Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Not very fiscal









Then came the official end of the war. On December 31, 2011, the country celebrated "Iraq Day" and the departure of U.S. troops. As Iraq prepares to mark the anniversary, also known as the "Day of Sovereignty," last year's celebratory tone has been replaced by a more somber one.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's political bloc, the Islamic Dawa Party, called on Iraqis not to become divided along sectarian or ethnic lines by "malicious schemes." The country has struggled to define itself, as its government stumbles from one political crisis to another.
Just as the last U.S. troops withdrew, al-Maliki, a Shiite, moved to arrest Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, a Sunni, who al-Maliki accused of using his security detail as a hit squad.
More recently, a few days before the first Iraq Day anniversary, thousands of Sunnis took to the streets in Anbar province, a major trade thoroughfare to Jordan and Syria, to protest al-Maliki's order to arrest the bodyguards of Finance Minister Rafaie Esawi, a Sunni. The arrest of Esawi's bodyguards came just hours after President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd who is widely viewed as a stabilizing political force in Iraq, left the country to undergo treatment for cancer in Germany.
2012 saw another cholera outbreak in Iraq thanks to Nouri al-Maliki's refusal to spend any of the billions made off of oil on the Iraqi people.  They lack potable water in most areas.  If you don't have potable water -- safe water -- to drink, you have to boil it before using it (or add purification tablets) and you better hope you didn't rush the boil and that the tablets still work.  This wouldn't be a problem if Nouri would fix the public services.  He's been prime minister since 2006, that's six years so the resposibility and the failure is all on him.
In addition to a lack of potable water, Nouri's also failed to provide dependable electricity.  All this time later, it's still apparently too much to expect to have electricity for more than a few hours.  Strange because, before the start of the Iraq War, these electricity shortages weren't so common.  Even something as basic as santiation is beyond Nouri's capabilities so children -- risking infection and disease -- can be found playing in the piled up sewage so common on many Iraqi streets.  Nouri's also refused to spend money on the crumbling infrastructure.  This winter, Iraqis saw what Nouri's cheapness has resulted in: Flooding throughout Iraq, homes falling down from the flooding, people dying in the homes, people dying from drowning, people dying from electrocution, people trudging through parts of Baghdad in knee-high water.  When you let the infrastructure fall apart, drainage becomes problematic.  The Iraqi Red Crescent Society had to evacuate at least one village this month as a result of homes collapsing from the flooding
Surely Nouri's done better somewhere, right?  Nope.  Iraq is still among the most corrupt countries as ranked by Transparency International. 176 countries were ranked this year on transparency and Iraq came in as the 169th most transparent country.  Only seven countries were ranked as less transparent.  Nouri's long been accused of skimming off Iraq's funds and his family lives high on the hog.  He also employs his son who is said to be as much of a terror as Uday Hussein was said to be.  Nouri's son is part of current corruption scandal.

October 9th, with much fanfare, Nouri signed a $4.2 billion dollar weapons deal with Russia.  He strutted and preened and was so proud of himself.  Yet shortly after taking his bows on the world stage and with Parliament and others raising objections, Nouri quickly announced the deal was off.  The scandal, however, refuses to go away. The Iraq Times stated Nouri was offering up his former spokesperson  Ali al-Dabbagh and others to protect the truly corrupt -- the truly corrupt -- according to members of Parliament -- including Nouri's son who got a nice little slice off the deal.  These charges came from Shi'ite MPs as well as Sunnis and Kurds.  Even the Shi'ite National Alliance has spoken out.  All Iraq News noted National Alliance member and one-time MP Wael Abdul Latif is calling for Nouri to quickly bring charges against those involved in the corruption.  (The arms deal is now treated by the Iraqi press as corrupt and not allegedly corrupt, FYI.)   Latif remains a major player in the National Alliance and the National Alliance has backed Nouri during his second term.  With his current hold on power reportedly tenous and having already lost the support of Moqtada al-Sadr, Nouri really can't afford to tick off the National Alliance as well.  Kitabat reported MP Maha al-Douri, of Moqtada al-Sadr's bloc in Parliament, is saying Nouri's on a list of officials bribed by Russia for the deal. 
Then there's the other big news this year, bomb sniffing dogs and explosive detectors.  Iraq's finally getting them.  This might be seen as 'good news' except for one thing: They've needed them for years and Nouri's pride prevented that.
The magic wands.  It's a story so old even David Petraeus weighed in at one point.  Nouri's government spent a small fortune purchasing these magic wands from a British company that apparently didn't also sell magic beans.  You held the magic wand by a car and you 'jogged' in place, pumping your legs up and down and the magic wand, activated by your movement, would then detect a bomb if one was present.  If you're not believing it, October, 9, 2009,  an Iraqi correspondent for McClatchy was exploring the subject at Inside Iraq:

Before starting telling you what happens in most of the checkpoints you should know about the "explosives detectors". The device is carried by security man who stops your car and walk beside it carrying the device. The device's pointer changes its direction when passed by a car that supposedly carries explosives.
In November of 2009, Rod Nordland (New York Times) reported:

The small hand-held wand, with a telescopic antenna on a swivel, is being used at hundreds of checkpoints in Iraq. But the device works "on the same principle as a Ouija board" -- the power of suggestion -- said a retired United States Air Force officer, Lt. Col. Hal Bidlack, who described the wand as nothing more than an explosives divining rod.
Still, the Iraqi government has purchased more than 1,500 of the devices, known as the ADE 651, at costs from $16,500 to $60,000 each. Nearly every police checkpoint, and many Iraqi military checkpoints, have one of the devices, which are now normally used in place of physical inspections of vehicles.
With violence dropping in the past two years, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has taken down blast walls along dozens of streets, and he contends that Iraqis will safeguard the nation as American troops leave.
It wasn't just that US generals laughed at the magic wands, by 2010 even the British government was disturbed, demanding the devices no longer be manufactured and suing the company.  But Nouri refused to join in the lawsuit (he apparently only likes to sue the press and politicians) and insisted that the magic wands continued to be used.  Instead of admitting that he had wasted over one million dollars on magic wands that didn't work, Nouri put his vanity ahead of the safety of the Iraqi people.  Last November, years after the problem was first discovered, it was quietly announced that Iraq would finally be getting bomb sniffing dogs and explosive sensors.
Did he not sue because he got a kickback on the deal?  Who knows?
Iraqis continue to live in poverty and it is a nation of widows and orphans -- over a million orphans we learned as the year wound down.  Nouri's 'answer' to that?  End the food-ration card system.  This system was put in place in the 90s and provided the Iraqi people with basic staples.  After the start of the Iraq War in 2003, the US government targeted the food-ration card system.  Paul Bremer was only the first US official to attempt to end it.  Ending it would not be easy so they instead worked on cutting it each year so that it offered less and less.  In 2006, when Nouri became prime minister, he continued the cuts.
This fall, he decided, with record poverty and unemployment close to 40% in Iraq, that now was the time to end this program.  Cleric and movement leader Moqtada al-Sadr was the first to call him out and insist this wasn't happening.  Iraqiya and others quickly backed Moqtada and Nouri was forced to back down (and even tried to claim that it wasn't his idea -- his Cabinet had planned it out without him).  Iraq takes in billions on oil sales each year.  Yet Nouri claimed there was no profit to share with the Iraqi people.  Moqtada also pushed back on that and has been meeting regularly with the ministries to find out where the money is going.
It's not going to the Iraqi people.  Well what about justice?  Is Nouri providing justice?  Early 2012 saw the Ministry of the Interior visit schools and tell Iraqi students that Emo and LGBT youth were devil worshippers, were vampires, were perverts and that they must die.  That's appallling and that's Nouri.  Nouri is the Minister of the Interior.  How can he be the Minister of the Interior and the Prime Minister.  Back in July, Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) observed, "Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has struggled to forge a lasting power-sharing agreement and has yet to fill key Cabinet positions, including the ministers of defense, interior and national security, while his backers have also shown signs of wobbling support."   See, according to the Iraqi Constitution, if you can't appoint a full Cabinet, you can't become prime minister (someone else is named prime minister designate and given 30 days to build a Cabinet).  But US President Barack Obama wanted Nouri to have a second term so no rules applied then (or apply now).
So Nouri had his Ministry go into schools and egg on violence against Emo and LGBT Iraqis -- and Iraqis who might be mistaken for Emo or LGBT.  There was worldwide outrage.  The story got covered by outlets that normally didn't even cover Iraq -- such as England's NME and the US' Rolling Stone magazine.  Nouri called off his dogs and tried to lie that the Ministry of Interior was not involved; however, the Iraqi press quickly printed the handout the Ministry of the Interior had circulated on its school visits.  Nouri's such a damn liar.
Dropping back to the November 12th snapshot:
Staying with violence, as noted in the October 15th snapshot, Iraq had already executed 119 people in 2012.  Time to add more to that total.  Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reported last night that 10 more people were executed on Sunday ("nine Iraqis and one Egyptian").  Tawfeeq notes the Ministry of Justice's statement on the executions includes, "The Iraqi Justice Ministry carried out the executions by hanging 10 inmates after it was approved by the presidential council."  And, not noted in the report, that number's only going to climb.  A number of Saudi prisoners have been moved into Baghdad over the last weeks in anticipation of the prisoners being executed.  Hou Qiang (Xinhua) observes, "Increasing executions in Iraq sparked calls by the UN mission in the country, the European Union and human rights groups on Baghdad to abolish the capital punishment, criticizing the lack of transparency in the proceedings of the country's courts."
Amnesty International was among those condemning the mass executions.  Though all the executions for 2012 have yet to be tabulated, Iraq is expected to be at the top of the list of most people put to death. 
Nouri's also targeted the press.  5 journalists were killed in 2012 (we'll have more on that near the end of the snapshot). Outlets that report realities Nouri doesn't like are repeatedly attacked.  Both Al Mada and Kitabat were hacked in 2012 following their hard hitting reporting on corruption.  Dropping back to Saturday, December 15th:

The Iraq Times reports that cable channel Baghdadi was surrounded by the Iraqi military on Friday and they forced everyone out and then shut the station down.  They also note that Nouri ordered the closure.  The Iraq Times reports that Iraqiya spokesperson Maysoon al-Damalouji declared today that Nouri is attempting to rebuild the Republic of Fear (a reference to the days of Saddam Hussein) and decried the closing of Baghdadiya TV.
The satellite channel's crime?  Reporting on the corruption in the Russian oil deal. This month, he also began targeting Fakhri Karim who is the editor and chair of Al Mada newspaper -- he's had Karim's home surrounded by the US military.  Isn't it strange how in 'free' Iraq, Nouri's always sending in the military to attack the press.  And isn't it strange how the US government -- even most of the US media -- refuse to call that out?  (Friday, he used the military to keep reporters away from the protests in an attempt to ensure that they did not get coverage.)
The White House backs thug Nouri.  Elaine pointed out Friday:

Nouri is a threat and danger to the Iraqi people.
They voted for change and Barack went around their votes, the democracy, the Constitution to devise a contract (Erbil Agreement) to give Nouri a second term.
Again, gays are targeted, Sunnis are targeted, Nouri refused to even have one woman in his Cabinet until there was international outcry -- and this is who the US government backs.
Remember that the next time Barack wants to pretend to give a damn about human rights.
Nouri is in his second term as prime minister.  Why?  Barack Obama.  In March 2010, Iraqis voted in parliamentary elections.  Nouri's State of Law was expected to win by a wide margin.  The Iraqi people had other ideas.  Nouri's State of Law came in second to the Ayad Allawi headed Iraqiya slate.  Per the Constitution, per democracy, per vote counting, that made Iraqiya the winner and, as such, they were supposed to be immediately named prime minister-designate (one person from their slate, most likely Allawi) and then given 30 days to form a Cabinet.  Failure to do so would result in someone else being named prime minister-designate.  This is clearly outlined in the Constitution.  But Nouri didn't want to lose his post.  So he threw a public tantrum for eight months basically refusing to vacate the palace.  And he was able to get away with that because he had the support of Barack Obama.  During this time, the US government didn't argue for fairness or democracy or rule of law or the Constitution.  They went to the political blocs and told them that they were in the wrong.  They told them they needed to be mature and give.  They need to give to the loser.  Grasp that, the US government started a propaganda campaign at political leaders to get them to give up what they'd won to the loser Nouri.  A few asked questions.  Supposedly Iraqi President Jalal Talabani (currently in Germany receiving medical treatment) got very short with US Vice President Joe Biden in one phone call (no, not the one where Joe asked him to let Allawi be president).  Talbani finally, supposedly, had the brains to ask, "What's in it for us?"
Like a lightening bolt, the US government decided they could give Nouri a second term by going around the Constitution, by drawing a contract between the political blocs.  This 'inspiration' resulted in the US-brokered Erbil Agreement.  Leaders of political blocs agreed to give Nouri a second term (and end the eight-month plus stalemate) in exchange for Nouri agreeing to give them certain things.  The primary demand by the Kurds was that Article 140 of the Constitution be implemented (finally).  Iraqiya's primary demand was that an independent national security council be created and headed by a member of Iraqiya.  Nouri used this contract to get his second term.  Then he trashed the contract.  The White House had given their word that not only was the contract legally binding but that they would stand by it.  They did nothing.
In the summer of 2011, the Kurds, Moqtada al-Sadr and Iraqiya began publicly calling for Nouri to honor the contract.  He blew them off creating the current stalemate on which numerous political crises have been stacked.  John Barry's "'The Engame' Is A Well Researched, Highly Critical Look at U.S. Policy in Iraq" (Daily Beast):

Washington has little political and no military influence over these developments [in Iraq]. As Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor charge in their ambitious new history of the Iraq war, The Endgame, Obama's administration sacrificed political influence by failing in 2010 to insist that the results of Iraq's first proper election be honored: "When the Obama administration acquiesced in the questionable judicial opinion that prevented Ayad Allawi's bloc, after it had won the most seats in 2010, from the first attempt at forming a new government, it undermined the prospects, however slim, for a compromise that might have led to a genuinely inclusive and cross-sectarian government."

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