Wednesday, September 22, 2010





SUSANNAH GEORGE: Iraq's parliament has held just one official session since the national elections in March. It lasted less than 20 minutes. That was just enough time to play the Iraqi national anthem and complete the swearing in. About 20 Iraqi legislators met yesterday in an informal session. The lawmakers pledged to make decisions, not speeches. But the only decision they made was to continue to meet this week. Still, Iraqi vice president Adel Abdul Mahdi who was at the meeting, expressed hope that it could yield results.
ADEL ABDUL MAHDI: It will put the pressure on the members of the House of Representatives individually and the blocs. I think we accomplished a good step forward.
GEORGE: But not all the Members of Parliament share the vice president's optimism. They point out that while the violence continues, there is still no government.
MAHMOUD OTHMAN: It is still in square one.
The ongoing political stalemate. March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board noted last month, "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 six months and fifteen days with no government formed.
Terry Gross: There's still no government that's formed in Iraq. So do you think the insurgents are exploiting that vacuum.
Anthony Shadid: I think that's absolutely their-their intention. How successful they are is another question. But that is their intention. You know, it's hard to overstate how anxious the moment in Iraq is right now. I think what you're seeing emerge is a -- is a divorce between the people and this political class -- a political class that was in some ways imposed on the country by the United States in those early days of the occupation. There's a -- almost universal disenchatment with these politicians. And what-what's struck me the past couple of months is that when you talk to people it's not criticism of the prime minister or his main rival, Moqtada al-Sadr, for instance. It's criticism of that entire political class. Now what does that lead to? It's hard to say. It may not lead to anything. But I think it does show this kind of -- The people themselves are calling into question the political system that's been set up. And I think that does -- If it doesn't question the legitimacy of the system, it maybe raises some concerns about the viability of that system over the long term.
Terry Gross: So you're talking about disenchantment with a system that the US helped set up and with candidates that the US helped empower?
Anthony Shadid: That's right and I think that's going to be one of the legacies of this American occupation, is empowering politicians that have not succeeded in building support among the population.
Terry Gross: Is that because you think it would be hard for anyone to build support right now in Iraq? Or is it a reflection of the candidates that the US helped empower?
Anthony Shadid: I think it's a little of both. But, I mean, you do see a, I think the only grassroots movement you see in Iraq right now is Moqtada al-Sadr -- Shi'ite cleric whose followers fought the Americans several times in 2004 and afterwards. He does have a grassroots movement. It's probably the only grassroots movement. It's probably the only grassroots --
Terry Gross: He's the guy who hates us --
Anthony Shadid: That's right
Terry Gross: -- and is always attacking the US.
Anthony Shadid: That's right. And he is -- And I think it says something about Iraq today that he is the one grassroots movement that plays a role in politics. I'm not talking about the Kurdish areas, I'm talking about the Arab areas of the country. The Sadrists, they are one of the largest Shi'ite blocs in Parliament today. They're going to have a say in the country's future. The politicians on the other hand, the ones that were in some ways empowered by the Americans early on? You know, I think it's a mix of having been gone from the country for so long. I think they often look at Iraq through kind of sepia tinted glasses. I mean, they see an older Iraq that just doesn't exist anymore in the rough and tumble streets of Baghdad today. They also have not either made the effort or been able to make the effort to build any kind of constituency. They're often in the Green Zone, heavily guarded. They have electricity which most people don't. They have water which most people -- they have but it's not very clean. They're living a life that is very divorced from the everyday reality of most Iraqis.
Terry Gross: There hasn't been a group that's been able to build a coalition so there really isn't -- there isn't a prime minister yet. There isn't leadership yet. So, help me out here, who was it that said if this political void, this inability to form a government continues for another six months, there's a risk of a military takeover?
Anthony Shadid: I think that was [US] vice president [Joe] Biden --
Terry Gross: That's what I thought.
Anthony Shadid: -- that made that point.
I don't think it was. Great interview with Shadid -- and there's much more to the interview -- but I don't believe Joe Biden said that publicly. As always, I could be wrong (I often am).
Ned Parker, Raheem Salman and Saad Fakrildeen (Los Angeles Times) quoted former US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker last month stating, "If the civilians continue to flail over the next three-four years, the chances of a military coup are likely to go up. That could bring with it something like the 1958 revolution." The British Ambassador to Iraq, John Jenkins, floated the idea of a military coup before the Iraq Inquiry on January 8th of this year. But September 1st, Joe told Margaret Warner (PBS' The NewsHour -- link has text, audio and video):
MARGARET WARNER: Here's another thing we hear from Iraqis. They blame this upsurge in violence on the politicians' failure, six months after they all went to the polls to vote, the politicians' failure to form a government. Do you think there is a connection?
JOSEPH BIDEN: Look, if I were an Iraqi, that's what I would think as well.
MARGARET WARNER: But do you think it?
JOSEPH BIDEN: The truth of the matter is, they're taking too long to form this government. But the second piece of this is, the Iraqis went and voted. But guess what? No clear -- not only no clear majority, barely a plurality. So, in a parliamentary system, this is not unexpected. But I am confident that they are now -- all have run the course of what other options they have, and it's getting down to the point where, in the -- in the next couple months, there's going to be a government.
The only thing I have said in the name of the president, and as it relates to this government, the government has to reflect the outcome of the election, which is another way of saying, all the four major entities that did relatively well have to be included in the government. That's a difficult thing to put together.
Doesn't sound like Joe's worried. Anthony Shadid will go on to state that the remark was made to a colleague of his at the paper. That would be Michael R. Gordon. A transcript of an interview Gordon conducted with Biden September 1st was posted online by the paper the night of September 9th. Here's the section, Biden is speaking:
But what happened is, the difference is that there is actually a military that is able to function and provide security, notwithstanding the government hasn't been formed yet. And so that is the reason why Odierno and these guys have the confidence even though the government is not formed. Now if, in fact, you could come up with a scenario where if six months from now it is still not formed, then everything begins, then the worry I have in that circumstance is not so much that you know Al Qaeda Iraq will be emboldened and reconstituted. My worry will be that generals in the military will start saying: "Wait a minute, which way is this going to go? Which way is this going to go?" I worry then that it goes from right now everybody saying, "Salute Iraq" to "Whoa, let's figure this out." And what is now a unified command, what is now an integrated military, including some of the pesh merga, including some of the Sons of Iraq. That's when I would begin to worry because then everybody might start to say: "What's my calculus here? It looks like they are not going to pull this together."
Is Joe speaking of a military coup? That's not how I read it. He's noting the pesh merga, for example -- Kurdish forces -- who were being integrated (and the spin was 'successfully integrated') into the Iraqi military at that time. He's noting Sahwa whose issues and compliants Joe Biden was very aware of at the time of the interview. He appears to be saying that if a government isn't formed in six months, the cohesion supposedly taking place in the Iraqi forces would fall apart. Would that mean coup?
It might. But what Joe likely meant was that the Iraqi forces could fall apart and violence could therefore increase. The gains of 'unified command' would fall apart. Is a military coup possible? I think it's a possibility if the stalemate continues but I don't believe Joe Biden has raised that issue publicly. I could be wrong.

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