Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The crazy never dies






Today Marina Ottaway (Carnegie Endowmen for International Peace) becomes the latest taken in by Sam Dagher's selective editing of quotes but we'll note her on another topic:
The United States is trying to promote closer ties between Iraq and the Arab states as an antidote to Iranian influence and has even put strong pressure on many Arab regimes to improve their relations with Iraq. Washington's campaign has met with limited success because Arab regimes, mostly Sunni-dominated, are suspicious of Maliki and the Iranian influence in Iraq.
Relations between Iraq and Saudi Arabia, which are key to an Iraqi rapprochement with the rest of its Sunni neighbors, have been particularly cold -- the Saudis did not even congratulate Maliki on the formation of the new government. Iraq is responding in kind, with representatives of Maliki's own State of Law coalition and of the broader Shia Iraqi National Alliance unleashing a barrage of anti-Saudi statements. The current focus in tensions is on a rumor that Saudi Arabia executed, without a real trial, 40 Iraqis guilty of simply trespassing on Saudi soil.
Whatever the merit of the accusation, the venom in relations between Saudi Arabia and Iraq is undeniable. Nor is it recent: a document posted by WikiLeaks shows that in 2007 the government of Iraq, including President Jalal Talabani, who is personally named, considered Saudi Arabia a greater danger to its interests than Iran.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is attempting to persuade countries to strengthen ties with Iraq currently. En route to Abu Dhabi this morning, she declared, "Well, this trip is, in many ways, an important follow-up to one directly related trip and another that is equally significant but less direct. The first, of course, was a trip to Bahrain and the speech that I gave at Manama outlining our security agenda, and the countries I am visitng are all very strong partners in our security efforts, on counterterrorism, on the ongoing chellenges posed by Iran, on dealing with the difficulties that we are working through as Iraq emerges into a sovereign, independent country, and so much else." Saturday, Jill Dougherty (CNN) quoted an unnamed State Dept official stating, "What we're really hoping to do is elicit more expressions of support for the Iraqi government. We now have a government on the ground in Iraq after a very long and somewhat tortuous process. It is important for the region to step up and provide them support. It is important for Iraq, frankly, to be reintegrated back in the region." Kareem Shaheen (The National) observes, "Her visit comes at a crucial time for Iraq, which only recently formed a government that incorporated most major religious and ethnic groups in the country." Jill Dougherty reports today, "After her stop in the United Arab Emirates, she will also visit Oman and Qatar. In each stop, she is expected to focus on social issues including child marriage and domestic violence, as well as on innovation and promoting business development."
Saturday Moqtada al-Sadr gave his big speech in Najaf. Michael Jansen (Irish Times) reports he declared, "Repeat after Me: No, no, to the occupier. Let's have all the world hear that the Iraqi people reject the occupier." Apparently the crowd had their own chant of choice because instead of repeating "No, no, to the occupier," they went with "Down, down America!" He went on to note that only his Promised Day Brigade was "permitted to conduct operations and only against US forces." Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) quotes him stating, "We are still resisting the occupation militarily, culturally and by any other means necessary." Those late to Moqtada al-Sadr can refer to this Frontline (PBS) video report (and laugh at the hair of one paper's correspondent). Roy Gutman and Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) stated that "Muqtqada al Sadr called on his followers Saturday to abandon the use of violence" -- but he did no such thing. He called on Iraqis not to attack one another but to instead focus their anger and violence on Americans. In his report of the speech, Jim Muir (BBC News -- video) observed that "he said the resistance goes on by whatever means and so on." (For a text report by Muir, click here.) Here's Aaron C. Davis (Washington Post) reports, "His followers, he said, must continue to focus on fiercely resisting the United States, but perhaps also targeting their own government if it cannot restore services or security and hold to a timeline for a full U.S. military withdrawal by the end of 2011." Ned Parker, Saad Fakhrildeen and Raheem Salman (Los Angeles Times) quote him stating, "Resistance, yes, resistance, but not everyone will carry weapons. Only those qualified will carry weapons." Anthony Shadid (New York Times) offered, "In his 28-minute address, delivered in a warren of streets near his home in this sacred city, Mr. Sadr sought to have it both ways, calling for the expulsion of American troops but allowing time for a withdrawal, and offering support for a new government but conditional on its effectiveness." Jason Ditz (Antiwar.com) noted that the speech's end may not have been its intended ending, "It appears however that the crowd was a bit too much to handle for the cleric, and as the cheers and chanting grew more and more raucous, the cleric made a final call for the release of Mahdi Army detainees from Iraqi prison and abruptly left. Some reports suggest that was not designed to be the end of the speech but that the cleric decided to end early to avoid riling up the crowd even more." While AP reported the US Embassy in Baghdad stated the speech was "nothing new."
Those who feel the US Embassy down played the speech should grasp that the press hasn't done a lot of exploring. "Moqtada said . . ." and "Moqtada wore . . ." do not benefit readers. What's his strength, what's his weakness? Moqtada al-Sadr has people in his movement, in leadership, who have been leading and aren't thrilled he's now present in the flesh. His movement includes people who do not agree with renouncing violence against other Iraqis. His movement includes people who feel that their families were targeted and Moqtada al-Sadr did nothing about it. (Or did nothing about it until he was ready to return to Iraq.) There are some who have lived with the ideal of Moqtada as opposed to the reality they'll now be present with. The strongest rallying point for him in the last five years was in 2008 when he decried the assault on Basra and Sadr City. Equally true, any manager or leader used to issuing orders from afar has to readjust once he's no longer at a distance from those he or she supervises.
Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) focuses on the people and finds a number of Shi'ites aren't thrilled with al-Sadr's return. We'll note this section of the article:

For Abu Muhanned, 47, a resident of Maysan province, it was as if the clock had been set back to 2006, when Sadr's militia controlled neighborhoods and even some cities, with residents living at the mercy of pro-Sadr street commanders.
Already, Abu Muhanned, who did not give his full name out of fear of the fundamentalist religious movement, says he has seen Sadr's supporters again exert their will in Maysan's capital, Amarah. Now as part of the deal that brought Maliki, a Shiite, back for a second term, the prime minister has handed the province's governorship back to the Sadr movement.
"We feel that Maliki sold us out by appointing a governor from them," Abu Muhanned says, remembering how Maliki ordered troops to fight the group less than three years ago.

And, equally true, though the Najaf appearance Wednesday was an attempt to soothe relations, he and al-Sistani are still not close and, especially with al-Sistani's advanced age, there are a number who might feel they were next in line when al-Sistani passes and look to the non-Ayatollah al-Sadr as someone dashing back into the country to usurp what should be the natural chain of order among the religious clerics.

Jane Arraf quotes the Center for a New American Security John Nagl stating, "The conflict has moved far enough along the spectrum from fighting to politics that Sadr not only feels safe to return but recognizes that if doesn't do so soon, he'll lose control of his political wing." That could be true (and I agree with that take), it could be false. It's an opinion and it's a valid one. Saying "The sun is blue" is an opinion but it is not a valid one based on what we know and see with the sun. Joost Hiltermann argues, "He [al-Sadr] has offered his support of the government for now, guardedly, unconditionally, and I think it's in fact a very good check on Maliki." That's an opinion as well. It's not a very valid one.
Last night, we wrote: "He's reporting on al-Sadr's threats to leave Maliki's government should the US stay beyond 2011. Guess what, Chulov, al-Sadr left Maliki's government in 2007 for just that reason. It didn't topple then either. We'll address that and Rebecca Santana's conclusions for AP and Gulf News' opinions in a snapshot this week (hopefully tomorrow)." He was Martin Chulov. Moqtada al-Sadr has no power now in terms of the government, not if you judge by the past experience. He pulled out of the government in April 2007, remember?
In Iraq today the six cabinets filled by Moqtada al-Sadr's block are now vacant. Tina Susman (Los Angeles Times) explains: "A key Shiite Muslim bloc in Iraq's governmental pledged Sunday to quit over Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's refusal to set a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops, a move that would further weaken the country's leadership at a time of soaring sectarian violence." Edward Wong and Graham Bowley (New York Times) listed "protest at the refusal of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki to set a timetable for American troops to withdraw from Iraq." (No link. Currently the New York Times has 'withdrawn' the story. You can find it quoted here.) AFP quotes a statement issued by the puppet of the occupation: "Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki welcomed the announcement of his eminence Muqtada al-Sadr." The puppet was the only putting up a brave front, the Turkish Press quotes White House flack Dana Perino who steps away from her stand up schtick on the beleaguered US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales long enough to declare, "Doalitions in those types of parliamenty demoncracies can come and go." That funny Perino! "Democracies"! She cracks herself up. Amy Goodman (Democracy Now!) noted: "The Sadr movement controls six cabinet posts and a quarter of seats in Iraq's parliament. The pullout follows one of Iraq's bloodiest weekends in months. McClatchy newspapers is reporting nearly 300 people were killed in violenace around Iraq Saturday." [CBS and AP's count on Sunday for the Karbala bombing Saturday was 47.] Jim Muir (BBC News) offers analysis, "Nobody expects Mr Sadr's move to bring the government down. Nor did observers believe that was his intention. Rather than leave the cabinet seats empty, he himself suggested that the six abandoned portfolios be given to non-partisan independents, and some of his aides urged that competent technocrats be appointed. . . . The Sadr bloc has 32 of the 275 seats in the current parliament, and intends to continue its activities there and in the Shia coalition, despite withdrawing from government. Another member of the Shia coalition, the Fadhila party, announced early last month that it was pulling out of that alliance because of the government's poor performance and sectarian quota composition. But only if other major factions such as the main Sunni bloc and Iyad Allawi's secular Iraqi List were also to walk out of the government, would it be at risk of collapse." Ross Colvin and Yara Bayoumy (Reuters) note "concerns about whether Sadr's Mehdi Army, which Washington calls the biggest threat to Iraq's security, will maintain the low profile it has so far duing a U.S.-backed security crackdown in Baghdad."
Kawther Abdul-Ameer and Mussab al-Khairall (Reuters) reported April 17, 2007 on his withdrawal of support (the ministers from his bloc left Nouri's Cabinet) and how Nouri al-Maliki told the reporters, "The withdrawal (of the Sadrist bloc) does not mean the government is witnessing weakness." Nor did it mean the government collapsed. Iraq's Constitution is not being followed by Nouri. Did no one grasp that at all during his first term?
The only power anyone had to stop Nouri was to stop him from forming a government. He's done it. He's now going to ride through the second term. If ministers walk, so what? It's not led to a vote of confidence by Parliament and it most likely won't. Nouri never had a full Cabinet. And he still doesn't, he's starting off his second term without a full Cabinet. Rebecca Santana notes that, "Many Iraqis and U.S. officials are believed to want an American presence beyond the end of 2011, as currently planned under a U.S.-Iraqi agreement, to do such things as control Iraq's airspace and monitor the borders. But al-Sadr's remarks made clear it will be difficult for al-Maliki to renegotiate that deal." Moqtada's remarks suggest no such thing. Moqtada's ministers left (in 2007) because? The continued US presence was the reason give publicly. They walked and the government continued. If that's how Nouri behaved in his first term, why would anyone expect he would accept new impositions in his second term? How do you logically infer that?
I don't see how you do. Gulf News insists, "But Al Maliki's confidence comes from a very fragile base, and the political unity achieved so painfully around the new government could easily fall apart." How? Do we mean military coup? That's a possibility.
But if we're talking about the government falling apart because X walks out -- however many units you apply to X -- that doesn't seem likely because it's not what happened before or what's already happened. During the many months without any government -- when the UN should have imposed a temporary government -- the Minister of Electricity resigned. Nouri just made the Minister of Oil also the Minister of Electricity. There is no Constitutional power that allows him to do that. There is no "circumvent Parliament one time only" card that exists. Currently, there are 13 empty spots -- 3 of which Nouri has appointed himself (temporarily, he insists). And for those saying, "Well Moqtada has a lot of seats in this Cabinet!" He has says 7 seats in this Cabinet. And before some fool cries, "Well, see, it's one more than last time!" Uh, not really. They had 6 when there were 32 Cabinet positions (plus the Prime Minister). Now they have 7 when there are 45 Cabinet positions (plus the Prime Minister). Now that's just dealing with the 2007 walk out. That was far from the only walk out of Nouri's Cabinet. There was, for example, the great Sunni walk out of 2008. It doesn't matter who walked out, it never crippled Nouri or even made him pause.
So you can have the opinion that Moqtada al-Sadr or even Ayad Allawi hold power in the executive branch of the government today but, based on pattern, that's not a sound opinion. You may say, "In spite of pattern, I think this go round if A happens then B and C band together and . . ." But the pattern's already established and until you acknowledge the pattern, if your opinion goes against it and you can't explain why that is, your opinion's not a sound one.
At any time during the walk outs of Nouri's first term, Parliament could have toppled the government with a vote of no-confidence. They didn't. That was due to the fact that Nouri was able to offer 'rewards' to those who were loyal and he didn't have to offer rewards to many because so few MPs were ever present for votes. Now you can say, "Things will be different now, Parliament will be prepared to do a no-confidence vote." And maybe they will and maybe they won't but if you're not acknowledging that Parliament refused to do so before then your opinion's not sound.
Nouri's not a new face. How he's going to govern is no great mystery. He's just started his second term. Ayad Allawi's supporters will hate this but when Allawi (or rather Iraqiya) agreed to go forward without the security council being established, that was a huge mistake. (Allawi did protest that. He himself did not go along with that.) Once Nouri got the vote and moved from prime minister-designate to Prime Minister, he didn't need them anymore. That's why he could launch an assault on al-Sadr's supporters -- jump the gun on the US an launch an assault, as Gen David Petreaus testified to Congress repeatedly in April of 2008 -- without fears of reprisal.
There will be unexpected and surprises but the pattern's established and those sure that a pear tree is going to bear apples this year can hope all they want but, based on what we know from past experience, that's just not going to happen. Equally true, human development is A to B, A to C or A to D for most people. Few of us ever experience an A to Z change. In other words, Nouri today is basically the same Nouri he was from 2006 through 2010.

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"They tricked him"

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