Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Out of control







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  • As more eyes turn to Iraq internationally, Michael Holmes (CNN -- link is video and text) observes:

    The government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was supposed to usher in a political era of inclusion and reconciliation. His critics say those first days after the American departure were a signal of opposite intentions that have continued to this day.
    The Sunni minority that had ruled Iraq via the iron fist of Saddam Hussein was at the political and social mercy of al-Maliki's Shia-dominated government. Today, they say, "inclusiveness" never materialized, Sunnis have been marginalized and resentment has festered in a divide-and-conquer political climate. As one local put it, "It's like if you're against us, you're a terrorist and we'll arrest you."

    And the Sunnis are correct.  US President Barack Obama backed Nouri for a second term as prime minister even though Nouri's State of Law came in second to Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya.  As Ned Parker explained in "Who Lost Iraq?" (POLITICO) last week:

    It was the April 2010 national election and its tortured aftermath that sewed the seeds of today’s crisis in Iraq. Beforehand, U.S. state and military officials had prepared for any scenario, including the possibility that Maliki might refuse to leave office for another Shiite Islamist candidate. No one imagined that the secular Iraqiya list, backed by Sunni Arabs, would win the largest number of seats in parliament. Suddenly the Sunnis’ candidate, secular Shiite Ayad Allawi, was poised to be prime minister. But Maliki refused and dug in.
    And it is here where America found its standing wounded. Anxious about midterm elections in November and worried about the status of U.S. forces slated to be drawn down to 50,000 by August, the White House decided to pick winners. According to multiple officials in Baghdad at time, Vice President Joseph Biden and then-Ambassador Chris Hill decided in July 2010 to support Maliki for prime minister, but Maliki had to bring the Sunnis and Allawi onboard. Hill and his staff then made America’s support for Maliki clear in meetings with Iraqi political figures.
    The stalemate would drag on for months, and in the end both the United States and its arch-foe Iran proved would take credit for forming the government. But Washington would be damaged in the process. It would be forever linked with endorsing Maliki. One U.S. Embassy official I spoke with just months before the government was formed privately expressed regret at how the Americans had played kingmaker.

    And the US government brokered The Erbil Agreement to give Nouri the second term.  This was a power-sharing agreement, a legal contract, one that US officials told the leaders of Iraq's political blocs would have the full backing of the White House.

    But Nouri used this contract to secure a second term in November 2010 and refused to then implement the concessions he agreed to in the contract to get the second term.

    And the White House?

    They played dumb.

    Nouri stalled on implementing The Erbil Agreement.  Then came the summer of 2011 and Iraqiya, the Kurds and Moqtada al-Sadr all began publicly demanding that Nouri implement The Erbil Agreement as planned.   He refused to.  He's still refused to.  He's a liar who never keeps his word.

    From December 2006 to July 2011, Robert Gates was the US Secretary of Defense.  Tony Capaccio (Bloomberg News) gets Gates' opinion on Iraq today:

    Maliki “has turned out to be far less inclusive and more of a sectarian leader then we had hoped” after the U.S. “handed the Iraqis a golden opportunity in 2009, 2010,” Gates said today in an interview in New York. “Since then, he’s really been sort of antagonistic towards the Sunnis in a kind of unrelenting way.” 

    Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq also points the finger at Nouri.  David Kenner (Foreign Policy) reports:

     Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq -- a former member of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party before being expelled in 1977 -- told Foreign Policy that the government in Baghdad was using al Qaeda as a pretext to crack down on its political opponents. Marginalization of Sunni Arabs, Mutlaq added, was leading to their radicalization. And even as he deplored the U.S. invasion for being the root cause of Iraq's problems, he called on Washington to intervene in Iraqi politics to save the country from disaster.
    "Yes, I do blame [the Americans]," he said. "And I expect them to do some changes in Iraq now. Not necessarily through military operations, but through political pressure and economic pressure on Iraqi politicians, to make sure that Iraqis feel that they are equal in their own country." 

    Now might be a good time to remember when Saleh al-Mutlaq last gave an interview to a US news outlet. We need to drop back to December of 2011 for that. Arwa Damon and Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reported:

    Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is amassing dictatorial power as U.S. troops leave the country, risking a new civil war and the breakup of the nation, his deputy warned Tuesday.
    Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq told CNN that he was "shocked" to hear U.S. President Barack Obama greet al-Maliki at the White House on Monday as "the elected leader of a sovereign, self-reliant and democratic Iraq." He said Washington is leaving Iraq "with a dictator" who has ignored a power-sharing agreement, kept control of the country's security forces and rounded up hundreds of people in recent weeks.
    [. . .]
    "America left Iraq with almost no infrastructure. The political process is going in a very wrong direction, going toward a dictatorship," he said. "People are not going to accept that, and most likely they are going to ask for the division of the country. And this is going to be a disaster. Dividing the country isn't going to be smooth, because dividing the country is going to be a war before that and a war after that."

    Remember how Nouri responded to that?  Dropping back to December 17, 2011:

    Like Tareq al-Hashemi, Saleh al-Mutlaq is a member of the Iraqiya political slate.  Dar Addustour is reporting that the homes of al-Hashemi and al-Mutlaq as well as the home of Rafi Hiyad al-Issawi have been surrounded by "tanks and special forces." Dr. Rafi Hiyad al-Issawi was the previous Deputy prime minister (2007 through 2010). He was the head of Falluja General Hospital prior to that and he is currently the Minister of Finance. Like the other two, al-Issawi is a member of Iraqiya.

    And from the December 19, 2011 snapshot:

    Late Saturday night online (Sunday in print), Liz Sly (Washington Post) noted that the 'government' in Iraq is "unraveling faster than had been anticipated Saturday." Really?  All in one day.  Well,  no, not in one day.  She continued,  "In recent days, the homes of top Sunni politicians in the fortified Green Zone have been ringed by tanks and armored personnel carriers, and rumors are flying that arrest warrants will be issued for other Sunni leaders." 

    That's how Nouri responded to criticism just two years ago.  Let's wait and see if he handles it any better today.

    Today the Washington Institute for Near East Policy's Michael Knights argues at USA Today:

     Providing counter-terrorism advisors and air support during crises such as the present one does nothing to invalidate President Obama's claim to have ended the U.S. military occupation of Iraq. No "boots on the ground" should not be taken to extremes. And if a post-occupation Iraq cannot openly ask for help from its recent occupier, this should not stop the U.S. from occasionally pursuing terrorists in Iraq when they become vulnerable. After all, is al-Qaeda in Iraq any less threatening than al-Qaeda's ideologues in Pakistan, where America risked undermining the government of a nuclear-armed Islamic state to kill Osama bin Laden without the host government's permission?

    Joining in the arm-arm-Iraq chorus, the editorial board of the Middleton Press insists:

    Critics worry that Maliki’s Shiite-dominated government might turn U.S. weapons on perceived foes in the Sunni tribal ranks; given the increasingly sectarian style of his rule, that’s a legitimate fear. That’s why the Obama administration should make its military aid explicitly conditional on a new political effort by Maliki for a rapprochement with Sunnis. Sunni leaders, who dominated during the long reign of Saddam Hussein, have also been slow to adjust to their minority status. But Maliki is in charge and must take the initiative.

    How does that work?

    How do conditions placed on Nouri work?

    In his first term, which began in 2006, he took an oath to uphold the Iraqi Constitution.  That Constitution includes Article 140 which calls for a referendum and census to be held on Kirkuk by the end of 2007.  He refused to do that.

    Then, in 2010, he wanted a second term the voters didn't give him so the US brokered The Erbil Agreement -- a legal contract.  He used it to get his second term and then refused to honor his contractual promises -- which included, yes, implementing Article 140.

    In February 2011, he insisted that if protesters would leave the streets, he would end corruption in 100 days.  100 days came and went.  No end to corruption.

    When he became prime minister for the second time, he was supposed to assemble a Cabinet.  In fact, that's the only condition to move from prime minister-designate to prime minister.  But Nouri never did that.  In fact, he still hasn't.   Back in July, 2012,  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."  True then and still true.

    You might think if the country was gripped by violence, Nouri would finally get around to filling those positions but you'd be wrong.

    So I'd love to know how the editorial board of the Middleton Press thinks they can impose conditions that Nouri will follow since he's failed to follow every condition (including the White House benchmarks) and every law previously.

    The Center for Strategic and International Studies' Anthony H. Cordesman offers an assessment of Nouri today:

    He has refused to honor the Erbil power-sharing agreement that was supposed to create a national government that could tie together Arab Sunni and Arab Shi’ite, and he has increased tensions with Iraq’s Kurds. As the U.S. State Department human rights reports for Iraq, Amnesty International, and the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) make all too clear; Maliki’s search for power has steadily repressed and alienated Iraq’s Sunnis on a national level. It has led to show trials and death sentences against one of Iraq’s leading Sunni politicians including former Vice President Taqris al-Hashimi, who has been living in asylum in Turkey since being convicted nad sentenced to death in absentia by an Iraqi court. It has shifted the promotion structure in the Iraqi Security Forces to both give the Prime Minister personal control and has turned them into an instrument he can use against Sunnis.
    Al Qaeda in Iraq - nor its recent incarnation the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) - has not risen up as a rebirth of the opposition the U.S. faced in 2005-2008. In spite of attempts by the Maliki government to label virtually any major Sunni opposition as terrorists, the steady increase in that opposition orginated primarily in the form of peaceful and legitimate political protests against Maliki’s purges of elected Iraqi Sunni leaders, and a regular exclusion of Sunnis from the government – including the Sons of Iraq in areas like Anbar. It came because Maliki used the Iraqi Security Forces  against segments of his own population in the name of fighting terrorists and extremists. It came because of the failure to use Iraq’s oil wealth effectively and fairly – resulting with an economy that the CIA ranks Iraq 140th in the world in per capita income. The opposition to Maliki's government also resulted from corruption so extreme that in December 2013 Transparency International ranked Iraq the seventh most corrupt country in the world, with only Libya, South Sudan, Sudan, Afghanistan, North Korea, and Somalia ranking worse than Iraq in terms of corruption.

    Nouri's word is useless.  He's refused to ever keep it and he is the root cause of violence in Iraq.  Furthermore, if the editorial board of the Middletown Press needs a condition, here's a condition:

    Consistent with U.S. law and policy, the Department of State vets its assistance to foreign security forces, as well as certain Department of Defense training programs, to ensure that recipients have not committed gross human rights abuses. When the vetting process uncovers credible information that an individual or unit has committed a gross violation of human rights, U.S. assistance is withheld.

    That condition?  Happens to be a US law.  It's the Leahy Amendment, names after Senator Patrick Leahy.  In spit of that law, people are advocating for the US government to continue to arm a despot who regularly uses weapons on the Iraqi people.

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