Thursday, December 22, 2011

Look at the little girl with her dog




Nouri al-Malik held a press conference today. Aswat al-Iraq reports, "Iraqi Premier Nouri al-Maliki said that 700 US trianers will work to train Iraqi forces, adding that the number of US embassy in Baghdad will not exceed 2000." Meanwhile Dar Addustour reports that Nouri's also agreed to allow US troops ('trainers') in the Kurdistan Regional Government. Li Hongmei (Xinhua) offered an analysis yesterday which included " Iraq, however, remains dependent on Washington, as it has no frontier force, navy or airforce. Neither police nor army, now 800,000 strong, can ensure security or provide protection from external attack or meddling. Meanwhile, there are Iraqi people who are, on the one hand, celebrating the U.S. pull-out, and on the other, believe the U.S. exit is not a withdrawal, but an act on a stage, in that the U.S. military presence and clout would never recede with the withdrawal of its troops."
In other news, Arwa Damon and Wolf Blitzer (CNN) report that, yes, indeed, CIA Director David Petraeus was just in Iraq. While there he spoke to not only Nouri al-Maliki (prime minister and thugh) but also to Iraqiya members Osama al-Nujaifi (Speaker of Parliament) and Rafie al-Issawi (Minister of Finance). For the Tehran Times, Nosratollah Tajik offers an exploration of whether or not the US is really leaving Iraq:
At a meeting with Obama at the White House on December 12, al-Maliki was assured a second batch of 18 sophisticated F-16 fighter planes to help rebuild the country's dilapidated air force, whose helicopters and missiles the U.S. destroyed during the war which began in March 2003. The Iraqis have already indicated that their military needs will include a total of 96 F-16 fighter jets in four separate orders. He told the Obama administration that his country will depend on the U.S. not only for new weapons systems but also for training under the U.S. International Military Education and Training (IMET) Program.
There's going to be something called the Office of Security Cooperation in Iraq after the pullout of troops. It's going to be under the auspices of the U.S. embassy, so there's not going to be a military command in Iraq. It's going to be a pretty small, 150-person office that will do training -- things like helping the Iraqi air force how to operate the F-16s that the U.S. will sell them. That's a pretty typical relationship for countries who have bought American military hardware. So, now it is clear why the U.S. plans to have the largest embassy in the world in Iraq. 18,000 people are going to work for the embassy and very few of those will be diplomats. Others will be American civil service workers and mercenaries of private security contractors: around 3,500 to 5,500.
I'm going to disagree with him on the issue of the Office of Security Cooperation in Iraq.

Senator Kay Hagan: Well with the drawdown taking place in less than two months, what is your outlook for the ability to continue this training process to enable them to continue to do this on their own?

General Martin Dempsey: Well they will be limited. They don't have the airlift to deliver them to the target that we might have been able to provide. They don't have the ISR target to keep persistent surveillance over the top of the target. So they'll be limited to ground movement and they'll be limited to human intelligence and we'll keep -- But part of the Office of Security Cooperation provides the trainers to keep the training to develop those other areas, but we're some time off in reaching that point.

Senator Kay Hagan: We'll, as we continue this drawdown of our military personnel from Iraq, I really remain concerned about their force protection -- the individuals that will be remaining in Iraq. So what are the remaining challenges for our military personnel in Iraq in terms of managing their vulnerabilities, managing their exposures during the drawdown?

General Martin Dempsey: Senator, are you talking about getting from 24,000, the existing force now and having it retrograde through Kuwait?

Senator Kay Hagan: The ones that will remain over there.

General Martin Dempsey: The ones that will remain --

Senator Kay Hagan: Their protection.

General Martin Dempsey: Yes, Senator. Well, they will have -- First and foremost, we've got ten Offices of Security Cooperation in Iraq bases. And their activities will largely be conducted on these bases because their activities are fundamentally oriented on delivering the foreign military sales. So F-16s get delivered, there's a team there to help new equipment training and-and helping Iraq understand how to use them to establish air sovereignty. Or there's a 141 M1 Tanks right now, generally located at a tank gunnery range in Besmaya, east of Baghdad and the team supporting that training stays on Besmaya so this isn't about us moving around the country very much at all. This is about our exposure being limited to 10 enduring, if you will, Offices of Security Cooperation base camps. And doing the job of educating and training and equipping on those ten bases. Host nation is always responsible for the outer parameter. We'll have contracted security on the inner parameter. And these young men and women will always have responsibility for their own self-defense.

Senator Kay Hagan: So we'll have contracted security on the inner-paramenter?

General Martin Dempsey: That's right.
That's from the November 15th Senate Armed Services Committee -- covered in the November 15th "Iraq snapshot," November 16th "Iraq snapshot," November 17th "Iraq snapshot," Ava's "Scott Brown questions Panetta and Dempsey (Ava)," Wally's "The costs (Wally)," Kat's "Who wanted what?" and Third's "Gen Dempsey talks '10 enduring' US bases in Iraq." General Martin Dempsey is the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. A military position. Generally speaking, the Congress doesn't ask people for testimony unless they're over something. So someone, for example, from Health and Human Services would never be asked about loans to small farmers. Dempsey was asked by a knowledgable senator (Hagan) about a program he should be over and one he spoke of as though he was over.

On to an anniversary . . .
It was 365 days ago today
Thug Nouri got his way
Today's vote in the Council of Representatives is a significant moment in Iraq's history and a major step forward in advancing national unity. I congratulate Iraq's political leaders, the members of the Council of Representatives, and the Iraqi people on the formation of a new government of national partnership.
Yet again, the Iraqi people and their elected representatives have demonstrated their commitment to working through a democratic process to resolve their differences and shape Iraq's future. Their decision to form an inclusive partnership government is a clear rejection of the efforts by extremists to spur sectarian division.
Iraq faces important challenges, but the Iraqi people can also seize a future of opportunity. The United States will continue to strengthen our long-term partnership with Iraq's people and leaders as they build a prosperous and peaceful nation that is fully integrated into the region and international community.
There was nothing there to praise. Not only had the process been corrupted -- by the US government -- but the results did not indicate a bright future for Iraq. First of all, not one of the cabinets had a female head. While the White House was preparing their statement, Shashank Bengali and Mohammed al-Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) were reporting not one of the ministers approved was a woman. Did that bother the White House, this step backward? Not a bit, not a bit. In 2006, Nouri had been able to name women. In 2006, there were 31 Cabinet ministers. In order to keep his promises (bribes) he had to expand the Cabinet to 42 in 2010 and yet women disappeared. Again, the White House was not worried. On that same day, Liz Sly and Aaron C. Davis (Washington Post) reported, "Maliki appointed himself acting minister of interior, defense and national security and said the three powerful positions would be filled with permanent appointees once suitable candidates have been agreed on." Did that bother the White House? Not a bit, not a bit.
And all this time later, there is still no Minister of Interior, Minister of Defense or Minister of National Security. Not because Parliament wouldn't approve the nominees but because Nouri al-Maliki never nominated anyone lending credence to those who charged in real time that thug Nouri was making a power grab.
In many, many ways, the White House violated the Iraqi Constitution and the will of the Iraqi people when they backed Nouri (2010) for a second term. (In 2006, the Bush administration backed Nouri and nixed the choice of the Parliament.) Trudy Rubin (Philadelphia Inquirer via San Jose Mercury News) points to the multitude of mistakes by the Bush and Barack administrations in her latest column but we'll zoom in on her commentary about 2010:
The White House followed a hands-off policy on Iraqi politics, allowing Maliki to slip back into sectarianism and the eager embrace of Iran's ayatollahs.
When Maliki cracked down on Sunni candidates before March 2010 elections, a visiting Vice President Joe Biden gave him a pass. When a Sunni coalition called Iraqiya edged out Maliki's party and he used Iraq's politicized courts to nullify some Sunni seats, U.S. officials didn't push back.
When Maliki failed to honor a power-sharing deal the United States had brokered between his party and Iraqiya, we failed to press him.
Last week, Iraq's former Deputy Ambassador to the UN Feisal Istrabadi, discussed Iraq with host Warren Oleny on KCRW's To the Point and Oleny asked what was the biggest mistake the Obama administration had made?

Ambassador Feisal Istrabadi The critical mistake the Obama administration made occurred last year when it threw its entire diplomatic weight behind supporting Nouri al-Maliki notwithstanding these very worrisome signs which were already in place in 2009 and 2010. The administration lobbied hard both internally in Iraq and throughout the region to have Nouri al-Maliki get a second term -- which he has done.
Istrabdi was a guest on The NewsHour (PBS) last night as the program devoted two segments to the political crisis in the country. In the first segment, Judy Woodruff went over the basics of what's been taking place since Friday. Judy Woodruff noted (link is text, audio and video), "An arrest warrant was issued for Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi on charges that he had run death squads during the sectarian bloodbath of 2006 and 2007. As proof, the purported confession of a man named Ahmed was broadcast. He said Hashemi spoke to him through an intermediary." The second segment on this story (again, text, audio and video) found Judy exploring the events with former Ambassador Feisal Istrabadi and Abbas Kadhim. Excerpt:

FEISAL ISTRABADI: Well, let me start with the proposition that what Iraq needs is a strong leader. With all respect to my very good friend, I think that what we need are rulers in Iraq who are dedicated to the principles of constitutional democracy. Their strength lies not in the elimination or in the harassment of political adversaries, but, on the contrary, in encouraging constitutional discourse. What has been happening in Iraq in the last 24 hours cannot be seen in isolation. For the past 12 months, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has refused to appoint a permanent minister of defense. That was supposed to be one of the portfolios that went to the Iraqiya coalition. They have nominated six people for that position. Each one of them has been rejected. He has appointed a member of his own coalition, the prime minister's own coalition, as acting minister of defense. He is acting as minister of the interior. And one of his cronies is acting minister of state for national security. He has cashiered career officers and appointed cronies to senior officer positions in the armed and security forces in Iraq. In other words, the prime minister has under his control as we speak all the instrumentalities of state security in Iraq. I'll remind your viewers that, in the early 1970s, this is precisely how Saddam Hussein came to power at the time. What we -- I think Iraqis, with our history, we have to be overly cautious when we see similar actions occur as have occurred in our relatively recent past. Strength in the new Iraq must be through constitutional democracy, and not through harassment and intimidation.
The story was ignored by the other three networks as noted this morning. Also see Rebecca's "smelly scott pelley and the sucky cbs evening news."

Jim Muir (BBC News) explains, "Iraq's most senior Sunni Arab politician, Tariq al-Hashemi, is effectively a fugitive. While he hides out under Kurdish protection in the north, the entire al-Iraqiyya political bloc to which he belongs has pulled out of both parliament and the cabinet." (Jim Muir offers a detailed analysis here.) Al Rafidayn reports that Nouri al-Maliki, prime minister and chief thug of Iraq, has held a press conference in Baghdad today insisting that Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi leave the KRG and come to Baghdad to stand trial for charges (brought by Nouri) of terrorism. Nouri says that Tareq al-Hashemi must not leave the country and that he should not fear a trial because Saddam Hussein was given a trial. It was fair, Nouri insists. Fair? That's in dispute. The outcome is not. Saddam Hussein was put to death. As noted in yesterday's snapshot, the sentence for the charges (Article IV terrorism) if found guilty are either life in prison or execution. As Anne Barker (AM, Australia's ABC, link is text and audio) explains, "The charges were made by Iraq's Interior ministry, which comes under the control of the Shiite prime minister and al Hashemi's long-time rival Nouri al-Maliki." The charges were made by the ministry -- not the minister because there is no Minister of Interior. Nouri refused to nominate someone to Parliament. So Nouri retains (illegal) control over the ministry.
Yesterday, the White House released the following statement:

The White House
Office of the Vice President

For Immediate Release December 20, 2011 Readout of Vice President Biden's Calls to Iraqi Leaders
The Vice President today spoke on the phone with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and separately with Iraqi Council of Representatives Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi to discuss the current political climate in Baghdad. The Vice President told both leaders that the United States is monitoring events in Iraq closely. He emphasized the United States' commitment to a long-term strategic partnership with Iraq, our support for an inclusive partnership government and the importance of acting in a manner consistent with the rule of law and Iraq's constitution. The Vice President also stressed the urgent need for the Prime Minister and the leaders of the other major blocs to meet and work through their differences together.

At the White House today, Nouri's attacks again resulted in questioning during the press briefing by White House spokesperson Jay Carney.
Q On Iraq, the Vice President made a couple of phone calls yesterday, and I guess I'm just wondering, is the President -- has the President or has Vice President Biden spoken with the Vice President of Iraq? What is -- what was the point of those calls? How does President Obama feel about the arrest and the charges against this Vice President? And what, if anything, at this point can the U.S. do about it? Are you considering pulling aid? If you're not -- if we're not --

MR. CARNEY: Well, Margaret, let me stop you there. First of all, I think we read out some of the calls that the Vice President made. Separately, this kind of political turmoil has been occurring in Iraq periodically, as they have taken steps forward and, occasionally, steps backward, but generally made progress towards political reconciliation, towards democracy, and away from the use of violence in pursuit of political ends. That has been progress, but it has often been hard won. That will continue. We certainly expect that there will be difficult days ahead in Iraq. But the progress has been substantial. What is utterly nonsensical is the suggestion that somehow we should have left troops in there, and that would have had any impact on the political disputes. Because maybe folks weren't paying attention, but political disputes have been happening while there were 40,000 troops, 80,000 troops, 150,000 troops. The key metric here is that those political disputes have increasingly been resolved through negotiation, not through violence, and elections were held, a government was established -- these are all signs of important progress -- all while violence declined significantly.
Jay Carney's head has apparently gotten as fat as his ass (keep stress eating, Jay, you look awful). This is not about US troops staying or going. This is about the White House backing Nouri al-Maliki for a second term. Take accountability for that. Yes, Senator John McCain is calling out the White House. And calling them out for taking out the bulk of US troops (not all troops). That's not the only criticism but focusing on that criticism does allow you to ignore the critical failure of the Barack Obama administration with regards to Iraq. And the elections were a joke and became that when the US government refused to respect the results of the elections -- that's under Barack Obama. Jay's a disgrace.

Jay Carney: We will continue to have a robust and important relationship with Iraq. We will continue to have frequent, I'm sure, discussions with Iraqi leaders. And we will continue to weigh in and encourage Iraqi leaders to make smart decisions as they continue to move forward with the development of their democracy. I wanted to -- as long as we're on foreign policy, I just want to be clear on a question that Kristen had about Afghanistan. I just want to say, on 2014, the President will make his decisions on the size and shape of our post-September 2012 presence, after the reduction of the surge forces, at the appropriate time in consultation with our Afghan and NATO partners. Any post-2014 presence would of course be at the invitation of the Afghan government, and would ensure that we will be able to target terrorists and support a sovereign Afghan government so that our enemies cannot outlast us. I just want to be clear about that. But the framework that I discussed at the top was laid out at Lisbon. I think I owe you -- yes, Lesley.

Q Can I ask a quick question, following on Margaret's question? Do you have any reaction to the Prime Minister's sort of suggestions today that he wants to shed some of the members of the coalition government that he might not sort of get along with?

MR. CARNEY: Look, we have -- I would refer you -- I don't have it in front of me -- to -- we did a readout of the Vice President's calls, yes -- to that statement. And we have worked, the Vice President has and other members of the President's team have, with Iraq on the political process. It is very important, and has been, and will continue to be, that Iraqi leaders pursue a representative government so that everyone's interests are properly represented. And beyond that, I would just refer you to the statement we put out.

Q He also said that the U.S. has asked him to free some of the Hashimi guards that he had jailed.

MR. CARNEY: Who did?

Q He said that the U.S. government had asked him to free some --

MR. CARNEY: Maliki did? I don't -- I just don't have anything more on that for you today.
Looking at the war, George S. Hishmeh (Gulf News) notes a number of details and we'll include this regarding Anthony Cordesman's analysis:
Cordesman believes that the US has mistakenly "tied itself to exiles whose claims and ambitions were not in line with the hopes and needs of the Iraqi people, and were often linked to Iran".
He also points out that the Obama administration has not provided "any picture of the strategy it now intends to adopt in the Gulf region as a whole, or how it will deal with any aspect of the threat posed by Iran".

HDS Greenway (GlobalPost) argues the current events can be seen through the prism of the war itself, "What the invasion of Iraq did do was unleash all the pent-up rivalries that had been suppressed, Sunni versus Shia, and Kurds against the rest. And despite almost a decade of occupation, none of these issues have been resolved. Sunnis still long for their lost ascendency. Shiites want to consolidate their new-found power, and the Kurds still want to be masters of their own region without interference from Baghdad. The current accusations against Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi are a case in point. Either he did organize death squads, as charged, or the case against him is trumped up to intimidate Sunnis. Either way Iraq's fragile power-sharing arrangements suffer."

Iran's Fars News Agency notes, "Commander of Baghdad Police Operations Brigadier General Qassem Ata called on the security officials of the Iraqi Kurdistan region to extradite the country's Vice-President, Tariq al-Hashimi, to Baghdad to be tried for accusations of masterminding the recent bomb attacks on a number of parliamentarians." Aswat al-Iraq adds, "Kurdish Alliance MP [Shwan Mohammed] described the charge against Vice-President Tariq al-Hashimi as 'political, not criminal'."

Al Mada notes that the Parliament is calling for a meeting with Nouri's Cabinet. In addition to going after Tareq al-Hashemi, Nouri is also targeting Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq. Both al-Hashemi and al-Mutlaq are Sunnis and members of the Iraqiya political slate. The Telegraph of London notes, "Legislators are also due to consider a call from Maliki to sack Sunni Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlak, who has decried the Shiite-led national unity government as a 'dictatorship'." Al Mada reports that Parliament decided Monday that they would not consider Nouri's motion to dismiss al-Mutlaq until after the next year. Al Mada quotes Iraqiya head Ayad Allawi pointing out the al-Mutlaq's position was part of the power sharing agreement and that attempts to remove him besmirch the agreement. Dar Addustour reports there is now a move to request that confidence be withdrawn from Nouri.

Like Marcia, we'll note Roy Gutman, Lesley Clark, Sahar Issa and Laith Hammoudi's McClatchy Newspapers report the latest on the Iraq crisis that finds Nouri targeting political enemies:

However, U.S. officials were aware of at least one previous attempt by Iraqi security forces to coerce confessions that implicated Hashimi, a longtime Maliki critic. A November 2006 diplomatic cable obtained by WikiLeaks reported a meeting between U.S. officials in Iraq and a former Iraqi prisoner named Ahmed Mohammed Sami, who said he'd been tortured with electric shocks and other methods while in Iraqi army custody in Diyala province.
"In total he counted seven times that he lost consciousness during episodes of torture in which he was told to agree to statements implicating Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi ... and Deputy Governor of Diyala Auwf Rahoumi al-Rabai ... in terrorist activities," the cable reports. The cable didn't specify U.S. officials' reaction to the comments.

If the White House -- under either administration -- had given a damn about Iraqis, they wouldn't have backed Nouri for a second term. Especially after knowing he was repeatedly torturing and running secret prisons. The article also notes that Nouri elected to air the 'confessions' on Iraqiya TV -- that's not related to the Iraqiya political slate -- it's Nouri's own personal channel, as it demonstrated in the 2010 parliamentary campaigns. From Deborah Amos' "Confusion, Contradiction and Irony: The Iraqi Media in 2010," Harvard's Joan Shorenstein Center:
[Immediately after the March 2010 elections] Prime Minister Maliki charged widespread fraud and demanded a recount to prevent "a return to violence." He pointedly noted that he remained the commander in chief of the armed force.
Was Maliki threatening violence? Was he using the platrform of state-run media to suggest that his Shiite-dominated government would not relinquish power to a Sunni coalition despite the election results? His meaning was ambiguous, but his choice of media was widely understood to be part of the message. Iraq's state-run news channel, Iraqiya, is seen as a megaphone for Shiite power in Iraq, which is why Maliki's assertion of his right to retain power raised international concerns.

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