Saturday, September 11, 2010






Today on the second hour of The Diane Rehm Show (NPR) Diane was joined by Susan Glasser (Foreign Policy), Martin Walker (UPI) and Nancy A. Youssef (McClatchy).
Diane Rehm: Susan Glasser, tell us what's happening in Iraq where 2 US soldiers were killed and others were wounded.
Susan Glasser: Well I think this is one of the reminders that we're going to get that just because we declared a moment in time to have occured last week, of course, with the formal change of the mission in Iraq from a combat mission to something different doesn't mean that there isn't combat still occuring in Iraq and that there are 50,000 US troops still present there and, of course, they're going to come into hostile situations. And I think that's a good reminder that we're going to be seeing more stories like this at a moment of political instability and uncertainty in Iraq. After all there is still no new government that has been formed, and that's very much in the news right now as well.
Diane Rehm: And this Iraqi soldier had a uniform on which should have meant he was friendly to US troops fighting side by side.
Martin Walker: Well the reports suggest that there was some kind of argument between him and the security detail -- this was around Mosul, up in the north, with a visiting American -- and that that escalated and the Iraqi soldier who was from their Fourth Division [of the Iraqi Army] which is supposed to be one of their better units, better trained units, then opened up upon the US patrol or the US security forces and killed two, wounded nine and was then shot himself. I think it's a reminder of three things, not just as Susan said, that we're going to get more casualties as this mission goes. Secondly, the violence is not just hitting American troops. We're seeing something like two to three hundred Iraqis being killed a month in ongoing bombs by al Qaeda or whoever it's sympathizers might be, or local forces trying to make it clear that they're still in action. And the third thing is, as Susan said, we have got an absolute morass of incapacity, of inaction, on the part of the political front in Iraq. And that's something that the US government in Iraq is now trying to fix, is trying to cobble together -- some kind of alternative government to get through this stalemate between the Iraqi political forces.

Diane Rehm: But explain this power sharing arrangement that's in place now, Nancy?
Nancy A. Youssef: Well, as Susan mentioned in March, there was an election for government and the Iraqis have still not been able to form their government and so there's an effort to get the two top winners -- a slate led by Nouri al-Maliki, the outgoing -- current prime minister, depending on your take and Ayad Allawi a former prime minister who sort of sold himself as a secular candidate to agree on some kind of government. One that, frankly, would leave everyone weaker, primarily the prime minister, but hopefully sort out -- One of the basic questions in forming the government is who gets what ministry and who gets power throughout the government because that's really what's been holding this back because who controls key ministries like the Ministry of Interior and Defense, some would argue, actually controls the country. And so that, that's the debate going on.
Diane Rhem: How long do you think, how much longer is this going to take?
Susan Glaser: Well, you know, Diane, I think that is really the key question that you've honed in on. You know, there was a very interesting report in the New York Times today that discusses the possibility of the power sharing arrangement that Nancy was discussing and there's an interesting quote in there from an American saying, as we've seen many times before, "Oh, we think this can be hammered out some time in the next month." And then we'll have Secretary of State [Hillary] Clinton travel there to sort of bless the arrangement. And I think that's, frankly, wildly optimistic once again. In fact, you could probably go back and find similar background quotes from officials every month for the last six months saying exactly the same thing. And what this highlights is a couple of things. One, the incredible instability. No matter what our wishful thinking about this, it's very hard to proclaim any kind of true success in Iraq when we've walked away from a long term mission in a country that doesn't have a functioning political succession plan. They had an election without the thing that's supposed to happen after the election which is the transfer of power to the winners. So that's number one. It's hard to call that election a success -- as American officials were quick to do -- when they haven't been able to do -- Elections are only successful when they produce governments, right?
Diane Rehm: Exactly.
Susan Glaser: So I think that's really an important thing.
Diane Rehm: Nancy?
Nancy A. Youssef: You know, I was in Baghdad for the handover ceremony last week. Vice President [Joe] Biden was there. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was there. Adm Mike Mullen, the Chairman [of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] was there. And I was talking to Iraqis and this was the cloud that was hanging over the ceremony. And really the problem is sort of setting artificial dates for withdrawl. You know the United States had said, 'This was a conditions-based withdrawal.' And the Iraqis were saying, 'These are acceptable conditions for the United States military to draw down? No government? An Iraqi military force that may or may not be able to handle the threat we're seeing in al Qaeda purposely attacking their military installations in an effort to check that? And rising instability?' And the real question, at least the response the United States military frankly says is: 'We're not sure what more we can do. What more can we do?' So we're going to keep the 50,000 there and sort of monitor and transition and train these Iraqis and work side by side. And that happened, by the way, in the US military, that happened, excuse me, in the attack on the Iraqi military compound. It's been the United States military that's come through and get the Iraqis out of these predicaments.
Martin Walker: It's not just the US government that's involved with the Iraqis in trying to put together some kind of a government. There's another player which is, of course, Iran. And the Iranians have made no secret of their partiality for in effect the Shia group, in effect for Maliki and Moqtada al-Sadr who've made a kind of an alliance and that is something I think for the United States, I think, is a bottom line to stop. So the other point is when we talk about a new government, we're talking about money. To be in charge of a ministry is to be in charge of jobs to reward your supporters and above all of who is going to be in charge of the new of dispositions of what seems to be the beginning of the boom in the Iraqi oil industry.
Stay with the ongoing political stalemate in Iraq. 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 six months and two days with no government formed.
The elections were (falsely) hailed a sign of progress. March 12th, Nadia Bilbassy (MCB TV) was, for example, declaring on The Diane Rehm Show (NPR), "They've taken to this election like they've been doing it for 100 years." And if you think Nadia was just referring to voter turnout, note that only 62% voted in the elections. Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor via McClatchy) reminded that the turnout for the 2005 Parliamentary elections 79.6%. That's a drop off of 17.6%. That's progress? Progress would be the 2010 elections resulting in a government being formed more quickly than following the 2005 elections. Even now, the New York Times likes to spin and insist, "It was arguably the most open, most competitive election in the nation's long history of colonial rule, dictatorship and war." Really because in the 2005 elections, there wasn't the constant efforts to disqualify candidates before the elections or -- see the paper's artilce by Timothy Williams, Duraid Adnan, Sa'ad al-Izzi and Zaid Thaker -- to disqualify candidates after the election.
Let's just recap that, markedly lower turnout, a stalemate that's lasted over six months now, efforts to purge candidates before and after the election and there was also Nouri's repeat charges of fraud and calls for a recount (the recounts did not back up his claims of fraud). Strangely the paper's editorial board appeared more clued in to reality -- for example, March 15th: "The latest election results in Iraq point to a heated and possibly lengthy power struggle between the Shiite coalition led by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki and the rival secular slate led by Ayad Allawi." March 9th, the editorial board observed, "That means there will likely be weeks, we hope not months, of political horse-trading ahead." They hoped not months but were already aware of the possibility. The editorial board was frequently so much better aware than reporters on the ground (I'm not referring to the Times' reporters).
Today Anthony Shadid and Michael R. Gordon (New York Times) report on what we've already called out, the US pushing for the country's Constitution to be ignored. Instead of pushing for the legal process to be followed (it has not been followed which is why this has dragged out for over six months), the US government has made their main concern keeping Nouri in power. Shadid and Gordon report that the US is pushing for Nouri to stay on but some "curbs" on his power to be put in place.
This is offensive. Think for a moment of the US 2008 elections. John McCain lost. But what the US is proposing is very similar to installing McCain (as George W. Bush was installed in 2000 despite getting less votes). It doesn't matter if Ayad Allawi's slate is ahead by 1 vote or 1 million, they came out ahead. Iraqiya has the legal right to have the first crack at forming a government. That is the Constitution. Instead of demanding that the law be followed, Joe Biden and the administration have worried about how to keep Nouri in power. (Nouri has assured the administration he will not oppose plans for the US military to remain in Iraq past 2011 if he retains the post of prime minister.)
Joe Biden was lecturing on the importance of democracy in the interview he did with Michael Gordon. So, Joe, why don't you promote democracy? Democracy is following the laws. Democracy is following the laws on the books, not creating new 'processes' to keep whomever you want in power. Asked by Gordon about Iraq and democracy, Biden replied, "It is important that it become a democracy because that is the only vehicle by which you can hold together such a diverse population that has such a history and inclination to actually be at each other's throats. Otherwise, what you do is you end up having something in the form of an authoritarian government that just builds hostility, and eventually it will explode, implode. And so that's why the democracy is important, in my view, here in Iraq, because there are, you have the Sunni-Shia split, but you got the Arab-Kurd split. You have got further sub-splits within the Kurdish region. And so what happens is if they all think they have a piece of the action, if they all think they are better served by being part of this larger whole, then from the Kurds and their inclination and desire to sort of rectify 1921 to the Sunnis, who feel they, that they are a minority in Iraq, but a majority in the region ... All of those inclinations get, not subsumed, but get buffered when it is a democracy. Democracy in the sense that there is a political outlet for their aspirations, not a physical need for an outlet. That is kind of how I view it." Reality: Outsiders cannot make a democracy in another country.
But they can undermine one. How? By ignoring the established laws thereby sending a message to the emerging government and its people that when there is conflict, you don't refer to the establish process, you just create a new one. If you don't have a society built upon laws and the belief in precedents, you're not going to have a democracy or anything short of a dictatorship. That's how dictators operate: They make a show of respect for laws but when the laws conflict with their own desires, they ignore them. That's what the White House is encouraging Iraq to do and you start down that road and there's no turning back.
Shadid and Gordon note: "American officials assert that they do not have a preferred candidate for prime minister. But the proposal is intended to make Mr. Maliki, or a strong-willed successor, more palatable to the rest of a broad-based governing coalition. The redefined authority would be codified by new legislation but would not require that the Constitution be amended."
Meanwhile Karen DeYoung and Janine Zacharia (Washington Post) report that the White House is pinning their hopes on the fact that Ramadan concludes today. While the stalemate could end at any moment, it's also true that Ramadan has not lasted six months. In other words, the White House now has a pattern -- see Susan's remarks on The Diane Rehm Show above -- of making 'just around the corner' announcements/predictions which have thus not come true.

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