Saturday, July 16, 2011

The dancing queen






ABC News Radio reports, "An American service member was killed Friday in Iraq, bringing the number of those who have been killed or have died in that country to four for the month of July." This makes for 19 US service members killed in the Iraq War in six weeks, 15 last month, 4 so far this month.
As they continue dying, the governments of Iraq and the US continue to explore keeping the US military in Iraq for many years to come. Alsumaria TV reports, "In a statement to Al Iraqiya, Al Maliki noted that Iraq needs to keep a number of US trainers to train Iraqi Forces on newly purchased air, land and naval weapons. The extension of US Forces term in Iraq necessitates a new agreement that should be voted upon by two thirds of Parliament lawmakers, Al Maliki said noting that this is difficult to be attained." Nayla Razzouk (Bloomberg News) notes:

"Iraq needs the Americans for training on the sea, air and ground and sea weapons," he said in an interview with state- sponsored Iraqiya television. "This does not need the approval of parliament," he said.

Nouri is correct, he does not need the approval of Parliament -- we pointed that out in yesterday's snapshot. In part, he doesn't need it because he's made it precedent that he doesn't need it (by renewing the UN mandate at the end of 2006 without the approval of Parliament -- UN mandate that covered the occupation of Iraq -- and again at the end of 2007). Even if he was legally required to have their approval, Nouri's never concerned himself much with legality which is another reason the Iraqi peoples' voice in the 2010 elections should have been honored (which would have meant that loser Nouri not continue as prime minister). UPI reports that Dawa doesn't want US forces to remain in Iraq and they make a point to note that Dawa is Nouri's political party. It is. And it takes its orders from Nouri. Earlier this year, Dawa was full of talk of how they just might expell Nouri. They had every reason to. And yet they didn't. They have no power and they know it. They bask in the refracted light of whatever power Nouri manages to steal. Dawa just knew that Parliamentary elections would mean their true ascension. But Nouri didn't utilize them. Instead he put together a political slate (State of Law). Everytime Dawa could have stood, they chose to crawl or roll over and expose their belly in submission. To pretend that what a weak political party wants has any bearing on this issue is insane.
Dawa sent Haider al-Abadi out to make a statement. He's the political party's statement. Have we forgotten that Nouri has his own spokesperson? Or that he's designated who can and cannot speak for the government? Hint, Haider al-Abadi didn't make the list. The thing about taking a thug and grooming him into a tyrant is that you feed the ego over and over and there's no sense of connection or debt owed. Dawa waited too late to step forward and all they are now is angry child having a tantrum in a store.
Iraq was oh so briefly spoken of on the second hour of The Diane Rehm Show (NPR) today and only because US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta had visited. By the way, when Diane can't remember on air (as she couldn't at the start of the hour) the outlet that her frequent guest Nadia Biblassy is with, it's really time for someone to step in and say, "Diane, go out before it gets really embarrassing." That little mini-struggle for recall of a basic fact and one that had been reviewed immediately prior to going on air? It's a sign of things to come.
Diane Rehm: All right. Let's talk about the visit of our new Secretary of Defense, Leon, pardon me, Panetta to Iraq. Tell us about it, Nadia.

Nadia Bilbassy: Well, basically this is the first visit. He's going there to nudge the Iraqi government to come up with a yes or no answer as whether they wanted the U.S. forces to stay in Iraq. As you know, this agreement that signed by President Bush and Prime Minister Maliki will expire in December 31st. And it's called the status of forces agreement, known as SOFA. So basically, he's saying, in a very blunt language, like, you have to tell us. Damn it, as he said. He used very colorful language, in complete opposite of the soft spoken former secretary of defense Robert Gates. And they understand the complexity of the situation. The Iraqi government, lead by Maliki has a coalition, shaky coalition, of the Dawa party, of the Sadrist groups, of the Kurdish nationalists. So it's a group together that they have to decide whether they want to keep U.S. forces or not. Now, on the street, I think, the concept is very unpopular. They, basically, were reinforced what they believed, that the invasion of Iraq was to get hold of Iraq's vast oil revenues and to establish a military base in the heart of the Middle East in Iraq. I will -- my guess will be that they will come up with some kind of agreement by the end of the year. But probably, regardless of how many troops will be left, whether it's 10,000 or 15,000, they still need to protect one of the biggest embassy -- U.S. Embassy's in the world, which is in Baghdad. It has 5,000 personnel, intelligence, civil servants, et cetera. So they will have some kind of forces, but also it's a message to Iran that we're not going to abandon the country. It's not going to be your playing field, it's actually -- the U.S. was going to be -- have some kind of presence in Iran.

Diane Rehm: Nadia Bilbassy of Middle East Broadcast Center. Short break, we'll be right back.
And that's all Diane could manage on Iraq. Which is why fewer and fewer military families bother to listen to her show anymore. And, no, she didn't think to note that a US soldier had died today in Iraq. On the subject of Panetta, Al Mada reports rebel rouser Moqtada al-Sadr, has issued another statement, this one directed to US Secretary of Defense and declaring that "we" will turn Iraq into a graveyard for the US. "We"? Moqtada's going to be handling drone attacks from Iran? "We"? It's exactly his inability to stand up and do as he instructs that's eroded so much confidence in Moqtada among his one-time followers.

In 2008, Moqtada's stock was almost this low. Bush, Robert Gates and Condi Rice made a huge mistake in egging on Nouri (who didn't need all that much egging) to go after Sadr's militias. This allowed Moqtada to issue statements --as he always does -- but for the statements to have more meaning than they usually did. Suddenly, in the face of an attack by US and Iraqi forces, his rantings seemed heroic and his stature rose. If the US government wants to fight Moqtada for all eternity, they'll do something stupid like the Bush administration did. If they want to neutralize him, they'll treat him with derision and indifference. If they were really smart, they'd expose a few of the sweetheart deals Moqtada received under the previous admistration (Bush administration). His stock is lower than it's ever been and his credibility can be further undermined. But if they insist upon launching or encouraging Nouri to launch a wave of attacks against his militias, they will allow Moqtada to again become 'voice of the beseiged.'
Besieged describes the Iraqi people. James Denselow (New Statesman) observes:

Yet the shockwaves of the revolutions are being felt in Iraq. Last week, CNN reported Iraqi forces beating and detaining at least seven protestors as hundreds of angry demonstrators gathered on Friday in central Baghdad. Since early February, tens of thousands of protesters have participated in demonstrations every Friday across Iraq. Maliki, like his embattled western neighbour Assad, has approached the demonstrations with his own variety of carrots and sticks. He cut his $350,000 salary in half, plans to reduce the government to 25 ministerial positions by merging the ministries that perform overlapping functions, and has sought to make a constitutional change to ensure a two-term limit to the office of prime minister. What is more, following the initial protests, the Iraqi government announced that they would be cancelling the planned purchase of 18 US-made F-16 fighter planes, instead allocating the money to improving food rationing for the poor.

The sticks meanwhile include standard acts of violence, as well as drafting legislation that Human Rights Watch believes criminalises free speech and Iraqis' right to demonstrate. The authorities have tried to bar street protests and confine them (unsuccessfully) to football stadiums. Meanwhile, several incidents of the security forces attacking and killing protestors have been reported, including a bloody encounter on the 25th of February where 12 people were killed and over 100 injured.

The US appears largely unconcerned by the spread of protests to Iraq, with its focus on ensuring its strategic posture in the country. This cedes space in the battle for legitimacy being waged, mostly through proxy, by the Iranians. The actions of Muqtada al-Sadr in the face of an extension of the US presence will be particularly scrutinised. His group controls 39 seats in the gridlocked 325-member parliament. Last April, Sadr issued a statement promising that "if the Americans don't leave Iraq on time, we will increase the resistance and restart the activities of the Mahdi Army". However it is hard to evaluate the cohesiveness of the once-feared Mahdi Army. The Asaib al-Haq and Promised Day Brigade splinter groups are evidence of Sadr's difficulty in maintaining political control. Indeed, in recent weeks, he appears to have backtracked somewhat from bombastic threats against the US, although what exactly he will do remains an unknown.

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