Thursday, December 29, 2011




President Barack Obama gets mediocre marks for his handling of the economy and Mitt Romney easily outpolls his Republican rivals in an Associated Press survey of economists.

Iraq? In what may rank as the most obvious statement of today (doesn't make it any less true), Brookings' Kenneth M. Pollack (Newsweek via Khaleej Times) observes, "At least the Nixon administration got something of a 'decent interval' before North Vietnam betrayed their strategy from Southeast Asia." Iraq has not gotten with the latest waves of Operation Happy Talk, no. But when has it ever? American politicians have repeatedly attempted to portray Iraq in some manner that reflected well on them -- apparently forgetting that Iraq is an independent country of millions of people and not a mirror on the wall. Barack's only the latest politician to become entranced with his own image. How bad are things right now? The editorial board of The Economist is insisting that the country needs "to enact a federal formula, already provided for by the constitution. The Kurds, enjoying an unprecedented measure of autonomy, have long been keen on this. Most of Iraq's Sunni Arabs have hitherto loathed the idea, seeing it as a conspiracy to do them down and to belittle a great nation. But they should now think again. Mr Maliki's best chane of making Iraq work is to go federal." This is an issue that's been debated at the Guardian with Ranj Alaaldin advocating for a federation and more recently, yesterday, Hayder al-Khoei rejecting. al-Khoei argues, "Federalism may have worked wonders for the Kurds, but their success cannot be taken as a blueprint for the rest of the country. The Kurds are an exception because they have had de facto autonomous rule since 1991. That was a consequence of the brutality of the Ba'ath regime. Today, Iraqi villages are not being gassed, mass graves are not being filled with hundreds of thousands of corpses, and entire towns and cities are not being cleansed by the central government." Meanwhile Michigan State University professor Mohammed Ayoob (CNN) maintains that "it is only Iran that can now prevent Iraq from sliding into the abyss of chaos and disintegration. This argument has a simple logic. Iran is the country with the greatest leverage with the Shia-dominated al-Maliki government." By contrast the Telegraph of London feels it is for the US to stop a return of civil war and referencing Nouri's trashing of the Erbil Agreement, "In the process, he has called into question the settlement between Iraq's competing groups that helped restore a measure of stability. [. . .] Left unspoken was America's implict role as guarantor of this settlement. Iraqis asked, sotto voice, how long it would last after US forces withdrew. The answer, we have learnt, is that its foundations were undermined within hours." The administration does not share the Telegraph's view that the its their role. At the State Dept today, spokesperson Mark C. Toner declared, "Well, look, overseeing and husbanding implies that we're somehow calling the shots. [. . .] And Iraq's a sovereign country. I think we're engaged with all the political parties on the ground. And, again, we're urging that they come together, that they talk through the current situation and issues, and reach a consensus that way."
Tarqi Alhomayed (Al Arabiya) feels there may be a bright spot in the crisis in that it's allowed Nouri to show his true nature, "This is because Nuri al-Maliki has moved away from the political game, and instead resorted to using force against his opponents, immediately following the withdrawal of U.S. troops. This represented a red flag to all those who are concerned about the future of Iraq. Al-Maliki is a man who has not mastered the political game, and it seems that he does not even believe in politics at all, or at least not as much as he believes in the power of force. Therefore, he has over-used what he terms 'the law,' and we now see him seeking to arrest Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, and fire his own deputy, Saleh al-Mutlaq, whilst he is also clashing with Iraqi Parliamentary Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi." In addition, rumors swirl that the Minister of Finance, Rafie al-Issawi, will be charged with something shortly. All three are members of Iraqiya, the political slate that came in first in the March 2010 elections.

And al-Issawi teams with Ayad Allawi (former prime minister and head of Iraqiya) and Osama al-Nujaifi (Speaker of Parliament) to pen "How to Save Iraq From Civil War" in today's New York Times:

We are leaders of Iraqiya, the political coalition that won the most seats in the 2010 election and represents more than a quarter of all Iraqis. We do not think of ourselves as Sunni or Shiite, but as Iraqis, with a constituency spanning the entire country. We are now being hounded and threatened by Mr. Maliki, who is attempting to drive us out of Iraqi political life and create an authoritarian one-party state.
In the past few weeks, as the American military presence ended, another military force moved in to fill the void. Our homes and offices in Baghdad's Green Zone were surrounded by Mr. Maliki's security forces. He has laid siege to our party, and has done so with the blessing of a politicized judiciary and law enforcement system that have become virtual extensions of his personal office. He has accused Iraq's vice president, Tariq al-Hashimi, of terrorism; moved to fire Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq; and sought to investigate one of us, Rafe al-Essawi, for specious links to insurgents -- all immediately after Mr. Maliki returned to Iraq from Washington, wrongly giving Iraqis the impression that he'd been given carte blanche by the United States to do so.

If you're having trouble identifying the players, Dan Murphy (Christian Science Monitor) provides flash cards here.

Tony Karon (Global Post) observes, "Maliki, both by measures of votes in parliament and control of men under arms, is stronger than any other faction leader in Iraq right now, but he's not strong enough to rule Iraq on his own. Indeed, he has the job of prime minister only because Iran -- mindful of the importance of keeping a friendly government in Baghdad -- intervened to convince rival Shi'ite leaders, most important among them being Moqtada al-Sadr, to back another Maliki term. But other neighbors, particularly those at odds with Iran such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey, have other ideas. Both backed the Sunni-dominated Iraqiya bloc that challenged Maliki, and Saudi Arabia has been engaged in proxy conflicts with Iran across the region." Hamza Hendawi and Qassim Abdul-Zahra (AP) note Nouri "effectively runs the Defense and Interior ministries and has created a separate security force that answers to him alone. He bypassed parliament to install Shi'ite allies in key positions [. . .]"
And right there we need to clarify some issues that are wrong in reporting. (Not wrong with the AP article.) Al Jazeera maintains that Nouri al-Maliki has benched Saleh al-Mutlaq. Parliament told Nouri last week that they would review the matter in the new year and not until then. Nouri has no power on that. It is wrong to say that Nouri's done anything here other than ask that al-Mutlaq be stripped of his powers.

al-Mutlaq was nominated for his post and he was confirmed by Parliament. That's why Nouri can't just exile him. Nouri swore -- back in December 2010 -- that the security ministries would be filled -- that's the Minister of the Interior, the Minister of National Security and the Minister of Defense. They have not been filled. Nouri wants credit for calling someone 'acting' minister. An acting minister is not a real minister. He or she has not been nominated by Nouri and approved by the Parliament. So Nouri can call Howard Dean "acting Minister of Defense" tomorrow and then strip him of the title next week. That's because Parliament never confirmed it. If Parliament doesn't sign off, you're just Nouri's puppet. Parliament did vote to approve Saleh al-Mutlaq and that's why Nouri can't just discard him without their permission.
That's the first thing. The other thing that needs to be cleared up is the notion that Tareq al-Hashemi "fled" to the KRG. This pops up in reports after reports including, today, Al Jazeera where a man supposedly sympathetic to Iraqiya insists that al-Hashemi fled and therefore he's unsympathetic to him. "Fled" can be a descriptive word. It can also be a pejorative word. In this case, it is the wrong word.
Dropping back to Sunday, December 18th:
AFP reports, "Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi and several of his bodyguards were escorted off a plane at Baghdad airport on Sunday because two of the guards were wanted on 'terrorism charges,' officials said, the latest step in a deepening political crisis." Also on the plane was Saleh al-Mutlaq, Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister whom Nouri has asked Parliament to strip the powers of. al-Mutlaq was also forced off the plane. On today's All Things Considered (NPR), Kelly McEvers offered this take:

Kelly McEvers: Here in Kuwait, just having crossed over the border, we have all these US commanders telling us that they're leaving Iraq in a better place, that it's a thriving democracy. Yet in Baghdad it looks like you have Prime Minister Maliki -- who is a Shi'ite and whose government is Shi'ite -- going after his rivals who are Sunnis. Just yesterday, charges were announced against the Vice President who is Sunni and troops surrounded his house. The Maliki government accuses him of being involved in a terrorist plot. But Maliki's detractors say this is sectarian revenge. So you know we've got these promises from US commanders that things are going really well but this kind of national reconciliation government looks like it's unraveling.

Nizar Latif (The National) observes:

Those moves have added to a fear among the prime minister's critics that he is seeking to eliminate rivals and consolidate power.Iraqiyya warned it would pull out of the coalition government unless Mr Al Maliki agreed to seek a solution that respects "democracy and civil institutions".
"Iraq is now in a very difficult position. This is a critical time," said Eytab Al Douri, an MP with the Iraqiyya bloc. "If solutions are not found quickly, Iraq will be heading towards sectarian and ethnic divisions, and a return to civil war."
---------------- [End of Dec. 18th excerpt] ----------------
CNN reported this afternoon that an arrest warrant had been issued for Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi by the Judicial Commitee with the charge of terrorism. Omar al-Saleh (Al Jazeera) terms it a "poltical crisis" and states, "The government says this has nothing to do with the US withdrawal, that this has nothing to do with the prime minister consolidating his grip on power. However, members of al-Iraqiya bloc, which Hashimis is a member of, say 'No, [Maliki] is trying to be a dictator." Sam Dagher (Wall St. Journal) observes, "The arrest warrant puts Mr. Maliki on a possible collision course with the Kurds, who run their own semiautonomous region in the north and participate in the central government but have longstanding disputes with Baghdad over oil and land; and with Sunni Arabs in provinces like Anbar, Diyala, Nineveh and Salahuddin who have pressed in recent weeks for more autonomy from Baghdad with the backing of the Kurds."
It is INCORRECT to say -- as many outlets are -- that Tareq al-Hashemi fled to the KRG. Tareq al-Hashemi had scheduled meetings. He departed from Baghdad on Sunday the 18th. Before he could, he and others were cleared from the plane by Nouri's forces. Had the arrest warrant been issued, Nouri's forces could have kept him from re-boarding. They didn't do that because there was no, at that time, valid arrest warrant. Monday the 19th, while al-Hashemi is finishing meetings in the KRG, the arrest warrant is issued.
To say that Tareq al-Hashemi fled to the KRG is a pejorative statement ("flee" having the connotation of "coward"). It is also an incorrect statement. Since the arrest warrant was issued, he has stayed in the KRG. You could say he's seeking shelter or refuge or even some form of asylum. But you cannot say he fled and be accurate. Repeating, it is not only incorrect, it is a charged term. He is being called a terrorist. It does matter how you present the facts, it does matter in the court of public opinion. The Council on Foreign Relations can get it right, why can't the press?