Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Survey says . . .





How bad are things in Iraq right now? Reidar Visser (Iraq and Gulf Analysis) notes a rumor, "The reported appearance of CIA director David Patraeus at a meeting of Iraqiyya yesterday seems somewhat extraordinary. If true, it could be indicative of how Washington sees the situation in Iraq after the withdrawal. Critics will claim that after two years dominated by Joe Biden diplomacy, it is perhaps somewhat late in the day to begin sending competent special envoys to Iraq." The rumor may have truth to it, it may be completely false. But its very existence, it merely being uttered goes to just how out of control things are in Iraq.
But the news is ignored repeatedly by broadcast media. For example, last night the CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley led with a 'news' story. Pelley informed as the theme music faded, "The Secretary of Defense says tonight that the United States will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon." This is your lead? That Leon Panetta -- that any US Secretary of Defense -- states that? Where have you been for the last ten years? This is US policy. You can explore whether it's wise or stupid, fair or hypocritcal. But treating it as news? That's really a joke. Why would any US network newscast lead with five-day old, moldy mashed potatoes as their main dish? Oh, Pelley quickly explained that Panetta made these remarks "in an interview for 60 Minutes." So it wasn't the lead story because it was news, it was the lead story because it was advertising for CBS' Sunday night program. The NewsHour had no mention of Iraq. But they did do several segments to tell the country that Kim Jong-Il was dead, that Kim Jong-Il was still dead and that Kim Jong-Il was dead. PBS will offer more details on Kim Jong-Il's death as they develop. However, sources do say, today, that Kim Jong-Il remains dead. World News with Diane Sawyer also jumped on the Kim Jong-Il is dead train. And a 'hard hitting' look at citrus juices. NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams offered a mix of what everyone else did because better they should all be wrong together, right?
While they ignored what's taking place in Iraq, Al Rafidayn noted Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani is warning about the potential collapse of the Iraqi government as a result of Nouri's latest power grab. Barzani is calling for a national conference. Dar Addustour quotes Barzani stating that what took place Sunday at Baghdad International Airport-- pulling Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq and Finance Minister Rafie al-Issawi off a flight and detaining them for several hours -- must not happen again. All three pulled from the plane belong to Iraqiya. Barzani insists that while security is everyone's concern, detentions must be authorized by the judiciary.

The little Nouri who cried Ba'athists. And cried terrorists. Going to the well on that once too often and among the reasons he's so hard to believe today. Jomana Karadsheh and Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) remind, "Since October, Iraqi security forces have rounded up hundreds of people accused of being members of Saddam Hussein's outlawed Baath Party or terrorists. Iraqiya says the majority of those people are members of its political bloc and that the prime minister is simply taking out his opponents."
Which brings us to today. Though it didn't make last night's newscasts, the issue was raised at the White House today in the press briefing.
Jake Tapper (ABC News): On Iraq, the political crisis there seems to be escalating. Aside from monitoring the situation, is the administration doing anything? Has Vice President Biden been asked to step in and perhaps oversee this -- or intervene?
Jay Carney: You're referring to?
Jake Tapper: The -- al-Hashimi, the arrest warrant.
Jay Carney: As I discussed yesterday, we're obviously concerned about this and we have -- we are always in conversations with Iraqi leaders. We closely monitor the reports. And we urge the Iraqi authorities charged with this responsibility to conduct their investigations into alleged terrorist activities in accordance with international legal norms and full respect for Iraqi law. As I said, we are talking to all parties to express our concern regarding these developments. We continue to urge all sides to work to resolve differences peacefully, through dialogue and in a manner that is consistent with the international standards of rule of law, transparency and the democratic political process. Ambassador James Jeffrey, as well as other U.S. -- senior U.S. officials, have been in frequent contact with Iraqi leaders on this matter and will continue to do so.
Jake Tapper: Is Vice President Biden one of those officials?
Jay Carney: I don't have any conversations involving the Vice President to report out to you. You correctly identify the fact that the Vice President is very engaged in Iraq as a rule, but I don't have any specific conversations of his to report out.

Zhang Ning and Wang Hongbin (Xinhua) observe, "Tension among Iraq's major political blocs has been rising, as the country's highest judiciary body issued an arrest warrant for Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi on terror charges Monday." Tony Karon (Time) explains it began with Iraqiya announcing they were withdrawing from Parliament over Nouri's inability to follow previously agreed to terms (such as the Erbil Agreement):

Maliki's response came a day later with a furious attack on the country's two most senior Sunni politicians. First, he urged parliament to pass a vote of no confidence in Deputy Prime Minister Salih al-Mutlaq, who in a TV interview earlier this month had accused Maliki of creating a new dictatorship. More ominously, perhaps, Maliki on Monday ordered the arrest of Iraq's Sunni vice president, Tariq al-Hashimi. The warrant concerns an investigation into a bombing plot uncovered inside Baghdad's heavily protected Green Zone, in which three members of al-Hashimi's security detail have been under investigation. Maliki has claimed to have been the target of this alleged bomb plot. Critics said the judicial panel that issued the arrest order is under the Prime Minister's sway, and having kept the positions of Defense Minister and Interior Minister for himself, he has ensured that all of the country's security forces answer directly to him.

Nouri aired 'confessions' from al-Hashemi's bodyguards. Like Marcia, we'll note Roy Gutman and Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reporting on the 'confessions':

In more than half an hour of grainy black-and-white video recordings, three men described as al-Hashimi's bodyguards detailed bomb attacks they carried out going back to 2009 that were directed against government security forces. The weapons used were bombs and pistols with silencers.
The men spoke in monotones, and it was impossible to determine if their statements were of their own free will, as claimed by al-Maliki aides, or coerced. It appeared that a small selection of their interrogations was presented, evidently edited to provide maximum support for the government position that al-Hashimi headed the chain of command of what amounted to assassination squads.

Human rights organizations have long documented the use of torture to garner 'confessions' in Iraq. We'll note this from Human Rights Watch's [PDF format warning] "The Quality of Justice: Failings of Iraq's Central Criminal Court:"

The reliance on confessions in the CCCI cases raises serious concerns about the fairness of those proceedings. Torture and other forms of abuse in Iraqi detention facilities, frequently to elicit confessions in early stages of detention, are well-documented. The reliance on confessions in the court's proceedings, coupled with the absence of physical or other corroborating evidence, raises the possibility of serious miscarriages of justice.

Aswat al-Iraq notes that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has declared he was not consulted about the arrest warrant. The Irish Examiner notes that al-Hashemi is currently in the KRG. Al Mada explains the warrant prevents him from leaving the country. The Herald Sun carries a wire story noting that al-Hashemi is stating that the case needs to be transferred to the Kurdistan Regional Government. Al Rafidayn provides a walk-through on the law including the the charges fall under Article IV and that a conviction could result in either life imprisonment or the death penalty. Reuters quotes Ayad Allawi (leader of Iraqiya) stating, "We fear the return of dictatorship by this authoritarian way of governing. It's the latest in a build-up of atrocities, arrests and intimidation that has been going on a wide scale." And Reuters quotes Allawi stating "It reminds me personally of what Saddam Hussein used to do, where he would accuse his political opponents of being terrorists and conspirators," Meanwhile Nouri's flunkies, Dar Addustour notes, are claiming he is the target of a death threat and that a team of assassins have been trained on foreign soil to kill him.
The arrest warrants were raised at the US State Dept in the press briefing spokesperson Victoria Nuland gave.

QUESTION: Iraq. I have one. I just -- I was wondering if you had anything further on the communications between the U.S. Government and the Iraqi Government on those arrest warrants. Ambassador Jeffrey, as you said, has been in touch with all parties. Did he return to Iraq because of this issue? I know he was in town for the Maliki visit. Was that -- was his return in part because of this sectarian threat posed by these warrants?
MS. NULAND: Well, he's been doing laps back and forth. He was here for the Maliki visit, he was back, he was here for another ceremony in the U.S., now he's back. And as I said, we are eager to have him there because he has been talking to all of the interlocutors and encouraging them to work together, to work together within the constitution, within international standards of rule of law, and try to work through these issues. So he continues to be--
QUESTION: Is there -- Is there anything more you can tell us specifically on what that advice entails? I mean, what specifically is the U.S. hoping or urging the Iraqis to do to prevent another outbreak of sectarian violence pegged to this case?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think I went through the sort of whole menu of things that we're advising yesterday, but just to go through it again if that's helpful --
MS. NULAND: With regard to the arrest warrant for Vice President al-Hashimi, we are urging the Iraqi authorities charged with the responsibility for these investigations to conduct these investigations into alleged terrorist activities in accordance with international legal norms and full respect for Iraqi law. More broadly, we're urging all political parties and activists to try to resolve their political differences peacefully, through dialogue, within the constitutional norms set forth within Iraq, and to really demonstrate their commitment to a unitary, sovereign Iraq that abides by its own constitution.
QUESTION: And looking at the -- looking at the warrants that are now out and given your prior experience with al-Hashimi, is -- do you have any reason to believe that these accusations are at all plausible or do you worry that this is a politically motivated legal proceeding?
MS. NULAND: I think I'm not going to give a value judgment one way or the other here. I think that from our perspective, the proof of this has to be in the conduct of the investigation of the legal procedures in a manner that comports with international law.
QUESTION: Toria, could you share with us if Mr. Jeffrey spoke with Vice President al-Hashimi in the last -- let's say this -- today or --
MS. NULAND: Without getting into too many details, suffice to say that he's spoken to pretty much every major Iraqi political actor in the last couple of days.
QUESTION: Including Vice President al-Hashimi?
MS. NULAND: I believe so, yes.
QUESTION: And Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq?
MS. NULAND: I can't speak to whether he's spoken to him since his arrest, but he --
QUESTION: Do you know their status? Are they on the run or are they hiding? What's --
MS. NULAND: I can't speak to that, Said.
QUESTION: [. . .] quick follow-up on this. Has anyone above Ambassador Jeffrey's level been in contact with the Iraqis on this? Assistant Secretary Feltman or the Secretary, anybody like that?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think you know that Vice President Biden has been in contact with a number of Iraqis. I'll refer you to his office. We -- I think I read out some of that earlier in the week.
QUESTION: In general, can you -- what's the Administration's opinion of the Iraqi justice system and its ability to provide due process to -- and due process in a fair, transparent trial for those who are charged with crimes?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think you know that we've been working with the Iraqis to build their justice system for a number of years now. And again, each --
QUESTION: Yeah. How did that go?
MS. NULAND: Each case is a new case and has to meet the high standards expected of Iraq by its own constitution, and as I said, we will judge them by their ability to uphold their own constitution and international standards.
QUESTION: Right. Well, but I mean, you pronounce judgment on other countries' legal -- on your opinion of other countries' legal systems all the time. What is it -- what's your opinion of the Iraqi justice system?
MS. NULAND: The Iraqi justice system, in its latest iteration, has produced justice in some cases. It needs to continue to do so in these cases.
MS. NULAND: I'm not going to give them a grade if that's what you're asking for, Matt.
Patrick Cockburn (Independent) adds, "Two days ago Mr Maliki asked parliament for a vote of no confidence in the Sunni deputy prime minister Saleh al-Mutlaq for incompetence. Mr Mutlaq had accused Mr Maliki of being a dictator. Although Iraq nominally has a power-sharing government in practice it remains divided between parties and communities. All jobs are awarded through a patronage system making political leaders averse to giving up official posts."


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