BULLY BOY PRESS & CEDRIC'S BIG MIX -- THE KOOL-AID TABLE
THE CRY IS RISING FOR BARACK TO KEEP HIS CAMPAIGN PROMISE OF OPEN, TELEVISED NEGOTIATIONS; HOWEVER, CELEBRITY IN CHIEF BARRY O IS REFUSING AND STALLING.
THESE REPORTERS WERE NOT ABLE TO REACH BARRY O BUT WE DID SPEAK TO HIS SPOUSE, SHE HULK, ON THE PHONE AND SHE EXPLAINED, "CAMERAS ON SENATORS? CAMERAS ON ANYONE OTHER THAN BARRY? AND YOU DON'T SEE WHY MR. I'M-SO-VAIN IS AGAINST IT?"
FROM THE TCI WIRE:
John Jenkins: So on that basis, I would say that actually the professionalism of the armed forces is going up, and, to a certain extent, this must partly be because they have retained enough professional expertise and experience within their ranks to make that possible. You will also hear from people who say that this is a risk. It remains a risk by having people who have a Ba'athi background within the armed forces at senior levels, and I think one of the things we have seen since the -- the most recent spike in bombings in Baghdad, which started in August, have been renewed accusations that elements -- unreconciled elements of the Ba'ath Party, based externally, are deeply involved in these attacks and retain the will and the aspiration to re-emerge as a political force, as a sort of politically irredentist, a political force within Iraq. I find it very difficult to judge the force of those claims, but the conclusion I draw is that there is clearly a balance to be drawn between using professional competence and experience of former army officers under Saddam, to provide the backbone of the modern Iraqi security forces and dealing with the suspicions and fears of others, that this is the reintroduction of an element of the Ba'ath Party, unreconiclable elements of the Ba'ath Party, back into the security forces. I don't know how that balance is going to be struck. I don't know exactly what the balance at the moment is, what the reality of this is, but it is clearly a political issue inside Iraq and will remain a political issue beyond the national elections in March, I suspect.
Committee Member Roderic Lyne: Going beyond the military, we heard from earlier witnesses how a lot of teachers, doctors, civil servants, competent professionals, who had to be in the Ba'ath Party in order to do what they did, were excluded. Do you feel that that has now been corrected?
John Jenkins: I do not have a real sense of that.
Committee Member Roderic Lyne: Do you want to comment on that?
Frank Baker: If I could. I would comment more about government employees in Ministries across Baghdad where I think it is certainly the case that a large number of Sunnis, and, therefore, by definition, former Ba'ath Party members, are now being employed -- have been employed, in fact, for the last two or three years. If you look at, for example, the Ministry of Water, where a lot of them are technocrats, but the Minister for Water had made an effort to bring back a lot of the previous Ba'athist experience in order to try to get the Ministry up and running properly back in about 2007/2008. So I think the indications there are, yes, they have done so. I think, if I may, just to revert to your previous question about the democratisation, I think these two are related because on of the big changes we have seen since 2005 has actually been the re-emergence of the Sunnis as a political force in Iraq, with the Sunnis having essentially taken their toys out the pram and walked away. Back in 2004, not actually partaking in the 2005 provincial elections, not really being a part of the 2005 national elections, and, in fact, what we saw in 2009 was that they played a full part in that and they are going to play a full part in the national elections scheduled for March this year. In that sense, we are seeing the Sunnis now coming back and trying to play a full role -- a large part of the Sunni movement.
Witnesses offer their take. They may be lying. They may be honest. On the latter, even when honest, it is their view and may be limited or grossly uninformed. Grossly uninformed would probably best describe Frank Baker who apparently doesn't pick up a newspaper. (As noted in yesterday's snapshot, Iraq is currently banning various political groups from participating in elections intended to take place in March). John Jenkins is England's current Ambassaodr to Iraq and Baker is their ambassador to Kuwait. Jenkins and Baker appeared before the Iraq Inquiry in London today offering joint-testimony and also appearing today was Peter Watkins (British Director of Operational Policy) (link goes to video and transcript options). We're done with Baker, obviously. Can't even read the morning paper, not much use in you. We'll instead note the following lengthy exchange:
John Jenkins: I think there was a risk with the national elections in March that the turnout will be lower. Because I think it is still fragile, because I think -- having the habit of mind which sees democracy as something you actually have to work at is difficult and is not common at all in the Middle East. But I think this -- the way that politics has emerged as an alternative to the violent settling of disputes seems to be something that most Iraqis actually want. I think one of the turning points, one of the key -- if you can pinpoint what changed when was when Ayatollah Al-Sistani essentially said to people, "Vote. It is important that you vote". I think one of the lessons that the Shia in particular drew from what happened in the 1920s in Iraq is that they didn't actually participate in the process of conducting a modern state with the British mandated authority at the time. They were determined not to repeat this mistake and they concluded that, as the majority community in Iraq, it was, and is, in their interests to have a system that reflects their weight of numbers in the allocation of power at the centre. They also know that they need to bring along the other communities with them, the Sunnis and the Kurds. They know, I think -- or at least a substantial portion of them know -- that they can't do this by violence. You cannot impose this on the Sunnis. I think that in itself is a guarantee of the sustainability of some sort of democratic system in Iraq. How exactly over the next ten years this system will evolve and what sort of democratic system or accountable responsive system we will be looking at in ten year's time, I still find it quite difficult to predict, but they do have the institutions. They have the Council of Representatives, which is actually functioning pretty well, it passes laws, it has debates, but it doesn't have endless debates without passing anything which happens elsewhere in the Middle East where you have similar assemblies. It is not a done deal. It is not a done deal. If you look at the history of Iraq and the history of military coups in Iraq, you have to think that is always a possibility, a real possibility in the future, but I think where we are at the moment is -- it is much better than we thought it was going to be back in 2004/2005.
Committee Member Roderic Lyne: Yes. I mean, obviously, if one goes back to early 2003, one of the stated objective of the leaders of the coalition was that, after Saddam Hussein, there should be democracy in Iraq, and there were people who argued, for precisely the reasons you have given, that this is a singular experience, unique experience in the Middle East and in Iraq's history, that this was simply not realistic. But what you call the democratisation agenda which is now being pursued, but with, as you say, some way to go and no certainty as to success, this is now a realistic agenda?
John Jenkins: Yes, I believe it is.
Committee Member Roderic Lyne: In the circumstances of today?
John Jenkins: I believe it is.
Committee Member Roderic Lyne: Can I ask you about de-Ba'athification? Yesterday, General White-Spunner was telling us how some of the Iraqi generals and commanders he was working with were people who had, as it were, been de-Ba'athified and then had come back into service. To what extent over the last two years/three years, since 2009, has there been a corrective to perhaps excessive de-Ba'athification under the CPA in 2003? Are people being rehabilitated on the basis of their abilities and merits now?
John Jenkins: I'm told -- to be quite honest, I don't know how far this is true, but I am told that many of the senior officers, the generals in particular, in the Iraqi armed forces had -- have some sort of Ba'athi background or background in the Saddam armed forces. Now, of course, it is true that under Saddam, if you want to get on in the armed forces, you need to be a member of Ba'ath Party.
Committee Member Roderic Lyne: Not just in the armed forces?
John Jenkins: Not just in the armed forces. How far that is being done on the basis of merit, I don't know, is the answer to that. The people who deal most closely with the Iraqi security forces, which are the Americans, say that the standard -- the competence of the Iraqi armed forces is going up. They are getting better and there are elements within the security forces who are very good; elements who aren't so good, but elements who are good. [C.I. note: Next section is where we came in for this snapshot.] So on that basis, I would say that actually the professionalism of the armed forces is going up, and, to a certain extent, this must partly be because they have retained enough professional expertise and experince within their ranks to make that possible. You will also hear from people who say that this is a risk. It remains a risk by having people who have a Ba'athi background within the armed forces at senior leavels, and I think one of the things we have seen since the -- the most recent spike in bombings in Baghdad, which started in August, have been renewed accusations that elements -- unreconciled elements of the Ba'ath Party, based externally, are deeply involved in these attacks and retain the will and the aspiration to re-emerge as a poltical force, as a sort of politically irredentist, a political force within Iraq. I find it very difficult to judge the force of those claims, but the conclusion I draw is that there is clearly a balance to be drawn between using professional competence and experience of former army officers under Saddam, to provide the backbone of the modern Iraqi security forces and dealing with the suspicions and fears of others, that this is the reintroduction of an element of the Ba'ath Party, unreconcilable elements of the Ba'ath Party, back into the security forces. I don't know how that balance is going to be struck. I don't know exactly what the balance at the moment is, what the reality of this is, but it is clearly a political issue inside Iraq and will remain a political issue beyond the national elections in March, I suspect.
From the above section, Richard Norton-Taylor (Guardian) emphasizes that a military coup is still "a real possibility". Alex Barker (Financial Times of London) also stresses that aspect. Surprisingly since this is what stood out to the press (those are just two examples), none latched upon Iraqi President Jalal Talabani's statements Wednesday. Huang Peizhao and Li Xiao (People's Daily Online) reported of Wednesday's remarks:
On Wednesday, a military parade was held in Baghdad "Green Zone" of the unknown soldier monument to mark the 89th anniversary of the Iraqi Army Day. President Jalal Talabani and top military officers attended a ceremony and parade. In his speech delivered on the occasion, President Talabani stressed the need "to build a new Iraqi army with a defensive ideology", and the task of the military is "to protect the population and enforce security within its borders", "to defend the territorial integrity and state sovereignty" and to "fight terrorism". So it is the precondition to reshape Iraqi military for national security, social stability and peaceful environment in its post-war reconstruction, some analysts noted.
According to regulations, a parliamentary election is planned for early March 2010, which represents a major part of the post-war reconstruction and a great event in the Iraq's political life. Whether this incoming national general election proceeds smoothly will determine whether or not Iraqi's future would be heading for stability. To this end, Talabani asked the armed forces to prepare for "escorting" the election at the same time appealing for general public to unite together to greet the election.
Channel 4 News' Iraq Inquiry Blogger live blogs the hearings on Twitter and we'll note this Tweet on today's hearing:
Good heavens - stenographer butts in and says she's been at it formore than two hours and she's had quite enough, thank you very much! about 13 hours ago from TweetDeck
Iraq Inquiry Blogger also explains, "Almost all the witnesses to date -- be they diplomatic, military or civilian -- were people charged with carrying out policies and intructions that had been decided upon by their political masters. From next week we'll also begin to start hearing from the politicians (and members of their innermost circles, eg Alastair Campbell next Tuesday) who took those decisions and created those policies."
The issue of Iraqi women was raised by the committee. We'll note the following exchange:
Committee Member Usha Prashar: My second question is about progress on issues to do with women because it was part of the constitution in 2005. Has there been any progress on that area or not?
John Jenkins: In terms of representation of women nationally, I think there is quite a good story to tell actually. In terms of violence against women, I think this is a national issue in Iraq. We have seen, particularly in the north, in the KRG, a government which is prepared to do what it says it wants to do, which is to take action against honour killings, for example. I think you are dealing with -- and I think in Basra as well the intimidation of women by militias has stopped, and I think other people have said, you know, that actually one of the things the Charge of the Knights [Basra assault in 2008] did was reveal what we all thought, which was that most Basrawis didn't want this to happen, didn't want their lives disrupted, didn't want to be intimidated, didn't want their wives and daughters to be intimidated by the militias. I think -- and there were some very feisty Iraqi female members of Parliament, many of whom I have met. All have very distinctive ideas about how this should be pursued. Sustaining this, of course, is going to be -- like most things in Iraq is going to be a challenge, particularly when there are such strong counter-cultural currents.
Committee Member Usha Prashar: So are you saying there has been a steady progress of women in the political process, in representation?
John Jenkins: There has been progress. Whether this is -- steady? There has been progress. There has been progress, but I think now it will be -- the trick will be to make sure this continues. I think it is patchy, the way this has happened around the country. I think it is certainly easier to achieve -- to achieve progress in urban areas than it is in rural areas on this.
On the subject of Iraqi women and Parliament, NPR's Quil Lawrence examined their participation as candidates in the expected elections on last Sunday's Weekened Edition (link has text and audio).
Peter Watkins testimony focused primarily on the 2007 and beyond role for England in Iraq which includes the British military "providing naval assets alongside the Americans to help protect the oil platforms fromterrorist or whatever threats" and "which is providing officer training at the Iraqi military academy in Al Rustmiyah". Asked by Committee Member Martin Gilbert about Iraqi opinion of the continuing British role, Watkins responded, "My impression was the Iraqis were very keen for us to continue with both the naval training and the oil platform protection and, indeed, the officer training. I imagine the Iraqi military was keener on it than other, but there was not a strong divergence of views across the Iraqi system. They wanted us to continue with those roles." Defining the "Iraqi system" wasn't touched on (except by Committee Member Roderic Lyne much later), nor the populace's long expressed desire to have all foreign occupiers out of Iraq. The UN mandate -- authorizing the occupation, not the invasion (no UN mandate authorized the invasion) -- was touched on. It's still not understood clearly by a number of people (Raed Jarrar for example) which is why the US Status Of Forces Agreement is not understood. The chief player that didn't want the UN mandate (again) extended was Nouri al-Maliki.
Peter Watkins: Basically, this was the part of the pattern of Iraq recovering its sovereignty. The Iraqis did not want UNSCR -- the UNSCR mandates to be extended beyond the end of December 2008. I think Prime Minister Maliki made that clear in his letter, which is attached to UNSCR 1790. They wanted to move to the position of a normal state.
Watkins revealed that the government (Nouri in his counsel by the context of Watkins statement) wanted to do a blanket agreement for other countries continuing their role in Iraq after the SOFA passed the Iraqi Parliament November 27, 2008 and this was proposed; however, this lacked the support of "a number of Iraqi Parliamentarians, members of the Council of Representatives, that they should have been presented with an agreement which they would have seen as binding on both sides. [. . .] There was an increasing feeling that they wanted to have distinct agreements with each country, reflecting the specific roles of those countries." The British went with a Memo Of Understanding and, in Watkins discussions of that, he details how, without a new agreement (the ventual MOU), when the mandate ended, the British would have had to depart. That's basic but since the issue's been confused by the likes of Raed Jarrar, let's point out again that the US SOFA is a contract and can be terminated, can be extended or can be replaced with a new agreement. The same was true of the UN mandate. It could be extended (and was repeatedly), terminated (it was at the end of 2008) and replaced with something else (it was replaced, for the US, with the SOFA at the end of 2008).
Iraqi objection to a foreign presence has long been documented. Roderic Lyne was the only committee member to raise the issue.
Committee Membmer Roderic Lyne: So we wanted to do it, they want us to do it -- I suppose when you say "Iraqis", you mean particularly the leadership of the Iraqi Government, because clearly there are different points of view on the Iraqi side?
Peter Watkins: The Iraqi Government wanted us to do it. It was clear, when Simon MacDonald and I went to Baghdad on 1 June to finalize the text, that they wanted to reach agreement.
Turning to Nouri's attempts to ban political rivals, Nada Barki and Anthony Shadid (New York Times) note, "An Iraqi parliamentary committee moved Thursday to bar a Sunni Muslim lawmaker from national elections in March, outraging his supporters and threatening to worsen sectarian tension here. The lawmaker, Saleh al-Mutlaq, a prominent Sunni politician, and his group, the National Dialogue Front, were among those disqualified on the grounds of promoting the banned Baath Party of former President Saddam Hussein." Leila Fadel and Qais Mizher (Washington Post) observe, "The decision by the Justice and Accountability Commission, in charge of cleansing high-level Baathists from the ranks of the government and security forces, seemed to be an attempt to purge candidates with links to the old political order, many of whom are popular among secular nationalist voters. The move is a blow to hopes of bringing opposition figures -- who turned to violent resistance over the past seven years -- into the political fold, part of the U.S. strategy to bolster the government."But that's not really true. It's true for Sunnis -- "a blow to hopes of bringing opposition figures . . . into the political fold" -- but not of Shi'ites. Moqtada al-Sadr's militias were the focus of Nouri's ire in 2008, leading to the assault on Basra. They've been brought in. Nouri's worked overtime to bring the League of Righteous into the system. It appears that only the Sunnis are unwelcome. The League of Righteous, for example, not only attacked a US base and killed 5 US soldiers, they also kidnapped 5 British citizens and one remains missing. But that's not apparently a reason to keep them out of the political process. They still get face time with Nouri and his staff. Afif Sarhan (Islam Online) quotes Saleh al-Mutlak stating, "The government move just show how democracy is far from Iraq and clearly demonstrates a persecution from some other parties. The government will be surprised with the reaction they will get from Iraqis at the country's streets who are our supporters and conscious voters." Nada Barkri (New York Times) reports attempts to protest in the streets of Baghdad today were prevented by Iraqi security forces and quotes Diyala Province's Najim al-Harbi stating, "There is a great popular resentment toward this decision, which lacks any legal justification. The Iraqi street is now boiling."
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