Monday, February 22, 2010







The latest installment of Inside Iraq (Al Jazeera) began airing Friday with Jasim al-Azawi exploring the topic of human rights with Arab Lawyers Association's Sabah al-Mukhtar, Human Rights Watch's Joe Stork and Iraqi Parliament's deputy chair of the Human Rights Committee Shatha al-Obosi.
Jasim al-Azawi: Let me ask you a very simple question. Not only are you an Iraqi that witnessed human rights record in Iraq but also you are the deputy chair person. How do you assess the human rights record in Iraq?
Shatha al-Obosi: The situation of human rights in Iraq is still worrying because with the huge number of detainees, with minority rights, with the women rights, with the killing peoples, the human rights belong to the secure situation. We have very bad situation after 2003, after the occupation. The American arrested people and killed people without any judge about them because they then -- belong for the Iraqi law. After that in the 2005 and 2006, the very bad situation of the security make a huge number of the detainees in the prison and there's no trial for them. They are asking for a fair trial, if they are innocent to release them or they are guilty to put them in the prisons. That's what they need. We have very bad situation in the prisons with the crowding, with the bad food, with the bad health care. So we look after their cases to find -- to end this file. And we have another, another challenges about the minorities --
Jasim al-Azawi: We will come to the other challenges for human rights for minorities as well as women, Shatha, but the bleak picture, Joe Stork, as portrayed by Shatha al-Obosi, it is not alien to you. You must have run across this many times. Your organization gave a report to the world community as well as to the UN. Did she present an accurate picture? Or is it worse than that or less than that?
Joe Stork: Well I think almost all of the things she mentioned are things we are aware of and-and I would subscribe to her, you know, list of-of the many problems that Iraq faces. I think we should focus on -- we should distinguish between those problems that the government has a direct ability to effect, you know, in the near term, in the short term, and those things -- like very important issues like protection of the population which is obviously -- the are human rights aspect to it and other things as well. And obviously there is a capacity issue in terms of the government's ability here. So let me talk for just a second about what I think the government can do and should do in the near term. First, we have the escalation as you noted Jasim the escalation in executions. Executions resumed in May of 2008. There are scores of people -- if not hundreds of people -- with death sentences now. There have been mass executions, that is to say dozens of people executed on a single morning. There's no transparency about this and the -- There's two things, two points to make. One, we're opposed to the death penalty under any circumstances but we're especially worried in a situation where you have people who have been convicted after patently unfair trials. They have not had access to lawyers --
Jasim al-Azawi: I can predict, Joe, that this is going to be extremely long. Keep some of the ideas that you would like to list later on but let me engage Sabah al-Mukhtar who is just fresh right now from that Geneva conference held under the auspices of the United Nations. Give us a brief summary of what has been said vis-a-vis Iraq's human rights record and what Wijdan Mikhail, the Iraqi Human Rights Minister, said.
Sabah al-Mukhtar: Well the Minister presented a document -- a report to the UN General Council. The report said nothing about the accusations which had been levied against Iraq by the UN organization. It didn't address absolutely any of the obligations, any of the accusations. It was just talking general conversations about how things should be, what the law says, what the international obligations are. So the report contained absolutely nothing. The Minister brought with her a team. One of her team went on for quarter of an hour, boring the Council, talking about the previous regime rather than talking about the human rights situation. The countries have all commented negatively on the report including the United States of America which said to the Iraqi Minister that their elections should be one that allows people to stand for elections rather than excluding people. Everybody condemned the situation of executions and hanging. Everybody talked about the academics -- killing of 500 academics, 200 journalists, 24 judges, 150 lawyers in the country, the torture, the prison situations. All the countries that spoke there condemned the situation in Iraq.
Jasim al-Azawi: So in a nutshell, they have blasted Iraq's claim that they are making progress out of the water. I noticed Shatha in your response to me, you also harped on the Americans. I am the first to recognize -- and many people including Joe will recognize that the chaos and the pain and the killing that followed 2003, in one way or another, is because of the American invasion. But that is in the past and I'm sure as the Americans withdraw their forces their contribution to the violations of human rights will be diminished. But talk to me about the current level of human rights abuse in Iraq. The government is responsible for that, no matter how you cut it, al-Maliki and his government are responsible for that.
Shatha al-Obosi: They have the Human Rights Ministry as our guys say so the problems with the Minister -- the Ministry of Human Rights -- so they must -- don't announce any-any-any -- anything against human rights because the torture happened by the government in the prisons. Who can torture the people there? She cannot say this clearly in the media or in front of the international associations so this is the problem for this reason. We establish the Human Rights Commission and we want this commission to start before we leave this period of the Parliament but the government didn't allow us to do that because any -- any, you know, anything happen against the human rights, it will be announced for the international or the UN or any international association. This is the problem. They can for do a lot to protect people. The first right of the Iraqi citizen: The right of living in his house --
Jasim al-Azawi: Indeed that is an inalienable right that should be guaranteed by all constitutions and by all governments. Joe Stork --
Shatha al-Obosi: Yeah, yeah but I want to mention about executions. We want to delay the execution orders after the elections because I receive many claims from people that they take their speech, their -- and they sign them under the torture. So many of them are innocent. We are afraid if there is a few number of them are innocent so we must protect all of them and make another investigation with them to guarantee if they are innocent or not.
This morning at the Pentagon, the top US commander in Iraq, Gen Ray Odierno held a press briefing. He was asked about the role for US troops after 2011 and he replied that "in order for us to have anybody in Iraq past 2011 we'll have to -- it will have to be requested by the government of Iraq. So until that happens, I see us being at what we -- what we'd usually have at a normal embassy, a military contingent that would help support Iraq." He was asked of the air issue -- Iraq has no forces ready to 'protect' their air space at present. The training of Iraqis for that has hit a hitch, but Odierno didn't state that and instead offered a 'we'll see when it rolls around' type take. He declared that "several factors" would determine a continued draw down (of "combat" forces only):
One is governmental formation. But it's not necessarily how long it takes to form the government. It's: "Is it happening in a peaceful manner? Do we think that the -- if there's a problem in forming the government, does it translate into violence?" So that'll be a big piece of this, whether it does or not. And right now, we're not sure. We think so far it will probably fo fairly smoothly, but we'll wait to see. I have contingency plans, and I've been -- I've briefed the chain of command this week that we could execute if we run into problems, if it goes the way we think, or if it just is a little bit different than the way we think. And we're prepared to execute those.
A member of the press made a complete idiot of themselves and that's really no surprise but let's point out here (without naming the idiot) that if you're going to charge that big attacks on government targets are down, you better damn well know the pattern. The pattern isn't for these attacks to place weekly or even monthly. If the pattern holds, an idiot should have to eat their words. In the meantime, we should all wonder about a reporter allegedly covering this topic who doesn't know the first thing about it.
Odierno was asked about the plans for the 2011 withdrawal. We'll note him word for word:
This is -- we haven't talked in specific terms yet about this, but it's very important to understand that there's a complex transition that's going to on in -- the end of 2010, beginning of 2011, as the military draws down, and how we transition resposibility over to the government of Iraq in some cases, to the embassy, in other cases to NGOs. So one thing we have to remember is the faster we draw down from 50,000 the faster we have to transition to the State Dept and these other organizations. So what we want to do is we want to do this very deliberately, because how we transition will go a lot into saying how well we do post-2011. So the way I see it is, I expect us to stay at 50,000 probably somewhere through the middle of 2011, and then we'll begin to draw down to zero. If we do it faster than that, then you've got to increase the money you give to the State Dept or the Embassy. You have to increase the -- you have to -- you have to speed up the transition. And what we worry about is if we do that too quickly we won't do it right. So we want to do that very deliberately and smoothly.
I'm going to repeat one more time that the Congress -- specifically the Armed Services Committee in the House and Senate -- has still not been provided with withdrawal details. For a withdrawal that's supposed to or supposedly to take place at the end of 2011, that's rather surprising. Why hasn't Congress seen the plan?
In a real democracy, we'd be asking that. But Congress can take comfort in the fact that this withdrawal plan that supposedly concludes in 22 months (begins much sooner, but concludes in 22) has also not been shared with the top US commander in Iraq. Odierno has apparently been as left in the dark as the Congress. Will Michele Flournoy offer more idiotic excuses, more 'I didn't know you hadn't been briefed' garbage? Will anyone press her or the Dept of Defense to be forthcoming about the withdrawal that's supposedly complete in 22 months?
Craig Whitlock (Washington Post) emphasizes that the "withdrawal of all combat forces" could be delayed. (And those acting shocked should be aware Barack gave these same reasons in 2007 when speaking to the New York Times -- in an article the idiot Tom Hayden praised while we were calling out Barack and going by the transcprit -- a transcript Tom would find days and days later. And then offer a muted objection to. If you're late to the party, grab a drink and refer to this Iraq snapshot and Third's article and the actual transcript of the interview -- a transcript Tom Hayden should have read before humiliating himself in public, then again Tom-Tom seems to enjoy public humiliation).

Nadia Bilbassy: Thank you. Thank you, Ambassador. I'm sure you are tired by any questions about -- so many press availability you've done so far. It's Nadia Bilbassy with MBC Television. Very often, the Americans complain about interference from neighboring countries, mainly Iran and Syria, in Iraqi affairs. To what extent do you see an influence from both countries on this current election? And as you know, two prominent Sunni politicians have been disqualified from this election. Do you worry that ultimately, that will affect the Sunni votes in the representations in the Iraqi Government in the future?

Chris Hill: Well, first of all, we have expressed our concerns about interference in some of the processes, especially the issue, as I think General Odierno laid out and I have also mentioned -- the issue of Iran. That said, we believe we have a election mechanism that will indeed be free and fair. This has been -- involved a considerable amount of planning in addition to the Iraqi high commissioner -- high commission for the elections, we've had a very active and engaged UN operation in Baghdad. So we are confident that we will have an Iraqi election that will be for and about the Iraqi people. So we're pretty confident we've got a good mechanism and a proper election which will be all about Iraq and not about any foreign country. On the second issue, obviously, de-Ba'athification has been a tough issue to go through. We had, obviously, some concerns about the transparency and the way that this whole process would appear to the Iraqi people. The Iraqi authorities have dealt with this. Their courts have dealt with this. The Iraqi senior politicians have dealt with it. And we really look forward to a good election. I know there continues to be some discussion about this. I know it was a very emotional issue for many people. But we believe the de-Ba'athification problems are, for the most part, behind. And we look forward to them getting on with the election and having the voters make their decisions.
Saturday Waleed Ibrahim and Jack Kimball (Reuters) reported that the National Dialogue Front is boycotting the election and, in the words of Haider al-Mulla (party spokesperson), calling "for other poltiical parties to take the same stand as our front. The whole issue is not related to (the candidate ban), rather the unsuitable atmosphere of this election." Fang Yang (Xinhua) added: that the press release cited the remarks of Iranian influence on the elections made by Odierno and Hill as being among the reasons (". . we can't continue in a political process running by foreign agenda"). Yesterday Michael Jansen (Irish Times) reported on what followed in the wake of Saturday's announcement by the National Dialogue Front: "the National Council for Tribes of Iraq siad it would" withdraw from the elections. Oliver August (Times of London) explained, "International observers have significantly lowered their expectations for the poll in recent days. Few diplomats in Baghdad now talk about 'free and fair elections', since they clearly won't be. The new publicly stated goal is a 'credible election', but even that seems doubtful. Pressed to sketch out a best-case scenario, several diplomates talk of an election that, despite its flaws, is merely accepted by the people. This is far from the democracy once envisaged."

The UN Secretary-General's Special Representative in Iraq, Ad Melkert, tried to stamp a happy face on the process and declared, "Generally speaking, I should say that the elections are on track in terms of their technical preparation. Still, a lot needs to be done. Security remains a big challenge to all, to the Iraqis in the first place, but also to the international community." Martin Chulov (Guardian) offers this background, "The call for a boycott was made by Saleh al-Mutlaq, an MP who leads the National Dialogue Front, a leading Sunni party. It is part of a cross-sectarian Iraqiya electoral alliance, formed to contest the 7 March ballot. Al-Mutlaq was on a list of 511 individuals banned from standing in elections because of their connection to the old Baathist regime. The list has now been reduced to 145. Ahmed Chalabi, the former Pentagon favourite, has been aggressively defending the list as part of a new de-Baathification drive through a body called the Accountability and Justice Commission." Gulf News editorializes, "It is important for any election to be fair that all the rules of contest are defined well in advance. It is wrong that candidates have been banned a few weeks before the elections. They should have known years in advance that their previous records would not allow them to hold public office and their sympathisers and supporters would be able to find candidates to represent their views without breaking the law." Liz Sly (Los Angeles Times) offered, ". . . Sunnis and many secularists in the Shiite community are so eager to overturn the dominance of the Shiite religious parties that have controlled Iraq's government for five years that it is unclear whether Mutlak's boycott call will have weight with many people." UAE's The National countered, "Not only does it threaten the legitimacy of the poll, but the last time Sunni parties boycotted the elections in 2005, it exacerbated a cycle of violence that almost drove the country into civil war. It is hard to fault the decision of the party's leader, Saleh al Mutlaq. He and hundreds of other banned politicians are the victims of blatant political manipulation. Regardless, they must be careful; there is more at stake than their own political careers." Leila Fadel (Washington Post) added, "Iraqi officials said Saturday that meetings with Mutlak and his group were ongoing. Mutlak could not be reached for comment. "

Today the Iraq Inquiry announced that the current Prime Minister of England, Gordon Brown, will offer testimony to the Inquiry on March 5th. Douglas Alexander (International Development Secretary) will also offer testimony. On March 8th, the Inquiry will hear from Bill Jefrey who was scheduled earlier but had to call off due to illness and David Miliband is also booked for that day. David Miliband is Foreign Secretary and, disclosure, he is also someone I know. When we cover David, I'll either call him out loudly (if needed) or just stick to what he says -- meaning we just quote the transcript and I offer no comment of my own. In addition, the March 9th snapshot will offer press reactions on Miliband. We usually don't have time for that but because I know David and may or may not be able to be impartial, I'm saying right now that the March 9th snapshot will offer a roundup of press criticques and reports of his testimony and presentation.

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