Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Iraqi elections

When Ammar al-Hakim was 8, he acted as a secret runner, delivering messages from his uncle and father, leaders of a nascent Islamist organization in Iraq, to the home of Mohammed Baqr al-Sadr, another Islamist leader, then under house arrest.
Today, the 39-year-old imam is leader of Iraq's largest Shia religious party, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), and he uses the delivering-messages story to deflect criticism of his relative youth and inexperience, showing how he cut his teeth on politics and has more political experience than men much older.
More than that, he has used his experience to reunite two bitter rivals to create Iraq's most potent political force going into January's parliamentary election. It's a force many think is the only thing that can unseat Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in the country's first real test of one democratically elected government handing power to the next.
The Jan. 16 election is a test of whether Iraq – faced with the withdrawal of U.S. troops and entering a period of relative calm after years of violence and occupation – can contain religious and political tensions with an effective national government.

That's from Patrick Martin's "Once bitter rivals now a united force in Iraq vote" (Globe & Mail) is a pretty strong and long article. I was looking for something 'on the ground' about the elections the other day and today C.I. passed the above on to me. And here's Liz Sly (Los Angeles Times) on the latest developments:

The Iraqi parliament acknowledged failure in its efforts to pass an election law today and referred the issue to the Political Council for National Security, an informal advisory body comprising all the heads of the major political blocs.
The move seems certain to delay at least until next week an agreement on the new law needed to regulate nationwide elections due to be held on Jan. 16, putting at risk the date of the election.

Chris Hill, US Ambassador to Iraq, has insisted it will make no difference; however, Robert Gates (Secretary of Defense) is less sure. And you'll find out more about what's what in the snapshot.
C.I.'s covering a Congressional hearing and there's a lot in there. Going out with C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

Wednesday, October 21, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, the Iraqi Parliament still has not passed an election law, the issue was raised by the US Congress today, Congress has a problem getting the Defense Department to show them a draw-down plan, and more.

"Today the Committee meets to receive testimony on the status of the US Military Redeployment From Iraq: Issues and Challenges," explained US House Armed Services Committee Chair Ike Skelton this morning. The Committee heard from the Pentagon's Michele Flournoy, Vice Admiral James Winnefeld, Alan Estevez and Lt Gen Kathleen Gainey. Chair Skelton observed, "I don't think anyone on this committee thinks this will be the last hearing on this subject. We have been involved in Iraq for a long time, and I believe we will be involved there for a long time to come." In her opening remarks, Flournoy noted that

Michele Flournoy: Examples of the kinds of excess equipment that we intend to transfer to the ISF [Iraqi Security Forces] are tool kits and sets, individual clothing and equipment items such as helmets and body armor and commercial trucks. We requested the authority to streamline the material process and transfer some non-excess equipment such as 9mm pistols, cargo trucks, airfield control and operations systems, M1114 up-armored HWMMVs and armored gun trucks. We would like thank the Committee for including this authority as it will help ensure that the ISF can fulfill their mission by the time US forces depart, an absolutely vital step toward the goal of a soverign, stable and self-reliant Iraq.

Meanwhile Vice Admiral James Winnefeld
made like Fatboy Slim. The original . . .

Fatboy Slim: We've come a long, long way together
Through the hard times and the good
I have to celebrate you baby
I have to praise you like I should-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d

The pale copy . . .

Vice Admiral James Winnefeld: Meanwhile the Iraqi Security Forces
which we'll refer to as "ISF"
have come a long way
since the security agreement was signed in November 2008.

Like most people, I prefer the original; however, it should be noted that both are creative -- even if only one is recognized as such while the other is treated as 'fact' by a cowed media.

Chair Ike Skelton: Back on July 22nd, Madame Undersecretary, we asked that the Department of Defense provide our committee with a copy of Up Forward 0901 which is, so the members will remember, the order that lays out the organizations and responsibilities for various functions and how the redeployment will work. Despite repeated requests, by our staff, of the Dept of Defense, that Up Forward 0901 has not been provided nor has their been a legal reason given for not providing it for us. Now we pass legislation based upon testimony, based upon briefings, based upon documents. And all of this goes together to put us in position to receive compliments like Admiral Winnefeld just gave us on putting out good legislation. But this one piece of legislation, which is highly important on redeployment from Iraq, thus far, unless you're willing to give it to us this morning, has not been furnished.

Michele Flournoy: Sir, I am -- we are quite happy to have -- to bring that O plan over to you to have staff brief you on the details --

Chair Ike Skelton: And you will leave it with us in our classified --

Michele Flournoy: And I regret that we were not more responsive to your request earlier. But what we'd like to do is come over and-and share it with you, brief you on it and we can work out the details of how it should be handled.

Chair Ike Skelton: Well the details are not just coming over and show it to us and then walk back with it.

Michele Flournoy: I understand.

Chair Ike Skelton: We are very responsible in this committee and responsible with classified material as you know.

Michele Flournoy: I understand. Right.

Chair Ike Skelton: It's some 400 pages long --

Michele Flournoy: [Overlapping] I understand.

Chair Ike Skelton: -- and come over and give us a rough look in 400 pages is pretty difficult. And we would expect full cooperation. And really, is there some reason? We really want to know --

Michele Flournoy: There is --

Chair Ike Skelton: I'm not trying to be difficult I just really want to know.

Michele Flournoy: There is no intention to keep the information from you at all and-and we want to be responsive to your requests.

Chair Ike Skelton: But that was July 22nd?

Michele Flournoy: I understand. I think it was recently brought to my attention and we want to make sure that we are responsive to your response as quick -- as soon as possible. I don't have it physically with me today but I can promise you that we will get it to you.

Chair Ike Skelton: You'll bring it over and leave it with us in a classified manner so we will have the time to go through the 400 pages? Is that correct?

Michele Flournoy: Yes.

Requested July 22nd and three months later still not provided. Why would the administration work so hard to avoid sharing the plan with Congress? And didn't the secrecy leave with George W. Bush? ("No" on the latter.)

Iraq still hasn't passed the election law. The one that was supposed to have been passed by Parliament no later than . . . last Thursday.
Jeff Mason (Reuters) reports that "Barack Obama urged Iraq on Tuesday to complete an election law so that a January poll is not delayed" and it didn't make a damn bit of difference. Iran's Press TV reports the Parliament took a pass again today and quotes Speaker of Parliament Iyad al-Samarrai, "The issue has failed and has been moved on to the Political Council for National Security." Gina Chon (Wall St. Journal) quotes al-Sammaraie stating, "Lawmakers felt they had reached a dead end and couldn't move forward any further so we are giving this to the political leaders." They are now 'planning' to vote on Monday . . . "if the council, comprising of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, President Jalal Talabani and the leaders of major political parties, make a proposal by Sunday." Laith Hammoudi and Jenan Hussein (McClatchy Newspapers) report that Dawa Party member Ali al "Adeeb told McClatchy in a phone call that the Kirkuk issue is the main problem with the new law. He added that Arab and Turkomen want to use 2004 voter records, because those after the 2005 election reflect a large increase in the province's Kurdish population. The Kurdish bloc in the parliament, however, wants the province's representation to reflect that increase, which Kurds argue merely reverses Saddam's 'Arabization' campaign." Suadad al-Salhy (Reuters) reports, "The United Nations envoy to Iraq, Ad Melkert, said further delays in passing the law may call into doubt not only the Jan. 16 election date, but also the credibility of the result." Melkert is quoted stating, "It is the collective responsibility of members of parliament to now rise to the occassion and be ready to account to the Iraqi people, who expect to exercise their right to express their preference in the upcoming elecitons." Rod Nordland (New York Times) adds, "The Iraqi Independent High Electoral Commission and United Nations elections experts have said Iraq needs at least 90 days to adequately prepare for the vote. Iraq's existing election law was declared unconstitutional by its highest court, which said it needs to be replaced or amended." Jane Arraf observes in "Discord as elections looms in Iraq" (Global Post):As Iraqi parliamentarians struggled over the past week with exactly how democratic they really want to be, it was telling that the brightest spot of democracy and certainly the savviest public relations campaign was playing out across town in Sadr City. Members of parliament for the past two weeks have been trying to pass an election law that would pave the way for national elections by the end of January, which are wanted by the voters and required by the Constitution. A vote Thursday became bogged down in a dispute over how voting would take place in Kirkuk, the city disputed by Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen and every other group that wants to lay claim to its oil and historic homelands. It stalled again on Monday.The delay has so alarmed both the U.S. and the U.N. that they've both issued statements urging parliament to get its act together and pass the law. The U.S. has been so fixated on the January elections that worry over the timing and type of elections has eclipsed the almost unspoken fear lurking in the background that elections done badly could be even more destabilizing than no vote at all.

The lack of an election law was raised during today's hearing.

Ranking Member Howard McKeon: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I have this article that was written [by Oliver August] in the London Times yesterday. The title is "
Violence Threatens Barack Obama's pledge to pull troops out of Iraq." And what they're basically saying is that they're threatening to move back the election from January. The election can't be held until their Parliament passes an election law. And, uh, al Qaeda doesn't want to have an election. And they want to do what they can to disrupt it. [The top US commander in Iraq] General [Ray] Odierno feels that he needs to keep his troops there thirty to sixty days after the election to ensure a peaceful transition of government. Do you have any intelligence showing that -- or any feeling that the election is going to be postponed?

Michele Flournoy: Uh, let me start by saying, you know, the draw-down plan that we have, is conditions based and it creates multiple decision points for re-evaluating and, if necessary, changing our plans based on developments on the ground. Although the government of Iraq's self-imposed deadline of October 15th for passing the elections law has passed, we judge that the COR [Council Of Representatives] still has another week or two to come to some kind of an agreement on the elections law before it will put the January date -- the early January date -- in jeopardy in terms of the election commission's ability to actually physically execute the, uh, the election. If a new law with open lists is not passed, the fall back solution for them is to return to the 2005 election law which is based on a closed list system. But that could be used for upcoming elections, the COR would simply have to vote on an election date. If that law is not passed in the next two weeks, they will be looking at slipping the date to later in January which would still be compliant with the [Iraqi] Constitution but would be later than originally planned. In that instance, M-NF-I [Multi-National Forces Iraq] would need to engage with the government of Iraq to do some contingency planning on how to secure the elections at a later date and that might well have-have implications. But I just want to reinforce, right now, on the ground in Baghdad, here in Washington, just yesterday, our focus is on trying to stick to the current election timeline. The [US] President [Barack Obama] personally impressed upon Prime Minister [Nouri al-] Maliki the importance of sticking to the Constitutionally specified timeline for the Iraqi elections and we are putting all of our diplomatic effort towards that end. That said, of course we will have contingency plans to adjust if necessary. But right now, we're using all of our diplomatic and other leverage to try to make sure the elections happen on time.

Ranking Member Howard McKeon: We won't be forcing General Odierno to withdraw our troops if they don't hold the election in a timely manner? We will still be flexible and allow him to keep the troops there? To provide the national security so they don't -- they don't put themselves at risk in trying to rush out in the couple of month period?

Michele Flournoy: The draw-down plan is not rigid. It is got -- it is conditions based, it leaves room for re-evaluation and adjustment in terms of the pace of the draw-down between now and the end of 2011 so, if need be, we will re-examine things based on conditions on the ground.

The above will shock a few. Especially those who, for example, foolishly believed Barack wanted all troops out and was promising that when he ran for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination. Barack made clear to the New York Times that everything was contingent and that he would send troops back in if there was a problem. Of course, the New York Times confused the issue with their write up of that interview (Tom Hayden got confused, for instance) and it was only if you read the transcript of the interview that you discovered what Barack was actually saying (when Hayden discovered that, he suddenly was alarmed but, like all of his alarms, it was a twenty-four hour, viral kind of alarm).

From the
November 2, 2007 snapshot

Though Obama says he wants "to be clear," he refuses to answer that yes or no question and the interview is over."
So let's be clear that the 'anti-war' Obama told the paper he would send troops back into Iraq. Furthermore, when asked if he would be willing to do that unilaterally, he attempts to beg off with, "We're talking too speculatively right now for me to answer." But this is his heavily pimped September (non)plan, dusted off again, with a shiny new binder. The story is that Barack Obama will NOT bring all US troops home. Even if the illegal war ended, Obama would still keep troops stationed in Iraq (although he'd really, really love it US forces could be stationed in Kuwait exclusively), he would still use them to train (the police0 and still use them to protect the US fortress/embassy and still use them to conduct counter-terrorism actions.

You can also see
Third's article and the actual transcript of the interview.

Or we could paraphrase Samantha Power (to the BBC in March of 2008) and offer that Barack can't be held, in 2011, to any promise he might make as a president in 2009 because things on the ground change. And though many work overtime to avoid that potential occurence, it was raised in the hearing today.

US House Rep Vic Synder: What if things really go badly in Iraq and President Obama who has already made the decision, he's already sent 17,000 additional troops has changed the leadership in Afghanistan and clearly is making Afghanistan a higher priority, what if he were to decide, in the Secretary's words, be flexible, we're going to have put troops back in? Uh, you say we have adequate capacity, we didn't. We didn't for six or seven years. If we had it, I don't know where they were but we didn't as a country respond to the need in Afghanistan. What assurance do we have adequate capacity should we decide that we need to return troops to Iraq.

Vice Adm James Winnefeld: I'd say right now our-our principal focus right now is to make sure that-that-that Iraq goes on the same trajectory that it's on and we don't have to confront that decision. And so far [. . .]

So far. So far. So far isn't a concrete state, now is it?

In one of the more interesting exchanges, Chair Skelton brought up an issue from the prepared statements that he found puzzling and it was interesting to watch as Flournoy fumbled and stumbled.

Chair Ike Skelton: Before I call on Mr. Hunted, Madame Under Secretary, let me add, on page six of the written [opening] statement furnished us, it says that "we have made contingent support of the Iraqi Security Forces contingent on their non-sectarian performance. Now, I suppose that means, contingent upon the Shi'ites not shooting Sunnis. How will this work? How will we make judgments on this? Have we placed any other conditions on future assistance? Tell us about it.

Michele Flournoy: Well, I think, this is something that we are in dialogue with the Iraqi government about and Iraqi commanders about on an ongoing basis. We are supporting the development of the ISF towards a certain objectives and one of those is a -- is making sure that the military is truly representative of Iraq, it's a national institution, it is not a tool that anyone individual or party or person in power can use for sectarian aims. We continue to monitor that. In many instances, we've had uh-uh many opportunities to work through specific issues and frankly the Iraqis have been very responsive over time on this point. They understand that the only way we can get the support here to support them is to demonstrate that truly are a non-sectarian institution. So we continue to bring that home at every level -- from the tactical all the way up to the headquarters to here in Washington when we have interactions.

Chair Ike Skelton: If we do see some sectarian performance, what do we do?

Michele Flournoy: Uh, generally what's happened is the ambassador [Chris Hill] and General Odierno have uh have gone -- have called the, uh, the government and the military on the issue, immediately gone in to discuss it with them and-and worked out remedial steps to either isolate a unit, to step in and deal with a situation and so forth. They've also taken very proactive initiatives such as to try to get the ISF, for example, and the [Kurdish forces] peshmerga much more closely in border areas where the two forces come up against each other. So I think that they've done both reactive steps and proactive steps but, again, we have seen -- you know, we've seen a decrease, a decline, in that kind of behavior over time, uhm, and so that is the good news. Something we need to continue to be watchful for but it's something that has been very well managed up to this point.

Chair Ike Skelton: If there is a severe sectarian act, at what point do we say, 'Sorry, we're out of here?'

Michele Flournoy: Well I, uh, again, I think, uhm, you -- you know, I don't want to speculate on what exactly could provoke that kind of thing. What-what I can say is we take it very seriously, we've taken it very seriously and

Chair Ike Skelton: Well the important thing is do they take it very seriously?

Michele Flournoy: They-they certainly understand when this is happen -- you know, in the instances this has happened, the reaction from us has been very swift and very clear and uhm it's had impact. So I don't think there's any question in the minds of the Iraqi government where our red lines are on this issue.

Let's zoom in on one section of that exchange:

Chair Ike Skelton: If there is a severe sectarian act, at what point do we say, 'Sorry, we're out of here?'

Michele Flournoy: Well I, uh, again, I think, uhm, you -- you know, I don't want to speculate on what exactly could provoke that kind of thing. What-what I can say is we take it very seriously, we've taken it very seriously and

You don't want to speculate? Interesting because I can't think of a single time when the United States government would be involved with another government known for human rights abuses and they would not stick a qualifier on it as in, "You do X and we pull our backing." Now "X" might be far after the point that I'd want the backing pulled, but there is always a line that will not be crossed and there is nothing speculative about it. So it's interesting that Flournoy wants to claim otherwise and what it really indicates is that the US government has no intention of pulling out for any reason. Her claims that, in the past, a 'scolding' led to changes is ridiculous. It was not a civil war in 2006 and 2007. I've used that term here myself and I've stated in the last twelve or so months that I was wrong on that. It was genocide. There were not two equal sides in that 2006 and 2007 conflict. There was an armed and funded side and there was the Sunni side. It was genocide, it was ethnic cleansing. And it only stopped because it 'worked' for the Shi'ites. Had it not worked, it would continue to this day. There was no desire on the part of Nouri to stop it because he was getting a scolding from the US and you really have to be in a child-like state (to put it nicely) to buy that or what Flournoy attempted to sell in that exchange.

Violence continued in Iraq today . . .


Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Kirkuk bombing which claimed the life of 1 journalist (cameraman) and wounded another. Reuters notes an Iskandariya bombing which left six people injured. Xinhua reports that twelve people were wounded in the Iskandariya bombing and that it took place "at a busy marketplace".


Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 adult and 1 child were shot dead in Nineveh Province. Reuters notes that 2 people (parents of a police officer) were shot dead in Mosul.


Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 Iraqi police officer was stabbed to death in Falluja.

Nouri al-Maliki continues his stay in the US.
Carl Azuz (CNN Student News) reports, "Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is visiting the U.S. this week, meeting with American leaders and taking part in a conference about his country's business opportunities. During yesterday's meeting with President Obama, the two talked about Iraq's economy, but they also discussed that nation's security situation. President Obama says he's committed to all U.S. troops leaving Iraq by the end of 2011. But both leaders are concerned about an increase in violence in Iraq and the possibility that the country's upcoming parliamentary elections could be delayed."

Two US service members have been announced dead in Iraq this week. One was Bradley Espinoza, the other was Daniel Rivera. Myrian Rivera is Daniel Rivera's mother and
she tells WIVB (link has text and video), "This war has to end . . . because they're little, they're kids. He's 22, he's a kid. They're kids dying." Susan Reimer (Baltimore Sun) reports on Peg Mullern who recently passed away and fought to find out why her son Michael died while serving. Reimer traces Peg Mullen's legacy on through Cindy Sheehan (mother of Casey Sheehan) and Marty Tillman (mother of Pat Tillman). Meanwhile Lauren DeFranco (WABC -- link has text and video) reports Christal Wagenhauser gave birth to a two month premature daughter and she and the family want Cpl Kieth Wagenhouser -- currently stationed in Iraq -- home to see the baby: "If the baby's condition deteriorates, it would take Wagenhauser a week to get home. At that point, it would be too late."

In the US yesterday, a twenty-year-old Iraqi woman was run over along with her 43-year-old friend.
James King (Phoenix News) reports that police are looking for the twenty-year-old's father, Faleh Hassan Almaleki, whom they supsect of running the two women down and that the alleged motive is that the daughter was "becoming too westernized." Katie Fisher (ABC 15 -- link has text and video) reports the 20-year-old woman is Noor Faleh Almaleki and her 43-year-old friend is Amal Edan Khalaf and the friend is also the mother of the twenty-year-old's boyfriend.

mcclatchy newspaperslaith hammoudi
the wall street journalgina chon
jane arraf
the new york timesrod nordland
lauren de franco
oliver augustthe times of london

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