Saturday, December 24, 2011

He should be on his knees begging forgiveness







Stealing from Mike to name an idiot of the week: Uma Purushothaman. who writes (Daily Pionner), "One of the ways in which the US has left Iraq a better place is that it has nudged the country towards democracy. The country has had elections and now has an inclusive, elected government." Sorry, Uma, stupidity does not pay (unless you anchor a US commercial, broadcast TV newscast). Iraq held parliamentary elections March 7, 2010. But it does not have an inclusive, elected government. Nouri al-Maliki's slate came in second in those elections, he refused to surrender the post of prime minister, the US backed him in that and he retained the office despite the will of the people, the election results and the country's Constitution. Sorry, Uma, stupidity isn't pretty. And for those late to the party on that, we'll ape Mike and quote this from the Independent of London editorial: "The deal Washington did between the Shia, Sunni and Kurdish sections of the Iraqi population was always uneasy. The danger of its fragmenting, now that the nine-year US and Shia have each been quick to blame the other. Either way, it is clear that there are strong forces in the country who have been waiting for this moment to make their move to achieve supremacy." Or you can refer to Ruth, "Because the White House screwed over Iraqiya before. That is who the reporters mean by 'Sunni Muslim minority,' by the way. And, no, Iraqiya is not 'Sunni.' It is a mixture of Sunni and Shia and others as well. They are a non-sectarian slate and are headed by (Shi'ite) Ayad Allawi. Iraqiya came in first in the March 2010 elections so Mr. Allawi should have been given first crack at forming a government as prime minister designate. If he had been successful at forming a government within 30 days, then he would have moved from prime minister designate to prime minister." And your first hint that there's no democracy in Iraq, or foundation for it, people don't elect exiles, they elect their own. But, as Marcia has pointed out, the US-created government in Iraq is one of exiles (including Nouri).
Yesterday, Baghdad was slammed with bombings. All week long, ABC, CBS and NBC have chosen to ignore Iraq in the nightly news casts. This despite the fact that Nouri al-Maliki, prime minister and thug, has sworn out an arrest warrant on Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi. This despite the fact that al-Hashemi went to the KRG to meet with officials there and now remains there for his own protection. This despite the fact that Nouri is also attempting to strip Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq of his office (and immunity). This despite both men are members of Iraqiya -- the political slate which won more votes than did Nouri's State of Law -- and both men are Sunni. When they finally addressed Iraq last night, all three chose not to inform their viewers of anything that Nouri's done and focus on the bombings only. What commercial broadcast TV wouldn't do, public radio did. On the second hour of today's Diane Rehm Show (NPR), Diane and her guests Susan Glasser (Foreign Policy), Abderrahim Foukara (Al Jazeera) and David E. Sanger (New York Times) discussed Iraq. Excerpt.
Susan Glasser: If you look at the political instability racking Iraq --
Diane Rehm: Exactly.
Susan Glasser: -- literally hours and days after the last American troop left and you can see what the scenario is going to look like potentially in Afghanistan, in a place where the threats could be even more directly to US interests.
Diane Rehm: Do we know who's responsible for the worst day of violence that Iraq has seen in more than a year? Do we know who committed those acts.
Susan Glasser: Well you know you immediately, as in Syria, saw claims from the government that this was al Qaeda related. And remember, this is in the context -- as David pointed out -- of the widening sort of sectarian violence that has been and will be the context for the political fight that's playing out over who controls Iraq. Remember that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki who has now gone after Iraq's sitting vice president who is a Sunni, you have the rise of this Shi'ite majority in Iraq and I think that is the context of the political struggle taking place.
Diane Rehm: So how fragile is Iraq's government right now?
Abderrahim Foukara: It seems to me extremely fragile. It seems to be a self-fulfilling prophecy that when the US was there, people were saying the-the situation currently is what it is because US presence -- because of US presence. Now that you don't have that US presence, a lot of people are going back and saying US presence was actually the cement that was keeping superficially somewhat Iraq together. Now that the US is out, it seems that you have to hark back to what happened the time of the surge when the Sunnis in Anbar Province -- who were actually by the way have been the most vocal in celebrating the departure of US troops. You had the Arab "Awakenings" [Sahwa] there, you had the Arab tribes there, working with the US government at that time to fight al Qaeda. And everybody at that time was saying, 'Okay, the surge has worked. But it has also given various parties in Iraq time to actually reassemble their strength and once the US is out, you are going to see a surge of the violence including the sectarian violence. So right now, Iraq looks --
Diane Rehm and Abderrahim Foukara (together): -- very fragile.
Diane Rehm: And do you see that fragility really turning back into what could be described as civil war?
Susan Glasser: You know I think that has to be a real possibility. As we're talking, I'm thinking about this conversation merging Iraq and Afghanistan, I can't help think of what happened in Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989 and what you had was first a political crisis and many thought that [Mohammed] Najibullah, who was the Soviet-installed ruler of Afghanistan, wouldn't last out the year. He managed to but at the cost of literally a sort of cycle of violence that the country has not gotten out of yet and of course ultimately with his body being dragged through the streets. And you know, these scenarios are very real.
[. . .]
Abderrahim Foukara: Just wanting to go back to Iraq and the possibility of specter of civil war. Yes, that's one possible scenario. The other possible scenario -- and remember that when Saddam [Hussein, former president of Iraq] was in power, one of the main pieces of rationale that he gave for being the tough guy, dictator that he was is that Iraq could only work if it had a tough guy leading it. And I think the other scenario that we could be looking at now is Maliki turning into that tough guy to hold Iraq together which would be goodbye to any talk or any hope of a democratic Iraq even in -- even in the long future. And I think Maliki has so far shown all the signs that he wants to be another Saddam of a kind. Whether he will actually be forced to go all the way there, we don't know. But he's showing signs of that.
Susan Glasser: Well, you know, in fact, that's exactly what the political opposition to him is calling him already: The Shi'ite Saddam. We had an interview this week with Vice President Hashemi who is now seeking refuge in Kurdistan in order not to be arrested by -- by supposedly his partner in the government and that's exactly what he said. He said not only is Maliki turning into Saddam but he was making the case, and it shows you how inflammatory the rhetoric has become, he said, "Well actually Maliki's worse than Saddam," you know, in this interview with us because Saddam brought this stability. But I have to say, take this with a grain of salt, right? This is what every tough guy says in order to justify his dictatorship. Remember, I'm thinking about Russia and what is it that Vladmir Putin said a dozen years ago when he came to power? He said, 'Well, it's time for us to restore stability, we need to have a strong hand again to govern Russia. It's the only way to keep the state intact..'
Before we move further, a few things to note. Twice this week, we quoted from Deborah Amos' "Confusion, Contradiction and Irony: The Iraqi Media in 2010," Harvard's Joan Shorenstein Center. Deborah Amos is with NPR and the author of one of 2010's important books Eclipse of the Sunnis: Power, Exile, and Upheaval in the Middle East which I wished we linked to. (One day we did and there wasn't room. Also a similar note was supposed to go in yesterday's snapshot but was cut for space.) Second, Wednesday's snapshot included: "In other news, Arwa Damon and Wolf Blitzer (CNN) report that, yes, indeed, CIA Director David Petraeus was just in Iraq." What rumors, a few e-mails asked? Since it was in the first paragraph (after the introduction) of Tuesday's snapshot:
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.
Reidar Visser had first reported the rumors that were confirmed the following day. On yesterday's bombing, Raheem Salman and Alexandra Zavis (Los Angeles Times) explain:
Sirens wailed, smoke billowed and blood pooled on the pavement.
The scenes of devastation were all too familiar after more than a dozen explosions ripped through the Iraqi capital Thursday, killing at least 60 people and injuring nearly 200, just days after the last U.S. troops left the country.
[. . .]
By nightfall, fear gripped the city and some residents were already talking about the need to arm themselves again.

CARBERRY: Ahmed Mahdi is a 22-year-old who's selling chickpeas from a cart outside the cafe. He says the explosions were the result of the political crisis that erupted last weekend just as the last American convoy was packing to leave. Word came out of an arrest warrant against the Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi. The government of Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has accused Hashemi of running assassination squads that have killed political and military officials.
MAHDI: (Foreign language spoken)
CARBERRY: Ahmed Mahdi believes that supporters of the embattled Sunni politicians carried out the bombings. Sectarianism has been on the rise and there's fear that things may be reaching critical mass.
Aswat al-Iraq reports, "Civil Society Forum (CSF) shouldered Iraqi politicians and the three presidencies the responsibility of the bloody explosion which hit Baghdad yesterday. CFS regarded these explosions as a reflection of the failure of Iraqi politicans, following US forces withdrawal."

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Friday, December 23, 2011

So sings the cult







Early today Ziad Tarek, spokesperson for the Ministry of Health, was telling Alsumaria TV, "Baghdad hospitals received this morning bodies of 49 dead and 167 wounded, following explosions that occurred in different regions of Baghdad." Prashant Rao (AFP)explains in this France 24 video, "All over the city, both majority Sunni and majority Shia areas have been targeted in mostly bomb attacks [. . .] basically all over Baghdad, we've seen multiple attacks." Charlie D'Agata (The Early Show, CBS News) reports, "The first explosion rang out just after dawn. Then came another. And another. Iraqi officials counted at least 14 blasts throughout Baghdad during the morning rush hour. The targets were indiscriminate. Roadside bombs and car bombs struck everything from neighborhood markets to police stations. A suicide bomber in an ambulance killed 18 people alone."
Richard Spencer (Telegraph of London) notes, "The worst single incident this morning was a suicide attack near a government office in which a stolen ambulance packed with explosives was detonated by its driver, sending debris into the air and into the grounds of a nearby kindergarten. Police said at least 18 people were killed in that bombing alone." Al Rafidayn reports that one Ali Abu Nailah, Iraqi Central Bank Consultant, is thought to have been targeted with a bombing on his convoy just outside of Baghdad (Nailah survived without injury but one of his bodyguards was injured). Sam Dagher and Ali Nabhan (Wall St. Journal) note, "The latest spasm of violence came one day after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki warned his coalition partners that any moves to bring down the government would unravel the political system and lead to a situation where the majority Shiites decide the shape of the government on their own." Qassim Abdul-Zahra (AP) offers, "The bombings may be linked more to the U.S. withdrawal than the political crisis, but all together the developments heighten fears of a new round of sectarian bloodshed like the one a few years ago that pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war." Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports, "The explosions occurred in a variety of locations around the Iraqi capital, some Shiite and others Sunni, giving no clear indication who was behind it. The casualties were believed to be almost entirely civilians." Dan Morse and Aziz Alwan (Washington Post) count 17 bombings, 65 dead and 207 injured while Kareem Raheem (Reuters) notes the death toll has risen to 72.
In other violence, Reuters notes 1 bodyguard shot dead in Baquba, 1 corpse discovered in Mosul, a Mosul sticky bombing injured one police officer, a Mosul roadside bombing injured one woman, an attack on a Mosul checkpoint left a police officer injured, a Baquba home invasion resulted in 5 deaths (parents and three children), 1 corpse discovered in Kirkuk, a Jurf al-Sakhar roadside bombing left three people injured and an attack on a Mussayab checkpoint left two Sahwa dead.
The dead in Baghdad were still being counted when Nouri al-Maliki attempted to make political hay out of the tragedy. Xiong Tong (Xinhua) reports, "Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said that Thursday's series of bomb attacks in Baghdad were politically motivated, pledging that the attacks will not pass without punishment." US Senator John McCain was already booked on The Early Show (CBS News) to talk about the payroll tax and the GOP's presidential nominee race. We'll note this from the opening of the segment.

Senator John McCain: Thank you, good to be with you and before we go on we are paying a very heavy price in Baghdad because of our failure to have a residual force there. It's unraveling. I'm deeply disturbed about events but not surprised.

Chris Wragge: Well that's what I wanted to ask you about -- we'll talk about the payroll tax in just a second but that was the first question I was going to pose to you this morning. When you heard about these cooridnated attacks in and around Baghdad was this a kind of I-told-you-so moment, did you feel in your estimation?

Senator John McCain: I'm afraid so. I'd hoped not. But it was pretty obvious that if we did not have a residual force there that things could unravel very quickly. All of us knew that. The president campaigned saying he would bring around the end of the war. They've already got propaganda out there called "Promises Kept." And he made some very interesting comments about we're leaving behind a stable Iraq which we know is obviously not true. We needed the residual force there. It's not there. Now things are unraveling tragically.

Chris Wragge: How big a mistake do you see this for the president?

Senator John McCain: Well I don't know about the president but I know the Iraqi people may be subject to the news reports that you just quoted this morning and it's tragic for them. And of course, as you mentioned on the lead-in, we did 4,474 young Americans died there. It's really sad the way that they have -- As General [John] Keane said, "We won the war and we're losing the peace."

I know McCain and I know and like Senator Lindsey Graham. The two of them issued a joint-statement on Iraq yesterday:

We are alarmed by recent developments in Iraq, most recently the warrant issued today by the Maliki government for the arrest of Sunni Vice President Tariq al Hashimi. This is a clear sign that the fragile political accommodation made possible by the surge of 2007, which ended large-scale sectarian violence in Iraq, is now unraveling. This crisis has been precipitated in large measure by the failure and unwillingness of the Obama Administration to reach an agreement with the Iraqi government for a residual presence of U.S. forces in Iraq, thereby depriving Iraq of the stabilizing influence of the U.S. military and diminishing the ability of the United States to support Iraq.
If Iraq slides back into sectarian violence, the consequences will be catastrophic for the Iraqi people and U.S. interests in the Middle East, and a clear victory for al Qaeda and Iran. A deterioration of the kind we are now witnessing in Iraq was not unforseen, and now the U.S. government must do whatever it can to help Iraq stabilize the situation. We call upon the Obama Administration and the Iraqi government to reopen negotiations with the goal of maintaining an effective residual U.S. military presence in Iraq before the situation deteriorates further.
I was asked if we could include that and I said yes because I had no idea the two had issued a statement and issued it yesterday. I would have thought it would have received some serious press attention. It didn't and I'm comfortable including it here. That is not my opinion, it is not this community's opinion. We believe the illegal war was wrong from the start and nothing good was ever going to come from it. And we've backed that up repeatedly over the years so it's not a threat to us to include a differening opinion. I do agree with Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham that the administration blew it.
I say they blew it by refusing to immediately end the Iraq War. Had they done that, it wouldn't be Barack's war. He could say, "I campaigned on ending the war and I was elected so that's what the American people wanted. As a result, as I promised on the campaign trail, all US troops will be out of Iraq within ten months." He could and should have said that after he was sworn in. (And the withdrawal could have been done in less than 10 months but 10 months was the least amount of time he gave on the campaign trail.) Had he done that, it was Bush's war.
But he didn't do that. He continued the war. (And unlike McCain and Graham, I believe the Iraq War continues.) And he made promises. To Nouri al-Maliki. He made sure Nouri got what he wanted. Iraq's LGBT community was being targeted, tortured and murdered and the White House never said a word. Iraqi Christians and other religious minorities were forgotten by the White House. Resolving the Kirkuk issue was forgotten by the White House. When Nouri al-Maliki wanted something, he got it and that continues to this day. Let's again note Trudy Rubin (Philadelphia Inquirer via San Jose Mercury News) on 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.
That was a huge mistake. There was never a reason to back Nouri. The White House disgraced the country by backing Nouri whom they knew ran secret prisons, whom they knew used torture.

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.

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."