Saturday, November 13, 2010

No one will bring him some ham






Yesterday, horse trading allowed Iraq's Parliament to elect a Speaker, , and to elect Jalal Talabani (again) to the ceremonial post of president. Despite assurances and claims to US officials that Nouri would be named prime minister-delegate November 20th, Talabani immediately named him and the US government is currently attempting to figure out whether this was due to concern over the Iraqiya walkout or was part of a deliberate effort on the part of Nouri's bloc and the Kurds to deceive their US benefactors. On the horse trading, Nussaibah Younis (Guardian) weighs in:
If Iraqi politics is to continue in this way, we can all sit back and relax -- waiting every five years for the elections that mean nothing, the backstage horse trading in which politicians nakedly vie for personal advantage, and finally the divvying up of power between groups in a way that promises to hamstring the new government before it has even begun.
The 2010 elections gave Iraq's politicians a rare opportunity to take politics in another direction. Together, Allawi and Maliki gained overwhelming support because they spoke of Iraqi unity, reconciliation, and reconstruction. But when it came to forming a government, self-interest won. Neither could bear the thought of not being prime minister, and both were content to drag the process on and on -- waiting to clinch a political advantage while ordinary Iraqis paid with their lives in the escalating violence.
Jalal Talabani named Nouri prime minister-designate. That is not prime minister. Good for Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) who captures this: "Mr. Talabani then formally nominated Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki for a second term in office, giving him 30 days to form a cabinet of ministers." This is explained in Article 76 of [PDF format warning] the Iraqi Constitution:
First: The President of the Republic shall charge the nominee of the largest
Council of Representatives bloc with the formation of the Council of Ministers
within fifteen days from the date of the election of the President of the Republic.
Second: The Prime Minister-designate shall undertake the naming of the members of his Council of Ministers within a period not to exceed thirty days from the date of his designation.
Third: If the Prime Minister-designate fails to form the Council of Ministers
during the period specified in clause "Second," the President of the Republic shall charge a new nominee for the post of Prime Minister within fifteen days.
Fourth: The Prime Minister-designate shall present the names of his members of the Council of Ministers and the ministerial program to the Council of
Representatives. He is deemed to have gained its confidence upon the approval,
by an absolute majority of the Council of Representatives, of the individual
Ministers and the ministerial program.
Fifth: The President of the Republic shall charge another nominee to form the Council of Ministers within fifteen days in case the Council of Ministers did not win the vote of confidence.
Steven Lee Myers explains, "The long delay in forming a government -- still at least a month away -- frustrated the administration throughout the summer". And he documents some of the efforts by US President Barack Obama himself including phone calls. We've already noted that the US government thought they had a promise regarding the nomination of prime minister-designate coming in on November 20th -- they were either lied to or the walkout changed the dynamics. Eli Lake (Washington Times) emphasizes failed efforts on the part of both Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden to get Jalal Talabani to step aside and to do so in order that the (ceremonial) post could be filled by non-Kurd Ayad Allawi. The president's son, Qubad Talabani, confirms to Lake that Barack pressured his father to step aside and states that "the Kurds were disappointed with the United States" over this.Qubad Talabani states, "The Kurds have been the strongest ally and partner of the United States since before the liberation and certainly during it. And for the United States to be leaning on us, as they are now, in effect handpicking the new leaders of Iraq, is not respectful of Iraq's parliamentary system and touches on all of the insecurities of the Kurds, that the United States will once again betray us." What would the Kurds have received if Talabani had stepped aside? Lake reports that Joe Biden promised them both the post of Speaker of the Parliament and the Minister of Oil. While it's long been known that the US government supported Nouri for them to offer the Minister of Oil -- a position Nouri's reportedly promised to three different people -- they must have had some indication from Nouri that he would go along with that. Did they misread Nouri's signals? Regardless, Kurds may not be happy their representatives shot that offer down. Considering the repeated and ongoing disputes over service contracts for oil fields -- conflicts between the Kurds and the central government in Baghdad -- holding the post of Minister of Oil could have given the Kurds tremendous power.
Before I discuss the G20, I want to briefly comment on the agreement in Iraq that's taken place on the framework for a new government. There's still challenges to overcome, but all indications are that the government will be representative, inclusive, and reflect the will of the Iraqi people who cast their ballots in the last election. This agreement marks another milestone in the history of modern Iraq. Once again, Iraqis are showing their determination to unify Iraq and build its future and that those impulses are far stronger than those who want Iraq to descend into sectarian war and terror. For the last several months, the United States has worked closely with our Iraqi partners to promote a broad-based government -- one whose leaders share a commitment to serving all Iraqis as equal citizens. Now, Iraq's leaders must finish the job of forming their government so that they can meet the challenges that a diverse coalition will inevitably face. And going forward, we will support the Iraqi people as they strengthen their democracy, resolve political disputes, resettle those displaced by war, and build ties of commerce and cooperation with the United States, the region and the world.

"Another milestone." Barack's waves of Operation Happy Talk repeatedly include "milestones." While I am aware his vocabularly is highly limited and even more repetitive ("Let me be clear" and "make no mistake" for example), he cries "milestone!" the way Bruce Willis' character constantly cries "miracle!" in Death Becomes Her (one minute and three seconds in on the linked clip). Today on the second hour of The Diane Rehm Show (NPR), USA Today's Susan Page, filling in for Diane, spoke with Rajiv Chandrasekaran (Washington Post), David E. Sanger (New York Times) and Nancy A. Youssef (McClatchy Newspapers) about Iraq. Excerpt:.
Susan Page: Eight months after their parliamentary elections, there's finally an agreement in Iraq for a power-sharing arrangement but it fell apart almost immediately, Nancy. Tell us what happened.
Nancy A. Youssef: That's right. The Parliament went to meet to start putting together this government that, so far, has Maliki still as prime minister, Jalal Talabani still as president, the Sunni still as Parliament Speaker and within hours the Sunnis walked out. And it really exposed not only how fragile this agreement was but how much sectarianism still dominates Iraqi politics. One of the reasons the Sunnis walked out is that they felt the Shia partners were holding them liable or punshing them for maybe being Ba'ath Party members of some level during Saddam Hussein's regime. That they were still being ostracized if you will. So it now remains precarious once again. It's hard to celebrate this right now because sectarian based politics appear to still dominate Iraq and that's dangerous at a time when we're starting to see rising levels of violence, most notabley a hundred and fifty people killed in the last week.
Susan Page: Rajiv, was this a surprise to US officials?
Rajiv Chandrasekaran: No. You know, this was sort of the deal that the Obama administration had been pushing for. They did want Ayad Allawi, who is a secular Shi'ite but who commanded large numbers of Sunni followers, in a more secular, nationalistic slate and who actually won a narrow majority of seats in parliamentary elections lo these many months ago there was a desire to have him assume the presidency -- a largely symbolic role, but it would have shown that a Sunni Arab could be president while Maliki, the Shi'ite incumbent prime minister, would have kept that job The minority Kurdish population, largely in the northern part of the country, did not want to sede that post and this was one of the principle reasons for these months of gridlock. So then the compromise position out of the administration was: 'Alright, let's try to get Allawi to chair a new kind of committee on national security and economic policy' -- a very undefined, vague type role and the powers of which has still not been clearly spelled out and this is partly at the root of a lot of the angst on the part of the members of his coalition. And so what had happened here is that the Obama administration was sort of unable to force that change. Maliki, of course, has a great deal of support from Iran and it was essentially a kind of continuation of the status quo showing yet again how American leverage is diminished over there, how Iranian influence is ascendent and that even though you had a party -- a largely secular party that commanded a slim majority in the elections they were unable to-to bring together enough support to form a government and that the hope that everybody had months ago, that maybe we were seeing the first sort of indications of a more unified, nationalist, secular government starting to take shape has been completely shattered and what we see is the continuation --if not rise -- of more sectarian, divisive politics that will play out perhaps for the next several years.
Nancy A. Youssef: You know, Rajiv mentioned the diminished US influence in the country and that's right but this I call it sort of census-based politics because it breaks down to the proportions of the populations, is something that the United States introduced in 2003 in Iraq still has not been able to let go of. I couldn't help watching the results come out. At what point does Maliki relinquish control of the [prime minister post] and is there some concern about a new kind of strong man setup that's emerging in Iraq?
Susan Page: David?
David E. Sanger: You know Susan in the first hour you were talking about [C.I. note: We are not plugging that book so this section is deleted] . . . what you hear is "You just destroyed Iran's greatest enemy and now you're leaving and you're allowing Iran to spread its influence throughout the region. What's your plan for this?" And I think what we're hearing in this process is that we didn't have a plan for this.
Susan Page: Well we don't have a plan and what is happening is, eight months after the elections, we still don't have a real, functioning government. Does that have the possibility of effecting US committment to withdraw combat troops from Iraq by the end of next year, Rajiv?
Rajiv Chandrasekaran: Well certainly if violence continues ticking up and the last few weeks have been particularly ugly in Baghdad -- the siege of the church in which more than fifty people were killed, another string of bombings, further attacks on Iraq's minority Christian community. If that violence continues to rise, it's certainly going to put the Obama administration in a much more difficult spot in terms of trying to fulfill that commitment to get all the troops out by the end of 2011 and that is, I think, directly tied to what sort of government they have, If there is a perception and an actual reality in part as seen by the Sunni population that the government doesn't represent them and this government continues to further marginalize the Sunni population -- which you've already seen over the last couple of years with Prime Minister Maliki's efforts to disband the Sons Of Iraq type programs which were seen as instrumental in bringing down the violence a few years ago, you could see, potentially, some of those rejoining some sort of insurgency against the government so there's a very real path that could occur between the political tension that exists in Baghdad and a resumption of violence.
Susan Page: Nancy?
Nancy A. Youssef: Secretary of Defense Robert Gates this week for the first time introduced this idea of troops potentially staying. It was a very tepid introduction. Somebody asked him and he said if the Iraqis asked us we would consider it but there are two things that are in the way of it.
Nancy A. Youssef went on to discuss the cost and to note that "even if those troops stayed what effect could they have?" We'll pick up with Nancy next week, hopefully on Monday. My apologies to David E. Sanger who had good points, solid points to make. But we don't promote that book he mentioned (not his own book). That's our stated policy and I ignored Cindy Sheehan's wonderful column because it dealt with that. We are not helping to advance a War Hawk's book, we are not the street team to get the word out and move books for him. With Sewell Chan and Sheryl Gay Stolberg, David E. Sanger has "Obama's Trade Strategy Runs Into Stiff Resistance" in this morning's New York Times and we'll gladly link to that. The issue wasn't Sanger, it was that book and we're not noting it here, we're not going to help create a 'buzz' on it or make it 'controversial.' Our job is not to promote that book.
March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board noted in August, "These elections were hailed prematurely by Mr Obama as a success, but everything that has happened since has surely doused that optimism in a cold shower of reality." 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. November 10th a power sharing deal resulted in the Parliament meeting for the second time and voting in a Speaker. And then Iraqiya felt double crossed on the deal and the bulk of their members stormed out of the Parliament. David Ignatius (Washington Post) explains, "The fragility of the coalition was dramatically obvious Thursday as members of the Iraqiya party, which represents Sunnis, walked out of Parliament, claiming that they were already being double-crossed by Maliki. Iraqi politics is always an exercise in brinkmanship, and the compromises unfortunately remain of the save-your-neck variety, rather than reflecting a deeper accord. " After that, Jalal Talabani was voted President of Iraq. Talabani then named Nouri as the prime minister-delegate. If Nouri can meet the conditions outlined in Article 76 of the Constitution (basically nominate ministers for each council and have Parliament vote to approve each one with a minimum of 163 votes each time and to vote for his council program) within thirty days, he becomes the prime minister. If not, Talabani must name another prime minister-delegate. . In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister-delegate. It took eight months and two days to name Nouri as prime minister-delegate. His first go-round, on April 22, 2006, his thirty day limit kicked in. May 20, 2006, he announced his cabinet -- sort of. Sort of because he didn't nominate a Minister of Defense, a Minister of Interior and a Minister of a Natioanl Security. This was accomplished, John F. Burns wrote in "For Some, a Last, Best Hope for U.S. Efforts in Iraq" (New York Times), only with via "muscular" assistance from the Bush White House. Nouri declared he would be the Interior Ministry temporarily. Temporarily lasted until June 8, 2006. This was when the US was able to strong-arm, when they'd knocked out the other choice for prime minister (Ibrahim al-Jaafari) to install puppet Nouri and when they had over 100,000 troops on the ground in Iraq. Nouri had no competition. That's very different from today. The Constitution is very clear and it is doubtful his opponents -- including within his own alliance -- will look the other way if he can't fill all the posts in 30 days. As Leila Fadel (Washington Post) observes, "With the three top slots resolved, Maliki will now begin to distribute ministries and other top jobs, a process that has the potential to be as divisive as the initial phase of government formation." Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) points out, "Maliki now has 30 days to decide on cabinet posts - some of which will likely go to Iraqiya - and put together a full government. His governing coalition owes part of its existence to followers of hard-line cleric Muqtada al Sadr, leading Sunnis and others to believe that his government will be indebted to Iran." The stalemate ends when the country has a prime minister. It is now eight months, four days and counting.

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

You start to wish he'd go play for the other team






Political issues? An Iraqi journalist tells the BBC today, "I think a lot of people who voted this time round will have hoped for a change, and will be disappointed to see the same people in charge." John Leland, Jack Healy and Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) add, "Iraq's lawmakers took a small step toward forming a government of Thursday evening, hammering out the details of a deal struck one day earlier to end an eight-months political impasse."
March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board noted in August, "These elections were hailed prematurely by Mr Obama as a success, but everything that has happened since has surely doused that optimism in a cold shower of reality." 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. They are claiming they have the right to form the government. In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister. It's eight months and three days and still counting.

Today the KRG website announces:

Baghdad, Iraq ( - Iraq's political leaders yesterday agreed to hold the parliamentary session as scheduled on Thursday and to name an individual for the post of Speaker of the the parliament (Council of Representatives). The Speaker post will go to the Al-Iraqiya bloc, which is headed by former prime minister Ayad Allawi.
During the meeting, which was attended by the leaders of all the winning blocs at President Masoud Barzani's Baghdad headquarters, agreement was reached on two other points: to create a council for strategic policy and to address issues regarding national reconciliation.
President Barzani, who sponsored the three days' round of meetings, stated that today's agreement was a big achievement for Iraqis. He expressed optimism that the next government will be formed soon and that it will be inclusive and representative of all of Iraq's communities.
Martin Chulov (Guardian) reports one hiccup in the process today involved Ayad Allawi who US President Barack Obama phoned asking/pleading that he accept the deal because "his rejection of post would be a vote of no confidence". Ben Lando, Sam Dagher and Margaret Coker (Wall St. Journal) confirm the phone call via two sources and state Allawi will take the post -- newly created -- of chair of the National Council On Higher Policy: "Mr. Obama, in his phone call to Mr. Allawi on Thursday, promised to throw U.S. weight behind the process and guarantee that the council would retain meaningful and legal power, according to the two officials with knowledge of the phone call." So all is well and good and . . . Ooops!!!! Lando, Dagher and Coker file an update, Iraqiya wasn't happy and walked out of the session. Prashant Rao (AFP) reports that "a dispute erupted in the Council of Representatives chamber when the mostly Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc argued that the agreement they had signed on to was not being honoured, prompting the bloc's MPs to storm out. [. . .] Specifically, Iraqiya had called for three of their lawmakers, barred for their alleged ties to Saddam Hussein's Baath party, to be reinstated before voting for a president." As The Economist noted earlier today, "An actual government is not yet in place; last-minute hiccups may yet occur." AP notes, "A parliament vote on the government could still take several weeks, as the factions work out the details of who gets what posts." According to Suadad al-Salhy and Waleed Ibrahim (Reuters), the Parliament today elected Jalal Talabani to the presidency, voted Osama al-Nujaifi Speaker and "Talabani then nominated Maliki to form a new government." They had to vote, first, on Speaker. That was al-Nujaifi and the two deputies -- Qusay al-Suhail and Aref Tayfoor. Nujaifi or Nejefi or Najafi is the brother of Nineveh Province Governor Atheel Nejefi who is part of al-Hadba Party. Following his 2009 election, he declared that they did not need the help of the Kurds in the province -- not for security, not for political partnership and that the borders being in question didn't mean they were for the Kurds to design (he's openly hostile to the Kurds and described as an Arab nationalist). He was the one leading one side of the repeated 2009 stand-offs over Mosul. In June of 2009, Patrick Cockburn (Independent of London) observed:
In Iraq, everybody is paranoid and everybody has a reason to be so. In Nineeh, the capital of which is Mosul, the Sunni anti-Kurdish party al-Hadba won the provincial election in January and took over the local council. The Kurds are refusing to retreat from territory where they are in the majoirty. Last month the new al-Hadba governor of Nineveh, Atheel al-Najafi, accompanied by some 50 police cars, tried to enter a Kurdish-held part of his province, and was turned back by Kurdish forces. They said they had received orders, though everybody denies issuing them, "to shoot to kill" if he persisted. Had they done so there would have been general slaughter.
In 2008, Sam Dagher (then with the New York Times) reported that Nouri had given support to Atheel al-Nujaifi -- apparently due to shared sentiments regarding the Kurds -- and also noted that Atheel was "a prominent businessman who owns a ranch in Mosul that once supplied purebred Arabian horses to Mr. Hussein's sons, Uday and Qusay.
The New York Times' John Leland, Jack Healy and Steven Lee Myers report the Speaker was elected and "With the diminished numbers [following Iraqiya's walkout], however, there were not enough votes to give Mr. Talabani the required two-thirds majority on the first round. A second round of voting, requiring only a simple majority, was to follow." Mohammed Tawfeeq Jomana Karadsheh and Arwa Damon (CNN) report that Talabani was elected and named Nouri prime minister-delegate at which point the session ended with the plan to reconvene on Saturday. Mu Xuequan (Xinhua) reports has Talabani winning -- in the second round -- 199 votes and Talabani then declaring, "I ask Nouri al-Maliki to form the next government as his is the candidate of the largest bloc, according to the constitution."
Let's stay with Arwa Damon (CNN -- video) because she's grasping what many -- including NPR this morning -- can't.
Arwa Damon: Now the Iraqiya list won the highest number of seats following those inconclusive March elections. It is headed by former prime minister Ayad Allawi, it's cross-sectarian and it also received the backing of most of Iraq's Sunni Arabs.
Damon's report is worth viewing in full and, as an added bonus, outside of an episode of Scooby Doo, when do you hear someone referred to as an "arch-enemy" (Damon calls Nouri the "arch-enemy" of Allawi.) But let's go to Kelly McEvers and Steve Inskeep on today's Morning Edition (NPR -- link has text and audio).
MCEVERS: Probably not. I mean the power always rests with the top man in Iraq, and that man is still the prime minister, who is Nouri al-Maliki. The key difference in this government is in this particular election cycle, actually, is that a Sunni bloc, called the Iraqiya Party, actually took the most votes in the election. But despite that, they were unable to form a coalition with other parties to then get a majority of seats in the parliament. So even though they took the most votes, they're actually in third place.
INSKEEP: So what happens to the guy who was the head of that Sunni group, Ayad Allawi?
MCEVERS: Well, he was vying for a top post. I mean he, you know, claiming all along, you know, I took the most votes in the election, I should be the prime minister. Then when it looked like that wasn't going to work out, he and his American supporters were really pushing for him to take the presidency. But the Kurds wouldn't budge on that. The Kurds have long held the presidency and it's a point of prestige for them. Allawi's case is an interesting one. You know, here's a secular guy - he's actually a Shiite - who has the support of nearly all of the country's Sunnis. The Americans and Iraq Sunni neighbors, like Turkey and Saudi Arabia, had really hoped that he could take some top position to sort of maintain the balance of power between Sunnis and Shiites and, you know, to keep the country from lurching back into sectarian unrest.
McEvers is correct that Allawi is a Shi'ite. But Iraqiya is not "Sunni." State Of Law is Shi'ite. But Iraqiya is cross-sectarian or non-sectarian (both terms have been used). A group of lawmakers came together to form the party and the did so on the basis of non-sectarianism. Far more serious errors took place on Democracy Now! yesterday where foundatin baby Nir Rosen was allowed to pontificate at length and traveled the globe unfettered by gravity or facts. Rosen declared that Nouri has "the support of some countries in the region." The region may just be Iran for Nir, but Iran's actually in the minority. And, no, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey were not pulling for Nouri. As Bushra Juhi (AP) observes of the reported deal, "The deal reached late Wednesday reflects a significant victory for neighboring Iran, which had pushed for al-Maliki's return." See Elaine's "What they actually know is much less" for more and also wonder why an Arab region is being 'expertized' by Nir Rosen when there are plenty of Arabs available.
Nouri wasn't supposed to be nominated today -- they were supposed to wait until near the end of the month, after a holiday -- so Talabani's decision to push through and nominate him today most likely goes to alarm and worry over the walkout and fear that the entire agreement could fall apart. Jason Ditz ( observes:
Iraqiya members seem now to be quite up in arms about the deal, having realized that all Allawi has actually gotten was a promise for a really long name plate at his seat in parliament. The bloc says if Allawi's position doesn't get some defined powers within the next month it will bolt from the fledgling coalition. As other officials have suggested the new government won't be finalized for 30 days, this could mean another seemingly done deal will collapse before a government can be seated.
Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) sees the stalemate over. Wrong. The issue that caused the bottleneck was the who would be prime minister. That issue is not yet resolved. Nouri has 30 days to try to move from prime minister-delegate to prime minister. If and when he does make that move, the stalemate ends.
Some attention is going to the concessions Iraqiya was asking for -- except for Speaker, none appear to have been met (wow, more broken promises from Barack). Namo Abdulla (Rudaw) states, "The Kurds say they support Maliki because he has agreed to most Kurdish demands including the implementation of Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution that determines the fate of the oil-rich regions like Kirkuk, whether they should be under the jurisdiction of the central government in Baghdad or join Kurdistan." That's important all by itself but it's especially important when Iraqiya is already pissed off.
Iraq has no prime minister. We're going to continue with the stalemate continues until the country has a prime minister. Nouri is the delegate, the prime minister delegate. When Jalal Talabani named him delegate today, the clock began ticking. He has thirty days to create a cabinet. Nouri needed every one of those days last time -- after boasting that he'd be done ahead of thirty days. Nouri can't afford to piss off anyone this time and it appears he's already pissed off Iraqiya which has the power right now to see to it that he is either renamed prime minister-designate in 30 days or someone else is. But let's stay with the Kurds. They want the oil rich Kirkuk. Baghdad also wants to control it. It is disputed territory and a heated topic. Years ago, a census was supposed to have been held -- mandated for 2007 per the country's Constitution -- and Nouri, prime minister then, played kick the can, kick the can. Most recently he had set a date of October 2010. Possibly he thought the wrangling from the March elections would be over by then? He kicked that back to the start of December. Back to December 5th. If it's not held by December 5th? Will Kurds see it as a betrayal and decide they should throw their support to someone else? If it does take place, will Shi'ite support for Nouri -- tentative at best -- collapse? December 5th is within the 30 days.
Nouri could pick ministers quickly -- and reported has bargained most of the posts away already with the US especially pleased by the Ministry of Oil post. But -- check the Constitution -- it's not that easy. Ministers not only have to be approved by Parliament, Parliament can change their mind -- at any time -- on a Minister. Let's stay with that latter part because that demonstrates the power everyone else holds should they feel double-crossed. Sa'ad Jafarri (made up name) is nominated to be the Minister of the Interior. Nouri's well on his way to creating a cabinet . . . except . . .
Each of those ministers requires approval by at least 163 MPs. The same number required for Nouri to become prime minister-designate. Each of those ministers and Nouri's entire ministral program must be approved by the Parliament with a minimum of 163 votes each time. If Nouri can't nominate a cabinet in 30 days, Talabani -- per the Constitution -- is supposed to name a new prime minister-designate (new, he can't simply 'renew' his previous nominee) who would then have 30 days. But it's also true that the same procedure kicks in if Parliament does not sign off on all the ministers in 30 days or on the program Nouri proposes. Should he nominate but even one not be approved in 30 days, Talabani, per the Constitution, must name a new prime minister-designate.
Piecing together votes was highly difficult for Nouri (both last time and currently), peeling off votes generally is a lot easier than picking them up. He's Prime Minister-designate. The stalemate has not yet ended and does not until Iraq picks a prime minister. (The presidential post is ceremonial. The prime minister runs the country.)

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Reality emerges



The Barack magic is over or at least very challenged.

Too much change. Too little change. The wrong change. The "Yes We Can" mantra was stopped or railroaded. And the wonder of Barack Obama is over. Reality has been tested.

The American people's mood ranges from disappointment to disgust, to frustration and fear. These are all negative factors. Whatever the rationale, the Republicans won and the next few years won't be the same.

The Obama administration is at a critical stage; they may very well have destroyed the Democratic Party. Their creditability is seriously impaired. It would not be surprising if the party asked Barack Obama not to run for a second term, for fear of losing. Who wound run? Perhaps, Hillary Clinton--even though she insists that she will not run for president in 2012.


Yesterday, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made a statement. As Mike noted last night, The NewsHour (PBS) led yesterday's headlines with it:

HARI SREENIVASAN: The U.S. may be open to keeping American troops in Iraq past the end of 2011, the current deadline for withdrawal. Defense Secretary Robert Gates suggested today the timetable could slide, but he went on to say, "The initiative clearly needs to come from the Iraqis." Gates also urged Iraq's political factions to end eight months of deadlock and form a new government.

Today on The Takeaway (PRI), retired Col Jack Jacobs joined John Hockenberry and Celeste Headlee to discuss Gates' remarks. Excerpt:
Celeste Headlee: So what do you make of this comment from Defense Secretary Robert Gates? What do you think is motivating him to make this? Is he -- is he saying -- is this a message for the Iraqi government saying, "Put in the request"?
Col Jack Jacobs: He probably already had a conversation with people over there and they have indicated that they might ask and what would be the American response if they did ask? But we had for a long time expected to leave troops either in Iraq or in and around Iraq for a long, long time past the deadline because we have so many obligations and opportunities in places like Kuwait and so on. We weren't going to completely pull out of this in any case.
Matthew Rothschild: I'm Matt Rothschild the editor of The Progressive magazine with my "Progressive Point of View" which you can also grab off our website at Don't hold your breath next December for all US troops to get out of Iraq that's the exit date required by the US-Iraqi accord but the Pentagon's been asking for an extension for a long time now. This week Defense Secretary Robert Gates practically begged the Iraqis to ammend the accord to allow US troops to stay there well into the future. He told the AP, "We're ready to have that discussion when and if they want to speak with us."
Bill Van Auken (WSWS) contributes a major essay on the latest:

The reality is that the Obama administration is presently exerting intense political pressure aimed at breaking an eight-month-old deadlock in the formation of a new Iraqi government so that it can have a US client regime capable of taking the "initiative" of asking American troops to stay.
US efforts have intensified in the aftermath of the midterm elections as part of a broad further turn to the right in both US foreign and domestic policies.
Last August, the Obama administration had celebrated the withdrawal of a single Stryker brigade from Iraq, proclaiming that its members were the last combat troops deployed in the country and that the US combat mission had ended.
The reality is that nearly 50,000 US troops remain in Iraq, the bulk of them with the same combat capabilities as the brigades that have been withdrawn. The US Air Force remains in control of Iraqi airspace and the US Navy controls its coastlines.
Obama sought to exploit the drawdown of US forces from their peak of 170,000—many of them redeployed to the "surge" in Afghanistan—for political purposes, claiming in the run-up to the elections that the Democratic president had fulfilled his campaign promise to end the war in Iraq.
This was a patent fraud. The timetable for the troop drawdown and the December 2011 final withdrawal was set not by Obama, but rather by a Status of Forces Agreement negotiated between the Bush administration and the US puppet government of Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad.
The Obama administration is now moving to abrogate this Bush era treaty in order to secure an indefinite US military grip over Iraq.
The immediate impediment to this plan is the absence of a government in Baghdad to sign a new agreement. Eight months after the election last March, the country's rival political factions have been unable to cobble together a viable coalition.

Which brings us to the stalemate. March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board noted in August, "These elections were hailed prematurely by Mr Obama as a success, but everything that has happened since has surely doused that optimism in a cold shower of reality." 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. They are claiming they have the right to form the government. In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister. It's eight months and two days and still counting.
Leila Fadel (Washington Post) notes the latest rumors that a deal has been reached and explains the expected process: "Legislators are expected to meet Thursday afternoon for only the second time since the inconclusive March 7 election. Under the deal reached Wednesday, the parliament is expected to appoint a speaker from Iraqiya, then name the current Kurdish president, Jalal Talabani, as president. He, in turn, will name Maliki as prime minister. Maliki will then have to put together a cabinet that a simple majority in Iraq's parliament will have to approve." Whomever is named PM-designate -- whenever they're named -- will have 30 days to pull together a cabinet. Nouri's past history of ministers walking out -- as well as his own boasting in April 2006 that he'd put together a cabinet before 30 days -- are forgotten, apparently. Also forgotten is what this says: Elections are meaningless.
If the rumors are true about the make up of the next government and that does come to pass, the message is: "Elections are meaningless, voters stay home." The president and the prime minister remain the same? Only the speaker changes?
They didn't need a national election to change the speaker. Mahmoud Mashadani had been the Speaker and was repeatedly the victim of a disinformation campaign by the US State Dept -- with many in the media enlisting (such as in 2006 when he was in Jordan on business and a certain reporter at a certain daily LIED and said he was in Iraq, hurt and sad and refusing to see anyone -- that lie would have taken hold were it not for the Arab press). He stepped down. When he did so, Iyad Samarrai became the next Speaker and that was done by Parliament, no national elections required. So the message from the 2010 elections appears to be -- if rumors are correct -- that there is no point in voting. Iyad Samarrai got vanished from the narrative. Reporters and 'reporters' like Quil Lawrence (declaring victory for Nouri March 8th, one day after the elections) might have been a little more informed if they'd bothered to pay attention. Mahmoud Mashadani stepped down as Speaker. It took FOUR months for a new speaker to be appointed. And that was in the spring of 2009. Why anyone thought some magical mood enchancer would change things in 2010 is beyond me.
In a bit of classic understatement, an unnamed Iraqi official tells Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor), "It looks a lot like the old government." And for that, people were imprisoned this year and died this year? Again, these results send a very clear message and it not democracy 'friendly' nor does it help build democracy. Arraf states the rumors are Iraqiya's Osama al-Nujaifi will be the new Speaker. Rumors. Suadad al-Salhy and Waleed Ibrahim (Reuters) note that the the stalemate "appeared to have broken" AFP's a little more specific. Throughout the day, they've filed reports including one where there was no indication of a deal (filed at approximately noon EST). What changed? They report Ayad Allawi showed for the meet up. But AFP also notes, as do al-Salhy and Ibrahim, that Iraqiya is saying they will iron out details tomorrow and make a decision of whether they accept any agreements -- in other words, the only thing clear is that Parliament is supposed to hold a session tomorrow afternoon. And Reuters states the Speaker post is one of the details that will be considered -- the whom of it. Hemin Babn (Rudaw) cites Iraqiya's Arshad Salihi as stating that final decisions will be made tomorrow by Iraqiya as to whether or not they will be "participating in the government".
The targeting of Iraqi Christians continues today. Martin Chulov (Guardian) reports on "a coordinated series of attacks on Christian neighbourhoods in Baghdad" involving over 14 bombings. Jim Muir (BBC News -- link has text and video)adds, "Well a whole rash of bombs, in fact six different parts of Baghdad hit by them. Areas which are absolutely known to be areas of Christian concentration. Obviously no area is completely homogeneous in terms of it's population so among the three killed and the twenty-four we believed to have been wounded, we're not clear at this moment, exactly how many of them may be Christians. But what is very clear is that this was a coordinated attack aimed at areas known to have a Christian label on them and coming about a week after that warning from the Islamic State in Iraq which is a kind of umbrella group for al Qaeda [in Mesopotamia] and related groups that 'all Christians are now fair game.' It also comes just a few hours after Mr. Maliki, the incumbent prime minister visited the cathedral where the bloodbath took place two Sundays ago." Kelly McEvers (NPR's Morning Edition -- link has text and audio), speaking to Steve Inskeep, observed, "The city at one time was a mix of Jews, Christians and Sunni and Shiite Muslims. You know nowadays Jews are all but gone. And Sunnis and Shiites live completely separately from each other. But dozens of Christians who were wounded in the church siege have been flown to Europe for treatment. Some say they won't come back. But in a service this past Sunday, some Christians did vow to stay on. They said they have a mission to, you know, keep the faith alive." Gary Mitchell (Sky News -- link has text and video) quotes the Chaldean patriarch of Baghdad, Emmanuel II Delly, stating, "They are chasing Christians in every neighbourhood in Baghdad." Rawya Rageh (Al Jazeera) observes, "We have seen Christians fleeing Iraq between 2004 and 2006. Their numbers now are down to a third. This is a stepped-up attack to revive the chaos that has affected the Christian community in the past." Sammy Ketz (AFP) quotes Baghdad's St. Joseph's priest, Father Saad Sirap Hanna, stating, "People are panicked. They come to see us in the churches to ask what they should do. We are shattered by what has happened." Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) explains:
Christians, most of them eastern rite Catholics, trace their history in this country to the earliest days of Christianity. Before the 2003 war, there were up to a million Christians here -- about 3 percent of the population. Half that number is estimated to have left in the past seven years, continuing an exodus begun after the 1991 Gulf War when Saddam Hussein's secular regime turned increasingly Islamic.
Although thousands of Assyrian Christians and others were killed under Iraq's Ottoman rule a century ago, the attack on the church last week is the worst in the country's recent history. The attack, claimed by an Al Qaeda-linked group, was followed two days later by 16 bombings in Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad that killed at least 70 people.
October 31st, Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad was attacked. At least 58 people died during the assault. Following that, as Muir noted, the Islamic State of Iraq claimed credit for the siege and released a statement which included: "All Christin centres, organisations and institutions, leaders and followers, are legitimate targets for the muhadjideen wherever they can reach them. We will open upon them the doors of destruction and rivers of blood." Today would appear to be a continuation of efforts to make good on that statement. Jomana Karadsheh (CNN -- link has text and video) introduces a video segment featuring footage from the October 31st assault -- from inside the Church -- which Arwa Damon explains. The Church is where some are sought refuge today.

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"Try to do something nice for an asshole . . ."

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Try to do something nice for an asshole . . .






We'll start with war and politics and games. Last Friday, Scott Horton (Antiwar Radio) interviewed Peace Mom Cindy Sheehan. For the excerpt, they're discussing Cindy Sheehan's Al Jazeera column "US: Myth of the two party system:"
Scott Horton: Right and it asks the question in the subheadline: "Would America look much different if Republican John McCain had beaten Democrat Barack Obama to become president?" And so what do you think? How do you measure that?
Cindy Sheehan: Well I don't think it would look that much different because it sure doesn't look much different when we have a Democrat Barack Obama then when George Bush was president except that many things have gotten worse. Unemployment's gotten worse, the foreclosure crisis has become worse, the wars have gotten worse, he's tripled troop strength to Afghanistan, the drone bombings in Pakistan have gone up 300% in real numbers in the less than 2 years that Barack Obama's been president, he's declared himself judge, juror and excutioner over any American citizen without a fair trial. I mean, it's just -- I can't really think how things could be much worse if McCain was president. And then you have to think, too, if McCain had won the presidency, which of course he wasn't supposed to win, but if he had won the presidency, there theoretically would have been an opposition Congress and there theoretically would have been an opposition in the grassroots movement. We might have been able to rekindle some kind of antiwar movement if John McCain had won. But now, Barack Obama and the Democrats, their purpose, I think, is to kill these social, antiwar movements, to co-opt them and to just render them irrelevant and ineffective and they've been very good at doing that.
Scott Horton: Well, you know, if you look at the recent past and how, say, the Democrats took the House in the first place in 2006, it seems like the principle of endless warfare always outranks even the interests of the Democratic Party itself. John V. Walsh, at CounterPunch, did excellent work on the fact that Rahm Emanuel from his position in the House of Representatives worked to undermine every anti-war Democrat in the primaries in 2006 and support the pro-war Democrat. And in every case where he succeeded in doing so, the pro-war Democrat lost the general against the Republican and the anti-war Democrats that he failed to defeat in the primaries all won. But they wanted as few anti-war voices in the Democratic Party in the House of Representatives as they could possibly get. They're determined from the get-go to betray what they promise their constitutents which is that, "Oh yeah, it'll look like Daily Kos or something around here once we're in power."
Cindy Sheehan: Well and the thing is too with these recent elections is that there were still a few people who were very outspoken and openly anti-war in Congress and two of those people were defeated. Alan Grayson -- whom we both know is not perfect but he was a voice -- an anti-war voice -- and Russ Feingold. And they were both defeated. And I just think it is the plan of the regime to, more and more, the parties become almost indistinguishable from each other. But they still serve a purpose -- they serve a purpose where the Republicans might be able to come in now and extend the tax cuts which, you know, we can argue about that, but they could be able to invade Iran now, could be able to just push harsher austerity measures here in the United States where the Democratic Congress would have gotten more flack for that but now there's Republicans and that's what their Republican base put them in to do and now Barack Obama can say, "I didn't want to do it but the Republicans made me." And then the Republicans can conversely also say, "Well we wanted to reform the health care legislation but the president vetoed it." So they just play, they play this game to support each other, support the establishment, support the elites, while they keep robbing us because most of the people in our class, they believe that there is a difference between the parties, that Barack Obama really would do good if he could. But for the last two years, he had a super majority and they didn't end the wars or pass any progressive legislation. But they still blamed the Republicans even though the Republicans were in a distinct minority for the last two years.
Playing games? Anne Gearan (AP) breaks the news this morning that US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates stated publicly today in Kuala Lumpur that the US military may stay in Iraq beyond 2011. She quotes him stating, "We're ready to have that discussion if and when they want to raise it with us." Donna Miles (Defense Dept's press department) adds, "But Gates said he wouldn't expect such a request, at least until the Iraqis have selected a president, prime minister and speaker of the council of representatives and made ministerial-level appointments." You can put that with the remarks made by US State Dept spokesperson Philip J. Crowley said October 25th:
Well, we have a Status of Forces Agreement and a strategic framework. The Status of Forces Agreement expires at the end of next year, and we are working towards complete fulfillment of that Status of Forces Agreement, which would include the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq by the end of next year. The nature of our partnership beyond next year will have to be negotiated. On the civilian side, we are committed to Iraq over the long term. We will have civilians there continuing to work with the government on a range of areas -- economic development, rule of law, civil society, and so forth. But to the extent that Iraq desires to have an ongoing military-to-military relationship with the United States in the future, that would have to be negotiated. And that would be something that I would expect a new government to consider. [. . .] Should Iraq wish to continue the kind of military partnership that we currently have with Iraq, we're open to have that discussion."
And with public remarks made by US Vice President Joe Biden and former US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and . . . October 27th the Christian Science Monitor's editorial board urged Barack to prepare the Congress for the possibility that the US may remain in Iraq and the editorial board noted that "many experts predict Iraq will soon ask Mr. Obama to extend the time for US forces to stay, not only to protect the nation's fledgling democracy but to help Iraq survive as a nation in a hostile neighborhood. Iraq is far behind the schedule set in the 2008 security pact with the United States to bolster its military and police. Its ability to defend its borders and its oil fields -- both of which are critical to US interests -- is years away. And there is much doubt in Washington about the US State Department's ability to take over the American military's role in managing key security aspects of Iraq, such as Kurdish-Arab friction or forming new police forces." Better question: Are the people prepapred?
The SOFA may be followed to the "t" and not renegotiated. It may also be extended. US forces may remain in Iraq past 2011 -- something Gates, Crowley and Biden have all voiced this year -- all serving in the current administration. Something Barack alluded to as candidate but few have been listening apparently. Jason Ditz ( has been noting the various statements and sleights of hand and points out today, "Though President Obama made much of the fake ends to the Iraq War in August, some 50,000 US troops remain on the ground, and despite being formally renamed 'non-combat' troops they continue to engage in combat missions and receive combat pay."
Again, Saturday we noted: "Matt Chittumm (Roanoke Times) reports members of the Virginia National Guard will deploy to Iraq in the new year. Cindy Clayton (Virginian-Pilot) explains that it will be approximately 850 members of the state's National Guard who will be active June 1st and 'The order calls for 240-day tours of duty, but the mobilization could be adjusted, the release says.' Wow. Even if the mobilization isn't adjusted, that would put them in Iraq past the alleged end of 2011 departure. If you don't do math and are extremely gullible, you to can pretend like the White House is invested in getting all troops out of Iraq by the end of 2011." Yesterday Andrew Tilghman (Army Times) reported that second in charge of US forces in Iraq, Lt Gen Robert Cone declared today, "The current brigade roation of one-year sets will continue. We have analyzed it, and what we're telling all units is to plan on a 12-month rotation over there and I think that's prudent." He thinks that's prudent. Who will ask why?
No extension is possible without a government in Iraq to ask it of. Ben Birnbaum (Washington Times) reminds, "Meanwhile, in the northern Kurdish city of Irbil, top figures from Iraq's major parties met behind closed doors Monday in a bid to break the political deadlock that has gripped the country for eight months. The three-day talks begin as the Iraqi Parliament prepares to resume work Thursday, following an order by the country's Supreme Court."

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Mount Merapi says 'LEAVE!'





Ammar Karim (AFP) reports the Iraqi Civil Initiative to Protect the Constitution staged a play in central Baghdad Saturday in which politicians were skewered for their greed and "costly lifestyle [. . .] despite the hard times ordinary Iraqis still face in a country battered by war and sectarian strife." The Iraqi people endure as they wait and wait. Over the weekend, various outlets rushed to spin and lie -- it wasn't reporting -- that a deal had been made and Nouri al-Maliki would be prime minister and . . . Unlike the bulk of his peers, Richard Spencer (Telegraph of London) remains rooted to reality and he reported one of Nouri's spokesperson has "claimed an agreement has been struck for him to remain in office." In Melbourne, Australia today, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton joined her Australian counterpart, Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, and Australi's Minister of Defense Stephen Smith and US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in taking questions. We'll note this exchange.
AFP's Lachlan Carmichael: This is for Secretary Clinton. It is your understanding that there is a power-sharing agreement in Iraq where [Jalal] Talibani would stay on as president, [Nouri] Maliki as prime minister and the al-Iraqiya coalition would offer the post of -- be offered the post of speaker? And does this mean that the Iraqis have finally found a way to manage their ethnic rivalries and produce a functioning government?
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: Lachlan, until a deal on government formation is actually announced by the Iraqis themselves, I am not going to comment or respond. Probably over the course of the last eight months, we've had many indications that they were close to an agreement, they were on the brink of government formation, they had worked out their power-sharing arrangements only not to see that come to fruition. But it is fair to say that we have been consistently uring the Iraqis to have an inclusive government that reflects the interests and needs of the various segments of the population, the there had to be legitimate power-sharing amongst different groups and individuals. And that is what we hope at the end of this process [. . .] will be the result of all of their negotiation.
And Hillary is correct. While most reporters were confused this weekend. Since the process seems to be confusing, let's review. The first thing the Parliament has to do is vote in a Speaker and two deputies. After that takes place -- and there's no reason to believe it will take place quickly or slowly -- the issue of the presidency and vice presidency can be addressed. (If any of this confusing, refer to page 24 of the Iraq Constitution.) The president will then announce the PM-designate -- that's what Nouri or whomever will be -- based on who has the most support from the MPs. The PM-designate then has 30 days to form a Council of Minister (cabinet). Though this would presumably not be a problem for anyone chosen PM-designate, Nouri does have a history of ministers walking out on his cabinet. In fact, for months, Iraq's been without a Minister of Electricity (in violation of the Constitution, Nouri has allowed the Minister of Oil to serve in both posts).

March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board noted in August, "These elections were hailed prematurely by Mr Obama as a success, but everything that has happened since has surely doused that optimism in a cold shower of reality." 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. They are claiming they have the right to form the government. In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister. It's eight months and still counting.
Today Caroline Alexander (Bloomberg News) reports, "Iraqi leaders called for a united government as they met to try to end eight months of political deadlock and speed up the formation of a new parliament." Ben Lando (Wall St. Journal) reports, "Monday's meeting, the first of two planned this week, lasted less than two hours and adjourned before lunch on Monday in the northern city of Erbil. This meeting consisted of a handful of leaders giving brief speeches, at times praising each other, at the same time blaming the delay in forming a new government on rivals' inability to compromise." CNN adds, "Leading up to Monday's meeting, officials had said they were close to completing an agreement, but remarks made by a number of the leaders indicated that they have yet to address key sticking points that remain unresolved ahead of this week's parliament session." Various reports (including CNN's) quote at least one politician stating that more should have been done before this week (Parliament is scheduled to meet on Thursday). While that can be read as sour grapes or impatience (rightly or wrongly), Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) quotes a curious statement by KRG President Massoud Barzani, "This is just one meeting -- the first of many to come in which many issues must be resolved in order to reach an agreement. I see many details -- too many to be resolved in two or three days." I have no idea whether he delivered the remarks in Kurdish, Arabic or English (I'd guess Arabic) but Barzani is fluent in every language he speaks. He does not stumble for words. He knew what he was saying.
Over the weekend, the 'news' of "stalemate ended!" repeatedly noted the Kurds had been the kingmakers. There's Barzani indicating people shouldn't expect this to be wrapped up in three days. The same leaders are scheduled to meet tomorrow and a third day of meetings -- of deputies -- has been discussed. Barzani is clearly stating that three days is not enough to reach an agreement. It's a curious statement. BBC News reports, "The leaders have yet to agree on nominations for prime minister, president and speaker in time for a parliamentary vote on Thursday." Jim Muir (BBC News) maintains that "Allawi is trying to exact a high price for taking part in a Maliki administration, seeking to head a new 'National Council for Strategic Policy' with decision-making powers equal to the prime minister's." Meanwhile Jane Arraf reports that Kurdish officials state the US is calling for Jalal Talabani to not continue as the president because they want Allawi to have the post.
Sunday, October 31st, Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad was attacked and at least 58 people died. Michael Jansen (Irish Times) reports, "In the immediate aftermath of the attack on the church, France offered refuge to 150 Iraqi Christians, including some of the wounded." Jacques Clement (AFP via Middle East Online) reports on Siba Nadhir who will be evacuated to France today and who is four-months pregnant and was shot twice in the assault. She states, "They told me it would be better for my baby if I went to France for treatment. I don't want to go. I would rather stay here near my husband who was wounded and is in intensive care." Clement reports that Nadhi's family has not yet been able to tell her that her husband is dead. AFP reports that 36 Iraqis are already in route to France. The attack was news around the world and horrified people of all faiths and of no faith. Just as you do not expect a school to be a terrorist target (see the Beslan school hostage), you do not expect people participating in a faith worship to be held hostage. As Eliza Griswold (Daily Beast) pointed out, "It also marks a shift in patterns of violence. It's nothing new for militants to destroy empty churches. But this bloodbath in a sanctuary full of worshippers is horribly new." Jim Muir (BBC News) notes it is "the worst single disaster to afflict Iraq's Christians in modern times". Though everyone from the Pope to the Palestinian President publicly expressed their dismay over the assault, US President Barack Obama never said a word. (Apparently -- unlike a beer or Slurpee summit, the topic holds little interst for Barack.) That may go a long way towards explaining why France's government has sprung into action and the US government has done nothing. Friday, US House Rep Anna G. Eshoo's office issued the following:

Call on the Administration to Develop Comprehensive Policy to Protect Indigenous Religious Communities in Iraq

Washington, D.C. -- In the wake of the hostage crisis which occurred at Our Lady of Salvation Catholic Church in Baghdad, Iraq, U.S. Representatives Anna G. Eshoo (CA-14) and Frank Wolf (VA-10), who co-chair the Religious Minorities in the Middle East Caucus, as well as several other Representatives, sent a letter today to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, calling for the Obama Administration to develop a comprehensive policy for the protection of indigenous religious communities in Iraq. Members of Congress also offered condolences to the victims and their families.

Rep. Eshoo said: "As an Assyrian American, the plight of Iraq's indigenous religious communities has always held a very personal significance for me. Nearly constant violence has been a tragic consequence of our involvement in Iraq, and without clear action from the U.S. government, Iraq's ancient Christian community faces extinction. The horrific attack and loss of life once again underscores the need for a concrete strategy to protect Iraq's religious minorities."

Rep. Wolf said: "Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims of the hostage crisis at Our Lady of Salvation Catholic Church in Baghdad. This horrific attack against Christians gathered in their place of worship is symptomatic of a much larger problem -- namely that Iraq's ancient faith communities are being systematically targeted and driven from the land they have inhabited for centuries, threatening their very existence in modern day Iraq. Successive administrations have failed to recognize the unique needs of these indigenous faith communities and to prioritize their protection and preservation. This neglect comes at a grave cost. We can only hope that this tragedy will prompt a renewed focus on the plight of these vulnerable communities."

Rep. Mark Steven Kirk said: "I condemn in the strongest terms the horrific attack on the Our Lady of Salvation Catholic Church in Baghdad and extend my deepest condolences to the victims and their families. We must recognize that this reprehensible act specifically targeted the Iraqi Christians, continuing an alarming pattern of violence against vulnerable minority groups in Iraq. In the wake of this tragedy, I call on the Iraqi government, the Obama Administration, as well as international stakeholders, to prioritize the protection of indigenous religious communities in Iraq."

Rep. Trent Franks said: "This devastating attack, which claimed the lives of 58 people who committed no offense other than having the 'nerve' to be Christian, reminds us that the precious freedoms we enjoy as Americans are not a given in other parts of the world. Despite the incredible progress Iraq has made over the past decade, it can never truly be said that Iraq is a wholly free and stable representative of Democracy in the Middle East until religious minorities are able to put their beliefs into action without fear of reprisal. I join my colleagues in mourning the lives senselessly lost as a result of this cowardly violence and I call on the Obama Administration to prioritize an articulated strategy for Iraq's indigenous religious community."

Rep. Chris Smith: "The devastation suffered by members of Our Lady of Salvation Catholic Church -- and of all religious minorities in Iraq -- is almost beyond the comprehension of those of us who live in a country where the human right of religious freedom is respected. Nearly half of the worshipers died, and those who survived were wounded in body and spirit by the psychotic hatred of those who would control the free world through terror. We must protect, as first priority, the courageous believers who dare to follow their conscience rather than be controlled by fear. It is they who help lead the way in the fight for freedom and democracy in Iraq."

Rep. Scott Garrett: "I extend my deepest condolences to the family members and loved ones of those who perished on Sunday at Our Lady of Salvation Catholic Church. As thousands of Iraqis continue to be the victims of ethnic and religious discrimination in Iraq, I encourage Secretary Clinton to develop a strategy to address the ongoing atrocities. The United States was founded on the principles of freedom and equality, and should strongly resist the intolerance that fueled the recent hostage crisis in Baghdad."


Click here to view the letter.

Yesterday In England, Archbishop Athanasios Dawood has issued a statement. CNN quotes him calling for Iraqi Christians to leave Iraq immediately:

I say clearly and now -- the Christian people should leave their beloved land of our ancestors and escape the premeditated ethnic cleansing. This is better than having them killed one by one. [. . .] The Iraqi government is weak, biased, if not extremist. It does not protect us and the other minorities. It has ignored our legal rights. We ask the British government, the EU and the UN to protect us. [. . .] I ask the British government again to help the Iraqi Christians and grant them the rights of humanitarian asylum in order to preserve what is left of the victims who do not carry a weapon to fight and kill."

The Archbishop appeared on BBC News Sunday (link has text and video):

Archbishop Athanasios Dawood: Our people now in Iraq, they are living in danger -- no protection, no support, nobody look after them. After this many years -- about eight -- since the fall of the old regime, nobody support our people. Our people are trying to flee from Iraq afraid from persecution, from killing, from ethnic cleansing and all the terrorists now, they attack all of our people in Iraq.

Vatican Radio adds, "The Catholic community in Baghdad and throughout Iraq gathered for Sunday mass amid heightened security, following last weeks attack on the Our Lady of Salvation Church. Elsewhere, thousands took to the streets of cities in Canada and the US this weekend to commemorate last Sunday's massacre and call for greater protection for the dwindling minority in Iraq." Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad held their first mass today since last week's attack. Jo Siedlecka (Independent Catholic News) reports, "The walls are covered in bullet holes and still stained with blood; benches have been moved out of the church where 120 people were held hostage by Islamic militants. Father Mukhlis began the Mass by saying they would pray for the victims of the assault and for the attackers alike. He said: 'We will perform a strange kind of prayer, because Christ tells us: "Love your enemies." We will pray for those who assaulted our church and shed the blood of our martyrs. AP notes, of last Sunday's assault, "at least one . . . [of the two priests killed last week] was shot execution-style on the church floor."
Today targeted populations included Iranian pilgrims. Jack Healy (New York Times) reports car bombings in Karbala and Najaf claimed the lives of "at least 16" Iranian pilgrims. Al Jazeera notes, "The revered Imam Ali shrine in Najaf attracts hundreds of thousands of Shia Muslims from Iraq, Iran and other countries every year." BBC News adds, "Both cities, places of Shia pilgrimage, have frequently been the target of bomb attacks, most recently in July and August, says the BBC' Jim Muir in Baghdad." Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) counts 22 dead with 61 wounded. Healy quotes Najaf Sheik Majid al-Najafi stating, "They are targeting Chrisians, Shiites, Sunnis and pilgrims coming from outside Iraq."

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