to great lengths to conceal their profession for fear of reprisal.

In discussions with foreign reporters in Iraq, CMC representatives made it clear that media organizations would have to reveal confidential sources if they sought to challenge a determination made by the agency. If the CMC finds that a media organization has published information it deems inaccurate or inflammatory, the identification of sources would be central to any challenge to CMC findings, journalists who attended the meetings told CPJ.

"The regulations themselves, and the explanations provided by CMC officials, suggest that sources could be compromised, reporting could be censored, and Iraqi staff could be intimidated," Simon added.

Michael Christie (Reuters) observes, "It remains risky for Iraqis to be associated with foreign companies and Western media fear that handing over staff lists places them at risk from militia, insurgents like al Qaeda, or kidnap gangs. Many reporters working for foreign media do not tell their neighbors what they do. [. . .] Reuters and other media are already routinely threatened by officials with lawsuits or expulsion because of disparities between the number of bomb victims reported by their police and interior ministry sources, and official death tolls."
Yesterday came news of a decision reached by a ruling body in Iraq on the elections issue.
Already Nouri is striking back at the decision. To recap, we'll note this from yesterday's snapshot:

On Al Jazeera's Riz Khan yesterday, the issue of the elections were addressed with Riz Khan asking, "How free and fair is an election when a government bans certain people from running? Iraq goes to the polls on March the 7th but has barred more than 500 candidates which could ultimately plunge the country into chaos, even civil war." Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) reports today that the government has managed to avert "a political crisis of its own making" as a result of the ban being overturned today "by a panel of seven judges". The Economist calls it "Best news in weeks." Margaret Coker (Wall St. Journal) explains, "The decision now opens the way for full-fledged campaigning to begin, as scheduled, on February 7. It wasn't immediately clear how many of the banned candidates would accept the compromise decision, or how the decision might affect the election outcome itself." Scott Peterson (Christian Science Monitor) adds, "But if the ruling stands, there's a catch: those blacklisted will still be subject to investigation after the vote for past ties to the regime of Saddam Hussein." And what would happen then? Caroline Alexander and Kadhim Ajrash (Bloomberg News) observe, "Election Commission official Hamdia al-Husseini told Agence France-Presse that those later found to have links to the Baath Party would be 'eliminated.'" Martin Chulov (Guardian) reports, "The ruling enraged the architect of the blacklist, Ali Faisal al-Lami, who is a close aide of the head of the former ­de-Ba'athification Commission, Ahmed Chalabi. That commission, which was a signature body of the post-Saddam Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), evolved into a contentious group known as the Accountability and Justice Commission." And to clear up a nasty rumor, there is no known sex tape of Ahmed Chalabi and his boy pal Ali al-Lami being distributed in Basra. Absolutely not. Nasty, hurtful rumors. Unless a tape should surface. Ammar Karim (AFP) notes, "Chalabi, who has close ties to Iran, was appointed deputy prime minister after the invasion but intelligence he provided in support of those claims in the run-up to war later turned out to be flawed and he subsequently fell out of favour with Washington." The decision is still being studied and Al Jazeera notes Saleh al-Mutlaq, of the sectarian National Dialogue Party and who was one of the banned, "declined to give an immediate comment."

Reuters reported this morning that Nouri's mouthpiece, Ali al-Dabbagh, posted to his website the following: "Postponing implementing the law of the Justice and Accountability Commission till after the election is illegal and not constitutional." Anne Tang (Xinhua) notes the cries of "illegal!" as well while Margaret Corker (Wall St. Journal) adds, "Faraj Al Haidari, the head of the electoral body running the election, says he has asked the Supreme Federal Court to weigh in on the political controversy to quell the mounting accusations among political parties that the closely watched poll set to take place on March 7 has been tainted by sectarianism." Corker explains that Al Haidari doesn't believe that this would delay elections but if elections are scheduled for March 7th and it's February 4th, exactly when would candidates campaign? While they were 'banned,' they couldn't campaign. Now with the question mark Nouri's throwing on them, they may not be able to campaign -- and certainly some of their time will be taken up with this mess even if they are campaigning. How do you have fair and free elections when candidates aren't even sure they're going to be on next month's ballot? How do you have fair and free elections when Iraqi voters are using their own limited time (just as limited as any American voter or any voter in any other country) to study up on the issues and deciding, "Well, if I have to cut back somewhere, maybe I just won't look into these candidates who might not even make the ballot"? That's not speculation, BBC News reports, "Iraq's electoral commission has said it will delay the start of campaigning for next month's parliamentary elections."
And it is apparently not enough to toss the matter to the courts -- or rather, back to the courts again. Scott Peterson (Christian Science Monitor via Gulf News) reports, "Baghdad: Iraq's premier has convened parliament for Sunday to debate what his government branded an 'illegal' decision to reinstate candidates with alleged links to ousted dictator Saddam Hussain in next month's election, state television said." So the decision to allow ALL candidates to run is being targeted by Nouri with a court appeal and an appeal to Parliament. And if the two are in conflict? Or if the two both shoot Nouri down? Where does it end? And when does it end? March 5th when candidates are left to scramble? This is nonsense and it's turning the entire elections into a joke. (Or, if you prefer, a bigger joke.) Gulf News, after yesterday's decision, was editorializing in praise of it and noting, "Elections serve no purpose if they are seen to be manipulated, since the government that emerges from a corrupt process will not have a popular mandate. Elections must have transparent rules that are published well in advance and do not change. This allows parties to form, adopt political positions, campaign for support and form electoral alliances. Any last-minute shift in the rules necessarily corrupts this complex process." Instead, those who are seen as threats to Nouri are left to scramble.
Jomana Karadsheh and Yousif Bassil (CNN) note, "While U.S. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the top U.S. military official in Iraq, said about 55 percent of the group were Shiite with alleged links to the Baathist party, the most prominent politicians on the list were Sunni Arabs. Members of that community swiftly deplored the move and even threatened an election boycott." Liz Sly (Los Angeles Times) reminds, "Ali Lami, executive director of the separate Accountability and Justice Commission, which ordered the disbarments, condemned the judges' decision as representing 'American interference' in Iraqi politics, and vowed to fight it in the courts. U.S. officials have charged that Lami has close ties to Iran. The chairman of the accountability commission is Ahmad Chalabi, who was once a Pentagon favorite but fell from grace after he was suspected of passing information to Iran." NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro (All Things Considered -- link has audio and text) reports:
According to Human Rights Watch, the Supreme National Commission for Accountability and Justice -- a body without clear authority that compiled the list -- mainly targeted candidates from the two largest secular coalitions. They are both expected to do well on March 7.
Veteran Sunni politician Salah al-Mutlak, who had been on the banned list, told NPR in a interview this week that the commission targeted him because the current crop of elected officials are afraid losing power.
"They are scared because most of them, they don't even have the qualifications to be a parliamentary member or they are corrupted financially, or their hands are not clean from the Iraqi blood. So they know that the coming government is going to go after them, and there will be a law if there is a decent government, and the law will follow them," Mutlak says.
The above and more has resulted in a letter to the White House, House Reps William Delahunt, Howard Berman, Gary Ackerman, Donald Payne, Russ Carnahan, John Tanner, Lynn Woolsey, Barbara Lee, Brad Miller, Keith Ellison, Jim Moran, Dennis Kucinich, Edward Markey, Steve Cohen, David Price, Maruice Hinchey, John Conyers, Earl Blumenauer, Bob Filner, Jan Schakowsky, John Tierney, Jim McGovern, Rosa DeLauro, John Olver, Niki Tsongas, Stephen Lynch and Richard Neal have [PDF format warning} written President Barack Obama:
We are writing to express our strong support for a continued focus by your Administration on the upcoming general elections in Iraq. These elections, currently scheduled for March 7, 2010, will determine Iraq's political future -- and America's relationship with that nation.
If elections are accepted by the Iraqi people and the world as free, fair and successful, they will deepen Iraq's democracy and provide a basis for a stable, respectful relationship between our countries. But -- as we have already seen in Afghanistan and Iran -- if the elections are seen as fraudulent, they could inflame tensions inside and outside the country and undermine efforts to strengthen democracy. In the worst case, they could even lead to a civil conflict and a resumption of wide-scale violence.
The impact on the U.S.-Iraqi relationship of a failed or fraudulent election would be equally disastrous, particularly as U.S. troops continue to withdraw from Iraq as mandated under the U.S.-Iraq bilateral agreement which entered in to force on January 1, 2009.
With regard to that agreement, we commend your commitment to it and support your plan to bring our troop levels down to 50,000 by August 2010 and to withdraw all U.S. force by the end of 2011. We believe that it is important that your Administration deliver a clear message to the Iraqi government and people that, while we are committed to helping Iraqis stabilize their country, we will not change our withdrawal plans based on the date or outcome of the elections. Our continued presence in Iraq -- even after the successful June 30, 2009 withdrawal of our combat forces from Iraqi cities -- is already an issue in Iraqi politics. To explicitly tie our withdrawal to the elections or their outcome would only further exacerbate existing tensions.
We believe that, as part of our commitment to helping Iraqis stabilize their country and strengthen their democracy, the U.S. should encourage Iraqi leaders to comply with the recently agreed-to election date of March 7, 2010. As you well know, the elections have already been postponed from the original target in January. Further delays will only undermind the confidence of the Iraqi people in the elections and will have a correspondingly negative impact on the U.S.-Iraq bilateral relationship.
Furthermore, it is critical that all political parties can field candidates in the elections. Rather than banning politicians from participation, the Iraqi authorities should trust the Iraqi people to decide who they want to elect. Otherwise, the appearance of manipulation of the ballot -- even before votes are cast -- could compromise the legitimacy of the election. We ask you to work with Iraqi authorities to ensure the Iraqi people have a full range of options on the ballot.
We also strongly urge your Adminstration to assist Iraq in ensuring the elections are free and fair. The Iraqi Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) has repeatedly called for international organizations to send monitors to Iraq. However, to the best of our knowledge, few have responded. We urge you to allocate emergency funding for U.S. NGOs and encourage them to go to Iraq to observe the election. We also suggest that your Administration increase its cooperation with the United Nations in supporting Iraqi domestic observers. And we recommend you explore other avenues -- perhaps through regional organizations -- to encourage non-U.S. international observers.
Finally, we commend your Administration's assistance to Iraq in its efforts to end the UN Chapter VII mandates still pertaining to that country, and urge you to make this a priority over the next year. We also urge you to fully implement the Strategic Framework Agreement agreed to on November 17, 2008 to enable more non-military collaboration between our two countries. Taken together, these efforts will demonstrate to the Iraqi people our continued commitment to their nation's stability and our desire for a realtionship based on mutual respect and support.
In conclusion, Mr. President, we believe the upcoming elections in Iraq will be the most improtant in that nation's history. We urge your Administration to do all it can to ensure that they are successful and viewed as free and fair. And we commit to working with you toward that goal.
If you control who runs, if you intimidate the press, how are you different from Saddam Hussein? That's a question that might be asked in the near future if this issue isn't resolved.

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Vanity: His and Hers







The de-Ba'athification policy was implemented by Paul Bremer and he states (no reason to doubt him -- despite Colin Powell's whispers to the press) that he did so at the direction of the White House. Paul Bremer is mentiioned in the Iraq Inquiry more than any other American (that includes Bush, Tommy Franks, Condi Rice, Blot Powell and all the rest). After the start of the illegal war, in May of 2003, Tony Blair named Ann Clwyd to be England's special envoy on human rights to Iraq. We'll jump in at this section of her testimony today where she is speaking about the job and what she brought to the job.
But obviously I saw it -- because of my contact with Iraqis over the years, you know, I now knew people that were in government in Iraq, like the President Jalal Talabani, like Latif Rashid, the Water Resources Minister, Hoshyar Zerbari, the Foreign Minister, and many, many others who had been members of CARDRI and who had support INDICT, Hamid Al-Bayati and others. So I felt that I did have a particular friendship with those Iraqis and that, if I could help in improving the culture of the perception of human rights in Iraq, that really that should be one of the main issues, because obviously, you know, a country that has been absued for 35 years, human rights is not a phrase that trips lightly over the lips. So I felt -- and I still feel actually -- it takes a long time to change those perceptions -- it can't be done in a short time -- and so I started -- I also -- originally, detention issues was not in my terms of reference, but I did argue that they should be, because, you know, I knew that what happened to people in detention needed an outside voice to actually blow the whistle on occasions, and so there was some resistance but eventually it was put into my terms of reference. So, of course, I started visiting prisons, I talked a lot to Americans, because the Americans were sharing the same building in Baghdad at that time and Mr Bremer was in charge of the operation there and the British were there and so we talked about some of these issues. One of the first things that struck me was -- because, again, because of my friendship with Iraqis, one of my Iraqi friends had [been] a General in Saddam's army. He was now in a staff college, but he was a General, and immediately after 2003, my friend rang me up and he said, "Do you know what is happening with the military? Because there are lots of the military that my brother knows who would help the British. There are 50 to 100 senior Iraqi officers who are ready to help the coalition." Well, obviously, I passed that information on. But, you know, the army wasn't there anymore, but they were queuing up in very hot weather for their pensions, for their stipends, and I discovered that the man -- the brother of my friend had been queuing up every day for two weeks, and he was a senior, you know, army officer, and yet had nevr got to the front of the queue. He said -- I spoke to him eventually, and he said to me, you know, "If they want to humiliate us, this is the way of doing it." [. . .] So I was telling the Americans and the British but the Americans were mainly in charge in Baghdad and so I would go straight to Bremer and tell Bremer what was going on and he argued with me. He said, "Oh, nonsense, all the -- you know, the senior people have received their pensions". So I said, "Well, they haven't". So I gave him the name and address of the person I was talking about, and somebody went away and came back half an hour later and said, "Sorry, they must have slipped through the net". Well, I think many people slipped through the net actually, senior people, who could have been used in those early stages to help the coalition and wanted to help the coalition.
At the end of Clwyd's testiomony, Chair John Chilcot declared of Iraq: "We do hope very much to visit. We can't commit yet. To visit Iraq before our Inquiry is complete."
We'll come back to today but right now, yesterday, Clare Short testified to the Iraq Inquiry and covering the Inquiry in this community last night were Mike ("Tony Blair gets served"), Stan ("Grab bag") and Elaine ("Clare Short at the Inquiry"). One of the few US outlets to regularly devote attention to the Inquiry is The Pacifica Evening News which airs on KPFA and KPFK (as well as other stations) from 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. each Monday through Friday.
John Hamilton: Former British Minister Clare Short accused Tony Blair of lying over the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and stifling discussion in the Cabinet in the run up to the war. Short is a long time critic of Blair who served as International Development Secretary in his government. She disputed evidence the former prime minister gave last week to an inquiry into the war. Short voted of the 2003 invasion but quit Blair's government shortly afterwards because she said Blair had conned her into thinking the UN would play a lead war in post-war Iraq. Speaking today before the Chilcot Inquiry, which is examining Britain's role in the war and its aftermath, Short accused the former Attorney General Peter Goldsmith of not telling the Cabinet of his doubts about the illegality of the war nor that senior Foreign Office lawyers believed it would be illegal without a second UN resolution on Iraq.
Clare Short: I think for the Attorney General to come and say there's an unequivocal legal authority to go to war was misleading. And I must say, I never saw myself as a traditionalist but I was stunned by it because of what was in the media about the view of the international lawyers but I thought "This is the Attorney General coming just in the teeth of war, to the Cabinet, it must be right." And I think he was misleading us.
John Hamilton: Goldsmith has said he initially doubted the war's legality and only concluded it would be lawful without such a resolution a week before the invasion -- days before the Cabinet was briefed. Short told the Inquiry today she believed Goldsmith had been pressured by Blair -- something that both men deny -- but she had no direct evidence to back this up. Last Friday, Blair defended his decision to go to war telling the Inquiry that Saddam Hussein had posed a threat to the world and had to be disarmed or removed. He said there had been substantive discussions with senior ministers in the Cabinet but Short told the Inquiry that she had been excluded from talks and that Blair had not wanted Iraq discussed in the Cabinet because he was afraid of leaks to the media .

Clare Short: There was never a meeting that said: "What's the problem, what are we trying to achieve? What are our military, diplomatic options?" We never had that coherent discussion of what it is that the problem is and what it was that the government was trying to achieve and what our bottom lines were. Never.
John Hamilton: Short accused Blair of being frantic to support the United States and said claims the French would have vetoed any second UN resolution in authorizing military action had been untrue.
We're stopping there, not because Hamilton's made a mistake (they did a fine job as usual in covering the Inquiry) but because we are short on space and we can move over to Elfyn Llwyd on Clare Short's assertion that Blair was frantic to support the US. Tomas Livingstone (Wales News) reports MP Elfyn Llwyd has stated that the the 2002 Crawford ranch meeting is where Blair and Bush agreed to go to war -- no hesistations, no ifs, just to go to war. He tells Livingstone that a memo exists noting this agreement and that he will gladly testify before the Inquiry eitehr in private or in person.
On Clare Short, you can refer to Iain Martin (Wall St. Journal -- he doesn't like Short and doesn't believe her, he's been covering the Inquiry regularly so we will link to him), Simon Hooper and CNN, Jason Beattie (Daily Mail -- always an outstanding job of coverage by Beattie), Iraq Inquiry Blogger offers thoughts here, Rosa Prince (Irish Independent via Independent of London), David Brown (Times of London), John F. Burns (New York Times), Philip Williams (AM which airs on Australia's ABC) and Mark Hennessy (Irish Times). If someone was omitted (especially someone requesting to be included), I either forgot or made a judgment call that you do not matter. Which is one reporter we'll be noting in a bit (not naming, not linking to) and which is one web site that wants a link but is too damn lazy to blog about the Inquiry so they post a paragraph of John F. Burns' report and then say 'read the rest at the New York Times'. Honestly, the Gabor sisters worked harder so I think we should all lay off comparing you know who to a Gabor sister.
The Inquiry continued today. Channel 4 News' Iraq Inquiry Blogger gives this run down of the witnesses: "Sir Kevin Tebbit returns for a brief spin to round off evidence about his period as MoD Permanent Secretary 2001-05. Dr John Reid has served many different government briefs but attends today as Secretary of State for Defence 2005-06, effectively completing our MoD card-hand after Geoff Hoon, John Hutton & Des Browne. And Ann Clywd worked as the prime minister's (or rather prime ministers') special envoy to Iraq from 2003-09." Video and transcript options for the three witnesses here. Channel 4 News' Iraq Inquiry Blogger live blogged today's hearing at Twitter and Sky News' Glen Oglaza live blogged John Reid's testimony.
Gary Gibbon (Channel 4 News) reports that Tebbit stated the current Prime Minister of England, Gordon Brown, "guillotined" the military budget when he was serving as chancellor: "Sir Kevin, who was MoD permanent secretary from 1998 to 2005, stressed that defence chiefs saved resources needed for Iraq but admitted the cuts had a long-term impact." Sky News reports he stated, "The Treasury felt that we were using far too much cash and in September 2003 the Chancellor of the day (Mr Brown) instituted a complete guillotine on our settlement. It meant that we had to go in for a very major savings exercise in order to cope with what was effectively a billion reduction year-on-year in our resource." In what would appear to back up that testimony, Francis Elliott, Deborah Haynes and Tom Coghlan (Times of London) report, "Gordon Brown demanded immediate and deep cuts to military spending only six months after the invasion of Iraq, a letter seen by The Times reveals."
Biggest laugh in England today? The reach around between eternal suck up Petey Kyle and his uber dom Alastair Campbell. In the internet version of snowballing, Petey sucks him off and spits it back in Alastair's mouth -- Petey writes that it's awful, just awful (no link to that trash -- and Labour better get it through their heads that apologists like Petey are going to mean death at the polls) how the media's treated poor Tony Blair. He writes it, Alastair reposts it at his vanity blog and then they both Tweet on it. Somebody get those two to the chapel already. No links, they've echoed one another enough. Also of note, a certain reporter for a non-right wing paper, non-Murdoch paper, who repeatedly reports wrong on the Inquiry? Maybe his editors should ask him about his contact with Alastair because Alastair's bragging to Labour Party members that he has said reporter in his pocket. Very few are covering it in the US. Kelly B. Vlahos (Antiwar) notes some of the silence:

Don't know much about any of this? Not surprising, because the American mainstream media has practically blacked-out the story on this side of the pond. It's amazing, after seven years and a growing reservoir of evidence that the Bush administration deliberately manipulated intelligence and the emotions of the American public to invade Iraq -- for which it had no comprehensive plan to stabilize or reconstruct -- the corporate press is still doing its best impression of the debauched idiots in The Hangover:

Stu: "Why don't we remember a G**damn thing from last night?"

Phil: "Obviously because we had a great f**king time."

When the press isn't treating us all like morning-after marshmallows who would prefer a cold-compress of Sarah Palin and updates of The View on the head to a clinical X-ray of how the Bush White House marched our nation into a trillion-dollar war of choice, it takes on a gratingly condescending tone. In fact, the media view jibes quite well with the standard Republican spin: that any criticism or inquiry into party-supported policies from 2001 to 2009 is "looking backward" or "rehashing the past," or worse, "we've been there, done that," when really, no, there hasn't been any "been there, done that," not anything compared to what's going on in London right now.

Turning to Iraq, Sinan Salaheddin (AP) reports an agreement reached between Iraq and China in which China would "write off 80 percent of Iraq's" $8.5 billion debt. In other agreements Iraq is entering into with other countries, Anne Tang (Xinhua) reports Iraq declares it is willing to turn 46 Jordanian prisoners over to Jordan and notes the Arab Organization for Human Rights, "According to the organization, there are 46 Jordanians jailed in Iraq, of whom many are held with no charges and are either students or traders." While those talks between Iraq and other governments continue, Today's Zaman reports the top US commander in Iraq, Gen Ray Odierno, is in Ankara meeting with Turkey's Interior Minister Besir Atalay. Alsumaria TV quotes Odierno stating, "It is important that we develop a common unerstanding of the root causes of violence, so we can assit in determining political, economic and security measures that will contribute to increased security and safety of the Turkish and Iraqi people." Scott Fontaine (The Olympian) reports on increased tensions between US forces and Iranian forces on the Iraqi border.
Yesterday in the US, the Senate Armed Services Committee spent a little over an hour addressing Don't Ask, Don't Tell. All three broadcast networks' evening news covered the story. Some did better than others. We'll note highlights. NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams:

Brian Williams: 62 years ago today, President Truman ordered the Defense Secretary to take the needed steps to remove discrimination in the military. He was talking about race. Today the topic was sexual orientation, specifically the Clinton era policy known as Don't Ask, Don't Tell -- a policy that is now on borrowed time. More on this story from our Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski.

Jim Miklaszewski: In a hearing today on Capitol Hill, the nation's top military commander revealed the worst kept secret in the armed services.

Adm Mike Mullen: I have served with homosexuals since 1968.

Jim Miklaszewski: Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen said it's time to scrap Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the law that prohibits gays and lesbians from openly serving in the military.
Martha Raddatz: Lt Dan Choi is a West Point graduate, an Iraq veteran and one of the few Arabic speakers in the military. Like thousands of others, he now faces dismissal from the army for saying publicly that he is gay.

Lt Dan Choi: I was living in the closet. Then I realized, no, this is really a violation of the honor code which, on the first day of West Point, we learned: You will not lie or tolerate those who lie. And I believe in that honor code.

Martha Raddatz: Lt Choi's case is still pending but he also told us if you're actually thinking about national security first and you're saying that it's okay to fire Arabic speakers because somebody's uncomfortable with gays, then you have your priorities in the wrong place.
David Martin: Today's testimony made clear it will not happen any time soon -- certainly not this year, if at all. For one thing, Gates wants a year to study . . ..

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates: What the-the men and women in our armed forces really think about this.

David Martin: For another, Don't Ask, Don't Tell is a law enacted by Congress.

Senator John McCain: I'm happy to say that we still have a Congress of the United States that would have to pass a law to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

David Martin: Right now with the military fighting two wars, there are not enough votes to repeal.
PBS' NewsHour, like Diane Sawyer, led with the issue while the other two broadcasts buried the story further into the mix. Margaret Warner offered the best report of any of the correspondents. She also offered more variety in her report when quoting from the hearing -- except for Jim, all the above reports had quoted from the opening statements plus Saxby Chambliss -- and why did everyone Click here for transcript as well as audio and video options of Warner's report. We covered the hearing in yesterday's snapshot and other community coverage: Wally was at the hearing and guest blogged at Rebecca's site with "Armed Services Committee, Heroes" and, like Warner, he quoted from Burris -- who probably had the strongest and most moving remarks. Trina focused on Mike Mullen's opening remarks "Senate Armed Services Committee DADT" -- and Trina's take is like David Martin's, nothing's happening. That was our take based on the hearing and based on speaking to a few aids and senators after the hearing. You can especially see that in Kat's "Barack pretends to care about Don't Ask Don't Tell." Marcia takes this issue very personally and quizeed all of us (including Ava) at length before writing about it in "Not doing cartwheels right now."

RECOMMENDED: "Iraq snaphsot"
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"Grab bag"
"Clare Short at the Inquiry"
"Tony Blair gets served"
"Did he crap out in Vegas?"

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Did he crap out in Vegas?







Starting in London, where the Iraq Inquiry continued public hearings today. Appearing before the committee were Clare Short, Hilary Benn and Peter Ricketts (link goes to video and transcript options). As Committee Chair John Chilcot explained at the start of the hearing, Short "was Secretary of State for International Development from 1997 until May 2003, when you resigned over the Iraq question."

Up to this point, one narrative emerging from all the testimony is that Blair portrayed one reality to one group and another to a second group. If you were on the inside, you testified you didn't think a second UN resolution was necessary [1441 only authorized inspections, there was no resoultion autorizing the war]. If you were part of the Cabinet or advisers but not of sufficient War Hawk statutory, you were in the other group. And if you were Peter Goldsmith (Attorney General), you were brow beat and bullied until you changed your legal advice. One group was unconcerned about a second UN resolution because they knew, despite Tony Blair's posturing, he wasn't interested in getting a second resolution.

With that narrative in mind, Clare Short's testimony is even more damning than many might have expected. Asking about "the machinery of government," Committee Member Roderic Lyne noted of the legal issues of war, "You said it wasn't substantive discussion, Mr Blair said it was. It is a Cabinet of which you were a member. Then these decisions were endorsed by the House of Commons, of which you are still a member."

MP Clare Short: The first thing to say is that I noticed Tony Blair in his evidence to you, kept saying "I had to decide, I had to decide", and, indeed, that's how he behaved, but that is not meant to be our system of government. It is meant to be a Cabinet system, because, of course, if you had a presidential system, you would put better checks into the legislature. So we were getting -- his view that he decided, him and his mates around him, the ones that he could trust to do whatever it was he decided, and then the closing down of normal communications and then this sort of drip feed of little chats to the Cabinet. Now, that's a machinery of government question and there is a democratic question, but, also, there is a competence of decision-making question, because I think, if you do things like that, and they are not challenged and they are not thought through, errors are made, and I think we have seen the errors.

Short rejected the idea that the Cabinet endorsed the war and declared, "I think he misled the Cabinet. He certainly misled me, but people let it through."

Committee Member Roderic Lyne: Sorry, who misled the Cabinet?

MP Clare Short: The Attorney General. I think now we know everything we know about his doubts and his changes of opinion and what the Foreign Office legal advisers were saying and that he had got this private side deal that Tony Blair said there was a material breach when Blix was saying he needed more time. I think for the Attorney General to come and say there is an unequivocal legal authority to go to war was misleading, and I must say, I never saw myself as a traditionalist, but I was stunned by it, because of what was in the media about the view of international lawyers, but I thought, "This is the Attorney General coming just in the teeth of war to the Cabinet. It must be right", and I think he was misleading us.

Short is also of the opinion that Peter Goldsmith was leaned on.

MP Clare Short: I noticed that Lord Goldsmith [in his testimony to the Inquiry] said he was excluded from lots of meetings. That is a form of pressure. Exclusion is a form of pressure. Then, that he was -- it was suggested to him that he go to the United States to get advice about the legal position. Now we have got the Bush administration, with very low respect for international law. It seems the most extraordinary place in the world to go and get advice about international law. To talk to Jeremy Greenstock, who -- I'm surprised by his advice. I think to interpret 1441 to say you have got to come back to the Security Council for an assessment of whether Saddam Hussein is complying, but there shouldn't be a decision in the Security Council, is extraordinarily Jesuitical. I have never understood it before, and I think that's nonsense, and it wasn't the understanding of the French and so on, because I saw the French Ambassador later. So I think all that was leaning on, sending him to America, excluding him and then including him, and I noticed the chief legal adviser in the Foreign Office said in his evidence that he had sent something and Number 10 wrote, "Why is this in writing?" I think that speaks volumes about the way they were closing down normal communication systems in Whitehall.

Committee Member Roderic Lyne: But there was a critical week before the conflict started on 20 March. It was on 13 March that Lord Goldsmith came into his office and told his officials that, on balance, he had come to the view that the better view was that the revival argument could be revived without a further determination by the Security Council. I suppose the question is: in the days before 13 March, specifically, was he subjected to pressure? Was this a decision not reached purely on legal grounds? Now, he said not, Mr Blair effectively has said not. Do you have any evidence that, in that period, pressures were applied of a non-legal kind to the Attorney General? He had legal discussions with the Americans in February, but I'm talking about the period between 7 March, when he gave his formal advice, and 13 March, when he had come to this clear, on balance conclusion.

MP Clare Short: No, I do not have any evidence, but I think him changing his mind three times in a couple of weeks, and then even -- in order to say unequivocally there was legal authority, to require Tony Blair to secretly sign a document saying that Iraq was in material breach, and not to report any of that to the Cabinet, is so extraordinary -- and by the way, I see that both Tony Blair and he said the Cabinet were given the chance to ask questions. That is untrue.

Short went on to describe the meeting when the Cabinet was informed of the sudden decision by Goldsmith that the war would be legal, noting that Robin Cook didn't attend and that Goldsmith sat in Cook's chair.

There was a piece of paper round the table. We normally didn't have any papers, apart from the agenda. It was the PQ answer, which we didn't know was a PQ answer then, and he started reading it out, so everyone said "We can read", you know, we didn't -- and then -- so he -- everyond said, "That's it." I said, "That's extraordinary. Why is it so late? Did you change your mind?" and they all said, "Clare!" Everything was very fraught by then and they didn't want me arguing, and I was kind of jeered at to be quiet. That's what happened.

Committee Roderic Lyne: So you went quiet?

MP Clare Short: If he won't answer and the Prime Minister is saying, "Be quiet", and that's it, no discussion, there is only so much you can do, and on this, because I see the Prime Minister -- the Attorney, the then Attorney, to be fair to him, says he was ready to answer questions but none were put. I did ask him later, because there was then the morning War Cabinet, or whatever you call it, that he did come to and he gave all sorts of later legal advice and I asked him privately, "How come it was so late?" and he said, "Oh, it takes me a long time to make my mind up".

Committee Member Roderic Lyne: The argument on this Cabinet meeting we have heard --

MP Clare Short: I would like to ask you to ask for the books -- you know the Cabinet secretary keeps a manuscript note and there is another private secretary that keeps a manuscript note on this. I think you should check the record.

Short noted they were not informed that Goldsmith had voiced objections earlier or that Elizabeth Wilmshurst had resigned over this issue or that the Foreign Office found the war would be illegal without a second UN resolution.

MP Clare Short: I think we should have been told that, and I also think -- because the side documents -- because you can tell he was uncertain. He made Blair write and sign a document saying Saddam Husseinw as not cooperating under the terms of 1441 and was in material breach. When Blix was saying -- do you remember he got rid of the ballistic missiles and he said, "These are not matchsticks", or toothpicks, or something, do you remember? And he was asking for more time. So at the time when Blix was asking for more time, the Prime Minister secretly signed to say there was no cooperation and Blix was saying I'm getting some cooperation. So -- I mean, this is disgraceful.

To Tony Blair's assertion that he had to give up on chasing down a second resolution because the French said they would not approve one, Short called that "a deliberate lie" and explained that a decision was made -- as it had been in the US (she reminded everyone of the "freedom fries") -- to blame the French and use that deceit as an excuse to avoid a second resolution. She notes the French position was not "never" on a second resolution but "not now" while inspections were ongoing.

Short also noted the lie used to deploy the troops to the region, how -- if they weren't deployed -- it wouldn't look like anyone was serious and yet, once they were deployed, the fact that they were there became the reason for "'We've got to go now,' because they can't leave them sweating in the desert? Do you remember the contradiction?" She noted discussions within the Arab world to remove Hussein from Iraq and how possibilities for other avenues or stronger partnerships were repeatedly met with objection that there wasn't time and there must be no waiting.

Short's testimony was strong and consistent throughout and she did a strong job refuting all of Tony Blair's claims before the committee. She also noted that the current prime minister, Gordon Brown, was shut out of the discussions. Today a poll was released. Kylie MacLellan and Michael Roddy (Reuters) report that the poll found Gordon Brown shared the blame with Blair for the Iraq War (60%) -- that may be due to his continuation of it. It also found that 37% believe Tony Blair should be tried for War Crimes. The reporters do not note it but that is a 9% increase since the most recent poll and the poll took place after Blair testified in public.

Nico Hines live blogged Short's testimony for the Times of London, Andrew Sparrow live blogged for the Guardian and Channel 4 News' Iraq Inquiry Blogger live blogged at Twitter. Iraq Inquiry Blogger also has a post up that provides an overview of Short's testimony. Chris Ames live blogged and fact checked at Iraq Inquiry Digest.

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