Friday, December 09, 2011






Laura Meckler (Wall St. Journal) reports the White House has scheduled a speech Wednesday at Fort Bragg for US President Barack Obama. Because surely what America needs from Barack now is yet another speech? Because at Fort Bragg there's little chance of his being put on the spot about the continued high unemployment? Margaret Talev and Viola Gienger (Bloomberg News) explain the speech will take place two days after Barack meets with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki at the White House and, "President Barack Obamais focusing on the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq by year's end, even as his administration continues talks behind the scenes about the future American role there."
If he's attempting to spin it, not only has he already given that speech two months back, but he'll also be going up against what Lt Gen Frank Helmick declared yesterday as reported by Luis Martinez (ABC News) and Courtney Kube (NBC News):
"We really don't know what's going to happen. But we do know this: We do know that we have done everything we can in the time that we -- that we have been here for the Iraqi security forces to make sure that they have a credible security forces to provide for the security, the internal security of their country."
Hossam Acommok (Al Mada) reports that Aziz Ugaili, National Alliance MP, is noting that over 26 security companies will remain in Iraq after December 31st and questioning the claim of US withdrawal while also expressing his fear that, in DC later this month, Nouri al-Maliki will sign an agreement with the US involving 'trainers.' Meanwhile Al Mada also reports that the Sadrist movement is declaring that the US remnants after December 31st will be fair targets and that the US is not planning to keep a small number of staff for the embassy the way other countries do. In addition, Al Mada reports that the UAE has offered their services in training Iraqi forces.
Iraq has a prominent visitor today. Bi Mingxin (Xinhua) reports, "Arab League (AL) chief Nabil al- Arabi arrived in Baghdad on an official visit to hold talks with Iraqi leaders over sanctions against Syria, an official at the Iraqi Foreign Ministry said Thursday." He's already met with Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari. While the media is placing the emphasis of the meeting on a potential March Arab summit, that's a smokescreen. Regardless of whether the summit takes place in March (it was repeatedly postponed in 2010), the reality is that al-Arabi is visiting due to concern over Iraq's position regarding Syria. Dar Addustour noted al-Arabi is also scheduled to meet with President Jalal Talabani, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi today while in Iraq. In addition, Al Sabaah adds that he's supposed to meet with unnamed Iraqi officials.

Sabrina M. Peterson (International Affairs Review) explores the decision of the Iraqi government to stand with the Syrian government:

Today, while other Arab states have condemned Syria and called for the regime to step down, Iraq has demonstrated its support. Iraq has not called for Assad to relinquish power, but instead has advocated gradual reform. The Maliki government has made moves to strengthen its economic ties with Syria since before the violence broke out this year and has been strengthening those ties since. This past summer, Iraq hosted a tour of Syria's top government and business leaders, a visit that led to a new pact to increase bilateral trade. Iraq is now Syria's biggest trading partner.

The Iraqi government also supports Syria because it fears that if the Assad regime collapses, violence could spill over into Iraq and cause further instability. Sectarianism is another important reason: Maliki is a Shia Muslim who spent years in exile in Syria before returning to post-Saddam Iraq. Quite probably Maliki feels a sectarian affinity for Assad, a member of the Alawite sect of Shia Islam. Maliki and the Assad family both share a common fear of Sunni-led insurgencies.

Al-Masry Al-Youm reports, "Dozens of Syrian citizens in Cairo staged a protest outside the Iraqi Embassy on Thursday to condemn what they labeled Iraq's pro-Assad stance. The protesters chanted against the Iraqi authorities after Iraq refused to approve economic sanctions imposed by the Arab League against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime." For ABC News, Barbara Walters interviewed President Bashar al-Assadi (link is video and text):
Walters: But you have people who are against you who are protesting every day. It started with people marching with olive branches and with their children asking for more freedom, for freedom of press, for freedom of expression, and much of the country now, sir, is not supporting you, that's what these, that's what your crisis is about.
Assad: Yeah. That's why we had the reform started quickly, after the very beginning that you described as simple, so we didn't take the role, we didn't play the role of stubborn government, they say they need more freedom. We right away had new party laws, new media law, new election law, new local administration law, and we are revising our constitution now. Showing your opinion, whether you like somebody or doesn't like government or president or whoever, should be through the election, the ballot box, this is the only way.
Walters: If you have elections, will they be elections for president?
Assad: No, no, we are going to have first of all the local administration election this month...
Walters: Local administration, but what about the president?
Assad: Yeah, after that, we are going to have the parliamentarian election, which is the most important. Talking about presidential election, it's going to be in 2014, this is the...
Walters: People don't want to wait that long, till 2014.
Assad: Which people?
Walters: The people who are protesting.
Assad: How, how, how much, how many, are they majority or not, that's why you need, you need to wait first of all for the parliamentarian election, these election will tell you are you going to have majority or minority, then when you can think about presidential election, but not before, before that you don't have any indication, any clear indication.
Walters: In 2014, when there are presidential elections, will you allow opposition parties?
Assad: That's why we are changing the constitution.
Walters: OK. And if somebody else wins, will you step down in 2014?
Assad: If he wins he's going to be in my position, I don't have to step down, he's going to be president. So you don't step down. He will win the election, he will be president. So step down means you leave, while if you win the election, he's going normally, he's going to be in that position instead of me.
Speaking with Bill Weir on Nightline last night, Barbara Walters declared that there appears to be a disconnect and that Assad has trouble reconciling what's taking place in parts of Syria. Deutsche Presse-Agentur reports, "Iraq said Thursday it would initiate contacts with the Syrian government in an effort to persuade it to accept an Arab League plan to end months of violence in the country." Ammar Karim (AFP) quotes Nabil al-Arabi stating, "Our conversation (with Iraq) . . . was to explore whether the Iraqi government is willing to exert its influence with Syria. The Iraqi government told us that it will carry out contacts with the Syrian government to resolve this issue." Al Arabiya notes the Arab League has called for international monitors; however, "in an interview with ABC's Barbara Walters on Wednesday the embattled Syrian president Bashar al-Assad said he will not allow Arab League observers unfettered access to monitor the crackdown."
Conflicts continue between the Baghdad-based central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government over issues of oil especially with regards to the KRG's deal with ExxonMobil. UPI notes, 'Nouri al-Maliki is stepping up the pressure on ExxonMobil to back off ab reakaway oil exploration deal with the Kurds' semi-autonomous enclave and the betting is the world's largest oil company will fold." CNN quotes KRG Prime Minister Barham Salih stating, "There is no way that we will be dissuaded from our constitutional right to developing our resources and allow ourselves to ever again become hostages to the whims of some bureaucrats in Baghdad. We've been there before. Oil was used to strangle our people, to commit genoicde." J. Jay Park (Financial Times of London) attempts to make sense of the legal issues but keeps coming back to a 2007 draft or a more recent draft or -- Those are bills. They aren't laws. Though many drafts have been written, the oil and gas issue was never resolved by law.
A lot of things remain unresolved in Iraq. In fact, "unresolved" would be the government's Facebook status. Political Stalemate I was a period in Iraq following the March 7, 2010 elections. It ended in November of 2010 only as a result of a meet-up in Erbil and the political parties signing off on an agreement in which all but State of Law made political concessions. The results of the March 7th elections, even after Nouri al-Maliki bitterly contested them and stamped his feet until a few post-election votes were tossed his way, were that Iraqiya came in first and Nouri's political slate State of Law came in second. Iraqis do not elect their prime minister, the Parliament does. Per the Constitution, Ayad Allawi, the leader of Iraqiya, should have had first crack at forming a government. First crack? You become prime minister-designate and then have thirty days to name a Cabinet (nominate people for positions and have Parliament vote in favor of them). If you can't accomplish that in 30 days, per the Constitution, a new prime minister-designate is supposed to be named.

Nouri al-Maliki refused to surrender the post of prime minister. So the March 7th elections were followed by over 8 months of gridlock, Political Stalemate I. The Erbil Agreement found all but State of Law making major concessions so that the country could pull together. (During that eight month period, Parliament had one session which was little more than roll call.) Iraqiya, the winner in the elections, was supposed to see their leader (Allawi) head an independent security commission, the KRG was promised Article 140 would finally be followed (Article 140 of the Constitution addresses disputed territories such as Kirkuk -- it calls for a census and referendum to be held in Kirkuk by the end of 2007. Nouri was prime minister then and refused to implement Article 140.) Many promises were made but the only one that concerned Nouri was that he would remain prime minister.