Wednesday, August 18, 2010









Today Baghdad is slammed by a bombing. Alsumaria TV, citing "health sources," puts the death toll at "at least 60" with "another 157" injured from a suicide bombing this morning. Fan Chunxu (Xinhua) quotes a Ministry of the Interior source explaining, "The explosion targeting an army recruitment center at Bab al- Muazem area in Baghdad occurred at local time 7:30 a.m. (0430 GMT), it was an old building of the Defense Ministry, now up to 45 people were dead and 121 others were wounded." Stephen Farrell (New York Times) reports, "Outside a blue-domed mosque near the scene of the attack on Tuesday, Sgt. Muhammad Hassan, 28, said the latest bomber had clearly intended to attack the Army recruits." Farrell quotes him stating, "I was here from the early morning. We searched everybody. One exploded himself among a group of soldiers and recruits. The recruiting has been going on for at least a week, and this was the last day. We were not expecting it because it was the final day." BBC News adds, "The BBC's Hugh Sykes in Baghdad says that a suicide bomber walked up to the army recruitment centre where hundreds of people had been queuing for hours - some since Monday evening." At the top of the hour news briefs on NPR this morning, listeners heard Sykes state that no protection was provided for "men looking for employment." The New York Times' Stephen Farrell told PRI's The Takeaway this morning, "how a suicide bomber had just walked up to the recruiting station at 7:30 a.m., waited until he was surrounded by as large a crowd as he could get and then blew himself up." Ben Lando (Wall St. Journal) adds, "An interior ministry official said a person wearing a suicide vest triggered the explosion a few minutes past 8:00 a.m. local time." Channel 4 News states, "An army source suggested two bombers could have been involved in the attack as recruits gathered outside the centre in large groups to seek work." Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) reports, "The senior officer said they believed the bomber had accomplices who helped him stow a pair of pants with explosives attached near the site and put them on in addition to the pants he was wearing. Some of the potential recruits had lined up before dawn." Richard Spencer (Telegraph of London) quotes recruit Ahmed Kadhim stating, "After the explosion, everyone ran away, and the soldiers fired into the air. I saw dozens of people lying on the ground, some of them were on fire. Others were running with blood pouring out." Aziz Alwan and Leila Fadel (Washington Post) describe the aftermath, "Hours after the bombing, families searched frantically for their relatives as casualties were transported to hospitals. An elderly woman collapsed in the middle of the street, screaming just a few yards from al-Midan square, where the recruits were killed. She slapped her face and wept as young boys tried to calm her." Andrew England (Financial Times of London) adds, "Another policeman pointed to bloody footprints left by survivors as he described how they fled in panic. Nearby, dozens of sandals belonging to the victims and a small heap of clothes were stacked in piles, while large pools of blood were left to congeal in the sun." PBS' Margaret Warner is in Iraq and she may have a report on tonight's The NewsHour.
The Guardian has video footage of some of the survivors after they were taken to the hospital. ITN offers a photo of one survivor in the hospital. BBC News displays a photo essay on the aftermath. Damien Pearse (Sky News) provides a text and video report. BBC News' Hugh Skye also files a video report:
Hugh Sykes: One of Baghdad's main hospitals was suddenly overwhelmed shortly after 7:30 this morning. The suicide bomber exploded his bomb in a large crowd. Dozens of men, some with terrible shrapnel and impact injuries, were taken to hospital after the attack.
Saleh Aziz: We were standing at al Muatham and the army and the officers were registering our names for recruiting when a bomb went off. I don't know exactly if it was a bomb or not. All the young men and the officers were killed. I was wounded in my arms and, thanks God, I managed to run away.
Hugh Sykes: It happened on the other side of the Tigris River from the hospital in a square called the Maidan. Hundreds of men had been waiting there all night hoping for a good place in the que for the army recruitment center and then the suicide bomber arrived. This bomb is part of a clear pattern of targeted attacks on the security forces here. Baghdad traffic policemen and federal police have been murdered in significant numbers over the past few weeks. Members of the government-backed, mostly Sunni Sahwa militia, the "Awakening" movement, have been attacked too and now these men simply queing for jobs in the army in a country where unemployment is running at 60%.
Richard Spencer (Telegraph of London) observes of the bombing, "It marks a resumption of a previously successful tactic aimed at discouraging Iraqis from joining the police and army." Liz Sly and Raheem Salman (Los Angeles Times) note, "It was the bloodiest single attack in months, and came less than two weeks before U.S. forces draw down to 50,000 and formally end their combat mission. Tensions have been rising as the deadlocked negotiations for a new government drag into a sixth month, and there are fears insurgents will try to take advantage of the political and security vacuum to stage a comeback." Sean Alfano (New York Daily News) notes, "Tuesday's bombing marks the fourth time in August Iraqi police or military have been attacked by insurgents."
The Economist notes, "By the end of next year even its military advisors expect to be gone, so they say, unless the Iraqi government asks them to stay (which is looking more likely now that American-made tanks and choppers are arriving in defence ministry lots)." Terry Patar of IHS's Iraq Focus Group tells Caroline Alexander and Kadhim Ajrash (Bloomberg News), "The longer the things go without a government being formed properly, the more of a driver there is for militant groups." The political stalemate.
March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board notes, "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 now 5 months and 10 days.
Yesterday talks between Iraqiya and State Of Law broke down after Nouri declared on state television that Iraqiya was a "Sunni party." Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) explains, "[Iraqiya spokesperson Maysoon] Al-Damalouji said they were demanding an apology to the supporters of al-Iraqiya. Allawi, a secular Shiite, heads the cross-sectarian al-Iraqiya list, which won the largest number of seats in the March 7 national elections. Al-Iraqiya garnered most of the Sunni Arab vote." Leila Fadel and Mary Beth Sheridan (Washington Post) observe, "The move by Allawi's group further isolates Maliki, who is intent on staying in power. This month a coalition of Shiite groups also halted talks with Maliki's group." They also note that US Ambassador to Iraq Chris Hill (now former US Ambassador) just left the country (James Jeffrey has been confirmed as the new ambassador) and that Gen Ray Odierno, the top US commander in Iraq, is set to leave Iraq September 1st. Liz Sly (Los Angeles Times) points out of Nouri, "Only the Kurds, who do not have enough votes to give Maliki a second term, have somewhat unenthusiastically said they do not reject him." Lindsey Hilsum (Channel 4 News) adds:
According to the think tank Stratfor, many of Mr Maliki's allies are taking their orders from Tehran, which is doing its obstructionist utmost.
"There are not enough of these politicians to create a government, but there are enough to block a government from being formed. Therefore, no government is being formed," said the most recent Stratfor analysis. Others blame Mr Allawi's grouping, which brings together both Shia and Sunni politicians, for refusing to accommodate Mr Maliki's faction.
With no government, even the illusion of stability cannot be maintained. Today's bombing of an army recruitment centre, with nearly 50 dead, is a sign of how dangerous the situation is.
Meanwhile Waleed Ibrahim (Reuters) is reporting that Allawi is increasing talks with Moqtada al-Sadr's bloc and Ibrahim cites an announcement Allawi made yesterday, "In the next few days and thereafter, we are going to intensify our discussions to reach an important, mutual stance on what needs to be done to form the next government."
Earlier this month (August 6th), On The Media (NPR) addressed the issue of media with Deborah Amos (link has audio and text):
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The media echo chambers that we talk about so often are thriving in Iraq. People watch the channel that confirms their own views. And yet the phenomenon is not as strong there as it is here.
DEBORAH AMOS: Indeed, the studies show that Iraqis watch at least five different channels. They are crossing sectarian lines to watch different newscasts.
A Harvard professor who's done these kind of studies in the American media, he uses a wonderful term, which is "cognitive misers." That's what Americans are. We are cognitive misers. We don't like to watch stations that don't necessarily agree with our political opinion. It's too much trouble. And there's nothing really at stake for us to cross the lines. For Iraqis, there's plenty at stake. What are the other sects doing that I need to know about so that I can make some serious decisions about is my neighborhood safe? Do I send my kid to school tomorrow? Can I get to my job tomorrow? So it really matters for them to cross those lines.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The whole idea of a sectarian press is considered anti-democratic, and yet the newspaper environment of America 200 years ago, when our democracy was emerging, was incredibly sectarian.
DEBORAH AMOS: That's exactly right. And Iraq is mirroring an old system, in particular because it is not yet a commercial system. These channels are all funded by political parties, Islamists, Arab businessmen. Sharqiya may be the most popular because they are the most commercial. And once you become a commercial station, then you do have to broaden your appeal because you just don't have enough consumers in your particular sect. So it is possible that as all of these channels have to survive, not simply by funding of political parties but funding by commercial, that it may open that political space.
And while it's an interesting conversation with much to offer, we're noting it in this section, on the elections, for a reason. Deborah Amos was brought on to discuss her recent paper [PDF format warning] "Confusion, Contradiction and Irony: The Iraqi Media in 2010." Of prime interest:
In Iraq's short history of free elections, Shiite candidates have a demographic advantage. Shiites are approximately 60% of the population, and Iraqis voted almost exclusively along sectarian lines in the 2005 national elections and the 2009 provincial vote. Maliki also had a media advantage. The state-run national news network did not accept paid campaign advertisements, but freely broadcast extensive reports of Maliki's election appearances and campaign speeches in evening news bulletins. On the eve of the vote, state TV broadcast a documentary highlighting the Prime Minister's visit to security checkpoints around the capital.
And guess who's political slate received the "highest positive coverage"? Nouri's.
So explain it to us, did alleged reporters just sit around on their asses watching Iraqi TV in the lead up to the election?
That would certainly explain the NPR embarrassment that is Quil Lawrence (who needs to get his Afghanistan reporting right real quick or we may start including Afghanistan in the snapshots). For those who've forgotten, Iraq held elections March 7th. The morning of March 8th, Quil Lawrence was announcing the Nouri al-Maliki was "the winner." Not just that his slate got the most votes -- which it didn't -- but that Nouri was the winner. NPR's never explained how that happened. NPR's never bothered to address why the day after the election -- when no vote count, not even partial, was complete -- Quil was allowed to go on the air and declare Nouri the winner. So what was it? The White House wanted Nouri to win. (A Nouri win always meant an easy extension for the SOFA.) Was Quil 'reporting' based on Iraqi media or was he schilling for the White House? And why has NPR's ombudsperson never addressed the issue of a reporter calling the election when the votes weren't counted?
That's a serious question and it demands a serious answer. Deborah Amos is a serious journalist (for NPR) and she is also the author of the new book Eclipse of the Sunnis: Power, Exile, and Upheaval in the Middle East. The book addresses the exiles, the refugee crisis created by the violence and instability in Iraq. The Baghdad bombing wasn't the only violence reported in Iraq today. Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports that judges were also targeted today: in Baghdad Judge Kamal Jabbar Bander "was seriously injured" by a roadside bombing while in Diyala Province two other judges were wounded by a roadside bombing. In addition to the targeting of those 3 judges, Reuters notes five more were targeted with bombs and 2 of those were killed, a Baghdad explosion (a generator and it may or may not have involved a bomb) which claimed 5 lives and left twenty-five injured, a Baghdad assault in which three people were injured after being shot by unknown assailants, 2 police officers shot dead in Kirkuk, a Baghdad grenade attack in which two people were injured, Hasan Abdul-Lateef (Trade Ministry's head of the audit department) was shot dead in Baghdad, 1 police officer was shot dead in Hamman al-Alil, 2 corpses (woman and a man) were discovered in Mosul (inside a car) and 1 employee of Badosh prison was shot dead in Mosul. If we use Reuters' conservative count of 57 killed in the Baghdad bombing at the recruitment center and 123 injured, we're left with 71 reported deaths and 161 reported injured.

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