Tuesday, November 09, 2010






Ammar Karim (AFP) reports the Iraqi Civil Initiative to Protect the Constitution staged a play in central Baghdad Saturday in which politicians were skewered for their greed and "costly lifestyle [. . .] despite the hard times ordinary Iraqis still face in a country battered by war and sectarian strife." The Iraqi people endure as they wait and wait. Over the weekend, various outlets rushed to spin and lie -- it wasn't reporting -- that a deal had been made and Nouri al-Maliki would be prime minister and . . . Unlike the bulk of his peers, Richard Spencer (Telegraph of London) remains rooted to reality and he reported one of Nouri's spokesperson has "claimed an agreement has been struck for him to remain in office." In Melbourne, Australia today, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton joined her Australian counterpart, Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, and Australi's Minister of Defense Stephen Smith and US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in taking questions. We'll note this exchange.
AFP's Lachlan Carmichael: This is for Secretary Clinton. It is your understanding that there is a power-sharing agreement in Iraq where [Jalal] Talibani would stay on as president, [Nouri] Maliki as prime minister and the al-Iraqiya coalition would offer the post of -- be offered the post of speaker? And does this mean that the Iraqis have finally found a way to manage their ethnic rivalries and produce a functioning government?
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: Lachlan, until a deal on government formation is actually announced by the Iraqis themselves, I am not going to comment or respond. Probably over the course of the last eight months, we've had many indications that they were close to an agreement, they were on the brink of government formation, they had worked out their power-sharing arrangements only not to see that come to fruition. But it is fair to say that we have been consistently uring the Iraqis to have an inclusive government that reflects the interests and needs of the various segments of the population, the there had to be legitimate power-sharing amongst different groups and individuals. And that is what we hope at the end of this process [. . .] will be the result of all of their negotiation.
And Hillary is correct. While most reporters were confused this weekend. Since the process seems to be confusing, let's review. The first thing the Parliament has to do is vote in a Speaker and two deputies. After that takes place -- and there's no reason to believe it will take place quickly or slowly -- the issue of the presidency and vice presidency can be addressed. (If any of this confusing, refer to page 24 of the Iraq Constitution.) The president will then announce the PM-designate -- that's what Nouri or whomever will be -- based on who has the most support from the MPs. The PM-designate then has 30 days to form a Council of Minister (cabinet). Though this would presumably not be a problem for anyone chosen PM-designate, Nouri does have a history of ministers walking out on his cabinet. In fact, for months, Iraq's been without a Minister of Electricity (in violation of the Constitution, Nouri has allowed the Minister of Oil to serve in both posts).

March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board noted in August, "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 eight months and still counting.
Today Caroline Alexander (Bloomberg News) reports, "Iraqi leaders called for a united government as they met to try to end eight months of political deadlock and speed up the formation of a new parliament." Ben Lando (Wall St. Journal) reports, "Monday's meeting, the first of two planned this week, lasted less than two hours and adjourned before lunch on Monday in the northern city of Erbil. This meeting consisted of a handful of leaders giving brief speeches, at times praising each other, at the same time blaming the delay in forming a new government on rivals' inability to compromise." CNN adds, "Leading up to Monday's meeting, officials had said they were close to completing an agreement, but remarks made by a number of the leaders indicated that they have yet to address key sticking points that remain unresolved ahead of this week's parliament session." Various reports (including CNN's) quote at least one politician stating that more should have been done before this week (Parliament is scheduled to meet on Thursday). While that can be read as sour grapes or impatience (rightly or wrongly), Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) quotes a curious statement by KRG President Massoud Barzani, "This is just one meeting -- the first of many to come in which many issues must be resolved in order to reach an agreement. I see many details -- too many to be resolved in two or three days." I have no idea whether he delivered the remarks in Kurdish, Arabic or English (I'd guess Arabic) but Barzani is fluent in every language he speaks. He does not stumble for words. He knew what he was saying.
Over the weekend, the 'news' of "stalemate ended!" repeatedly noted the Kurds had been the kingmakers. There's Barzani indicating people shouldn't expect this to be wrapped up in three days. The same leaders are scheduled to meet tomorrow and a third day of meetings -- of deputies -- has been discussed. Barzani is clearly stating that three days is not enough to reach an agreement. It's a curious statement. BBC News reports, "The leaders have yet to agree on nominations for prime minister, president and speaker in time for a parliamentary vote on Thursday." Jim Muir (BBC News) maintains that "Allawi is trying to exact a high price for taking part in a Maliki administration, seeking to head a new 'National Council for Strategic Policy' with decision-making powers equal to the prime minister's." Meanwhile Jane Arraf reports that Kurdish officials state the US is calling for Jalal Talabani to not continue as the president because they want Allawi to have the post.
Sunday, October 31st, Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad was attacked and at least 58 people died. Michael Jansen (Irish Times) reports, "In the immediate aftermath of the attack on the church, France offered refuge to 150 Iraqi Christians, including some of the wounded." Jacques Clement (AFP via Middle East Online) reports on Siba Nadhir who will be evacuated to France today and who is four-months pregnant and was shot twice in the assault. She states, "They told me it would be better for my baby if I went to France for treatment. I don't want to go. I would rather stay here near my husband who was wounded and is in intensive care." Clement reports that Nadhi's family has not yet been able to tell her that her husband is dead. AFP reports that 36 Iraqis are already in route to France. The attack was news around the world and horrified people of all faiths and of no faith. Just as you do not expect a school to be a terrorist target (see the Beslan school hostage), you do not expect people participating in a faith worship to be held hostage. As Eliza Griswold (Daily Beast) pointed out, "It also marks a shift in patterns of violence. It's nothing new for militants to destroy empty churches. But this bloodbath in a sanctuary full of worshippers is horribly new." Jim Muir (BBC News) notes it is "the worst single disaster to afflict Iraq's Christians in modern times". Though everyone from the Pope to the Palestinian President publicly expressed their dismay over the assault, US President Barack Obama never said a word. (Apparently -- unlike a beer or Slurpee summit, the topic holds little interst for Barack.) That may go a long way towards explaining why France's government has sprung into action and the US government has done nothing. Friday, US House Rep Anna G. Eshoo's office issued the following:

Call on the Administration to Develop Comprehensive Policy to Protect Indigenous Religious Communities in Iraq

Washington, D.C. -- In the wake of the hostage crisis which occurred at Our Lady of Salvation Catholic Church in Baghdad, Iraq, U.S. Representatives Anna G. Eshoo (CA-14) and Frank Wolf (VA-10), who co-chair the Religious Minorities in the Middle East Caucus, as well as several other Representatives, sent a letter today to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, calling for the Obama Administration to develop a comprehensive policy for the protection of indigenous religious communities in Iraq. Members of Congress also offered condolences to the victims and their families.

Rep. Eshoo said: "As an Assyrian American, the plight of Iraq's indigenous religious communities has always held a very personal significance for me. Nearly constant violence has been a tragic consequence of our involvement in Iraq, and without clear action from the U.S. government, Iraq's ancient Christian community faces extinction. The horrific attack and loss of life once again underscores the need for a concrete strategy to protect Iraq's religious minorities."

Rep. Wolf said: "Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims of the hostage crisis at Our Lady of Salvation Catholic Church in Baghdad. This horrific attack against Christians gathered in their place of worship is symptomatic of a much larger problem -- namely that Iraq's ancient faith communities are being systematically targeted and driven from the land they have inhabited for centuries, threatening their very existence in modern day Iraq. Successive administrations have failed to recognize the unique needs of these indigenous faith communities and to prioritize their protection and preservation. This neglect comes at a grave cost. We can only hope that this tragedy will prompt a renewed focus on the plight of these vulnerable communities."

Rep. Mark Steven Kirk said: "I condemn in the strongest terms the horrific attack on the Our Lady of Salvation Catholic Church in Baghdad and extend my deepest condolences to the victims and their families. We must recognize that this reprehensible act specifically targeted the Iraqi Christians, continuing an alarming pattern of violence against vulnerable minority groups in Iraq. In the wake of this tragedy, I call on the Iraqi government, the Obama Administration, as well as international stakeholders, to prioritize the protection of indigenous religious communities in Iraq."

Rep. Trent Franks said: "This devastating attack, which claimed the lives of 58 people who committed no offense other than having the 'nerve' to be Christian, reminds us that the precious freedoms we enjoy as Americans are not a given in other parts of the world. Despite the incredible progress Iraq has made over the past decade, it can never truly be said that Iraq is a wholly free and stable representative of Democracy in the Middle East until religious minorities are able to put their beliefs into action without fear of reprisal. I join my colleagues in mourning the lives senselessly lost as a result of this cowardly violence and I call on the Obama Administration to prioritize an articulated strategy for Iraq's indigenous religious community."

Rep. Chris Smith: "The devastation suffered by members of Our Lady of Salvation Catholic Church -- and of all religious minorities in Iraq -- is almost beyond the comprehension of those of us who live in a country where the human right of religious freedom is respected. Nearly half of the worshipers died, and those who survived were wounded in body and spirit by the psychotic hatred of those who would control the free world through terror. We must protect, as first priority, the courageous believers who dare to follow their conscience rather than be controlled by fear. It is they who help lead the way in the fight for freedom and democracy in Iraq."

Rep. Scott Garrett: "I extend my deepest condolences to the family members and loved ones of those who perished on Sunday at Our Lady of Salvation Catholic Church. As thousands of Iraqis continue to be the victims of ethnic and religious discrimination in Iraq, I encourage Secretary Clinton to develop a strategy to address the ongoing atrocities. The United States was founded on the principles of freedom and equality, and should strongly resist the intolerance that fueled the recent hostage crisis in Baghdad."


Click here to view the letter.

Yesterday In England, Archbishop Athanasios Dawood has issued a statement. CNN quotes him calling for Iraqi Christians to leave Iraq immediately:

I say clearly and now -- the Christian people should leave their beloved land of our ancestors and escape the premeditated ethnic cleansing. This is better than having them killed one by one. [. . .] The Iraqi government is weak, biased, if not extremist. It does not protect us and the other minorities. It has ignored our legal rights. We ask the British government, the EU and the UN to protect us. [. . .] I ask the British government again to help the Iraqi Christians and grant them the rights of humanitarian asylum in order to preserve what is left of the victims who do not carry a weapon to fight and kill."

The Archbishop appeared on BBC News Sunday (link has text and video):

Archbishop Athanasios Dawood: Our people now in Iraq, they are living in danger -- no protection, no support, nobody look after them. After this many years -- about eight -- since the fall of the old regime, nobody support our people. Our people are trying to flee from Iraq afraid from persecution, from killing, from ethnic cleansing and all the terrorists now, they attack all of our people in Iraq.

Vatican Radio adds, "The Catholic community in Baghdad and throughout Iraq gathered for Sunday mass amid heightened security, following last weeks attack on the Our Lady of Salvation Church. Elsewhere, thousands took to the streets of cities in Canada and the US this weekend to commemorate last Sunday's massacre and call for greater protection for the dwindling minority in Iraq." Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad held their first mass today since last week's attack. Jo Siedlecka (Independent Catholic News) reports, "The walls are covered in bullet holes and still stained with blood; benches have been moved out of the church where 120 people were held hostage by Islamic militants. Father Mukhlis began the Mass by saying they would pray for the victims of the assault and for the attackers alike. He said: 'We will perform a strange kind of prayer, because Christ tells us: "Love your enemies." We will pray for those who assaulted our church and shed the blood of our martyrs. AP notes, of last Sunday's assault, "at least one . . . [of the two priests killed last week] was shot execution-style on the church floor."
Today targeted populations included Iranian pilgrims. Jack Healy (New York Times) reports car bombings in Karbala and Najaf claimed the lives of "at least 16" Iranian pilgrims. Al Jazeera notes, "The revered Imam Ali shrine in Najaf attracts hundreds of thousands of Shia Muslims from Iraq, Iran and other countries every year." BBC News adds, "Both cities, places of Shia pilgrimage, have frequently been the target of bomb attacks, most recently in July and August, says the BBC' Jim Muir in Baghdad." Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) counts 22 dead with 61 wounded. Healy quotes Najaf Sheik Majid al-Najafi stating, "They are targeting Chrisians, Shiites, Sunnis and pilgrims coming from outside Iraq."

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