Saturday, June 05, 2010





Today on NPR's Diane Rehm Show, Susan Page filled in for Diane and the second hour's guests were MBC TV's Nadia Bilbassy, Christian Science Monitor Howard LaFranchi and's David Wood.
Susan Page: Well Iraq's high court ratified the results of the national elections that were held on March 7th, Howard, who won?
Howard LaFranchi: Well according to the uh the Supreme Court ruling bascially what they did was uh verify that the uh bloc led by uh Ayad Allawi uh who is a uh a secular Shi'ite that his bloc won the most seats. Uh the problem is that they didn't win uh anything near a majority. Coming in second, just uh a few seats behind was the bloc of the current prime minister Maliki. And uh so now uh although it sounds great that okay finally there's a ruling and uh the results have been certified but now the-the jockeying and the-the power struggle shifts to Parliament because someone is going to have to come up with a uh coalition that will be a majority -- to be able to form the government. Uhm. Last -- or recently anyway [C.I. note, May 4th] -- Maliki sort of envisioning this formed a coalition with the forces of uh . . . [pause] the Islamic Sh'ite Movement of uh of uh Sadr uh a name that I think many Americans will be familiar with.
We got to break in, there's too much wrong there. What the hell is he saying? He doesn't know what he's saying. He's got some names he almost knows and tosses them out but does so wrongly. Nouri's State of Law formed a power-sharing coalition on May 4th with the Iraqi National Alliance slate. Ammar al-Hakim and his Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq or Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council are part of that alliance along with 17 other components/parties as well some independent politicians. Moqtada al-Sadr is also a member of the Iraqi National Alliance with his Sadr bloc. His bloc won the most seats of any component/party in the Iraqi National Alliance (40, followed by ISCI and Bard Organization with 18 seats. The INA, chaired by Ibrahim al-Jaafari, holds 70 seats in the new Parliament. Ayad Allawi heads Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament. Nouri al-Malki heads State Of Law which won 89 seats in the Parliament. State Of Law's power-sharing coalition with the Iraqi National Alliance gives them 159 seats currently (after Parliament is seated, the candidates are MPs and cannot be removed by their party and replaced with another candidate on their party's list -- once seated, some members of some blocs may decide to cut their own deals). 163 seats are needed for the government (prime minister and council) to be formed.
Howard LaFranchi (Con't): Uhm but the question will be the-the right to try to form a government will go first to uh uh --
Nadia Bilbassy: Allawi.
Howard LaFranchi: Allawi and the question will be if he will be able to succeed.
Susan Page: And, Nadia, is this taking longer than we expected.
Nadia Bilbassy: I think every time I come on The Diane Rehm Show I ask the same question.When they going to from the government and, I think, I don't have an answer. Probably September. I mean it's a good thing the highest judicial body in Iraq has certified the results because that means that they're no disputed anymore. And we heard from Prime Minister Maliki who said, 'No, we won, we have to recount it by hand. We have to do this, we have to do that.' So now it's over except for two seats that were disputed -- ultimately, it's not going to effect the results. As it stands now, 91 and 89 for Allawi [she has the totals backward, Allawi's slate has the 91]. The problem now it is jockeying for power. Who is going to form the government and, funny enough, it reminds me of Israel because, if you remember, Kadima won the election but they couldn't form the government and therefore it lost so it doesn't mean the winning party who got the popular vote will ultimately form the government. What we have seen now is actually Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki trying to go and coordination with the second larg -- third largest bloc which is the Iraqi National Alliance which includes Sadr and Hakim and others. The problem is people already see it as a Shi'ite domination and it's not just Shi'ite domination but Shi'ite religious domination and that will alienate the secular and the Sunnis. So the problem now is where do you go now? The President Jalal Talabani has 15 days to ask the Parliament to convene and after they nominate the Speaker and the Deputy Speakers they will go forward to ask the winning party -- which is Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya Party -- to form the government.
Susan Page: Now, Nadia, says that the government may not be formed until September. We have an August deadline for the reduction of US troops in Iraq --
Nadia Bilbassy: I mean, I hope it's [government formed] before.
Susan Page: Yeah, we hope it's before. But it's obviously taking quite a bit of time and no end yet quite in sight. Could this imperil the timetable for the withdrawal of US troops, David?
David Wood: I don't think so, Susan. We're going to have General Ray Odierno, top US commander in Iraq, briefing at the Pentagon in about an hour so we'll get an answer from him. But he met with President Obama this week and what he said was that the withdrawal of US combat troops was on track and they will all be gone by August 31st. About 50,000 US military personnel [troops] will be left in Iraq, but let me stress they are not organized in fighting units. [Apparently, they're instead organized in sewing circles. Quilting bees?] And they are largely technicians and administrators so that if violence does break out and the US is needed they will have to come back in from the outside.
They are combat troops. That's what the US military trains the troops for. When Barack first presented this laughable idea of "noncombat" troops being left in Iraq, Michael R. Gordon (New York Times) rightly -- and repeatedly -- expressed bewilderment over how Barack could 'create' this category. Since then Thomas E. Ricks has called it out repeatedly and many others as well. Ricks has, in fact, been the most elequent on this topic. On The Diane Rehm Show, for example, March 4th, Ricks observed, "I hate the phrase 'combat troops.' There is no pacifisit wing of the Marine Corps or the 101st Airborne. And I think it's effectively a lie to the American people. When they hear 'I'll get combat troops out,' what they hear is 'No more American troops will die' -- and that is blatantly untrue. And I think the sooner the president addresses that, the better for him." Exactly. We'll include David Wood's uninformed comments. I went back and forth on it but the reality is we'll return to them months from now in order to hang him with his own words. Joost R. Hiltermann examines the current situation in "Iraq's Summer of Uncertainty" (New York Review of Books):

The outlook is ominous. As the politicians dither, governmental institutions -- never particularly effective -- could become paralyzed, as senior officials fear for their careers if they make decisions that would anger Iraq's future rulers. Uncertainty over the country's prospects could spread through society and the economy. In a political vacuum, outside regional powers would almost certainly gain greater influence and be tempted to meddle more than they already do. The United States, which has been so eager to depart that it failed to craft an exit strategy, would then have trouble being heard over the din. Lacking strong support in Baghdad, parties and politicians would have little choice but to seek succour in neighbouring capitals, insinuating these states' countervailing interests into what is already a combustible mix. And Iraq's insurgencies could get a second wind, again making violence the primary mode of politics.
Alsumaria TV states Iraqi National Alliance's Bahaa Al Araij is stating that an announcement will be forthcoming and that while State Of Law is going with Nouri, the Iraqi National Alliance will nominate their chair Ibrahim Al Jaafari and Adel Abdul-Mehdi. Ibrahim al-Jaafari was Iraq's second post-invasion prime minister. He was also the first choice, following the December 2005 elections, to be (remain) prime minister; however, the US government objected to him and Nouri al-Maliki was then chosen as a compromise candidate. In the 2005 elections, he had the support of Moqtada al-Sadr's followers. That allowed him to defeat Adel Abudl-Mahdi by a single vote in those elections. Adel Abdul-Mahdi currently serves as Iraq's Shi'ite vice president (Iraq has two vice presidents) he belongs to al-Hakim's political party. al-Jaafari spent his exile time in Iran and England while Abdul-Mahdi spent his exile time in France. Nouri spent his exile time predominantly in Syria and Iran while Allawi spent significant time in England. All potential prime ministers (thus far) are former exiles.
Nouri wants to continue in the post. There is opposition to that within the Iraqi National Alliance. Tossing out their two most popular figues from the last election appears to indicate that they do not see the power-sharing coalition as a rubber stamp for Nouri's continued reign.
Nouri's close ties with Iran have not resulted in Iraq's territorial sovereignty being respected. Tuesday some reports maintained the Iranian military had entered northern Iraq while other reports insisted no entry had taken place:
Sherko Raouf, Shamil Aqrawi and Matt Robinson (Reuters) report that there are rumors (denied by Kurdish officials) that Iran has entered northern Iraq but that over 100 Iraqi families have fled the area in the last seven days. Sunday Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN)reported the Iranian shelling claimed the life of 1 teenage Iraqi girl in nothern Iraq. Xinhua (link has text and audio) identified the 14-year-old as Basouz Jabbar Agha. As with the Turkish military, Iranian military claims their target is the PKK -- a group identified by many countries (including the US) and the European Union as a terrorist organization and one that has established a base in nothern Iraq (among other places). [They would actually claim their target is PJAK and we're not drawing a line between the PKK and PJAK here -- they have the same leader, the same goals and are 'mingled' in the northern Iraq bases.] The PKK seeks an official Kurdish homeland (usually within Turkey) and points to decades of persecution. One of their leaders is Abudllah Ocalan who has been in a Turkish prison since 1999. The BBC reported over the weekend that he was rumored to have announced "he was abandoning efforts for dialogue with the Turkish government." Hurriyet Daily News reports that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will hold a terrorism summit on Wednesday (Turkey labels the PKK a terrorist organization). Meanwhile AFP quotes an unnamed "security official" stating that Iranian troops have moved "three kilometers" into northern Iraq. Caroline Alexander and Kadhim Ajrash (Bloomberg News) quote KRG spokesperson Kawa Mahmoud stating, "These reports about an Iranian incursion into Krudistan are totally false. There may be Iranian activity near the border, but there is no incursion." The reality? At this point unknown. Iran's most recent invasion of Iran (December 2009) was greeted with denials from some Iraqi government officials and from some Iranian government officials. But the violation of sovereignty did take place.
This afternoon, Leila Fadel and Dlovan Barawri (Washington Post) report that Nouri's officials deny the Iranian military has entered northern Iraq; however, "Incensed by the intensity of the attacks and what they say is a brazen ground movement nearly two miles into Iraqi territory, Kurdish officials have reached out to the central government to stop the Iranian incursion and continued shelling, said Jabar al-Yawar, the spokesman for the peshmerga, the Kurdish regional force." Meanwhile the PKK in northern Iraq announced the end of their ceasefire with Turkey's military. This announcement came as KRG President Masoud Barzani was in the midst of a five-day visit to Turkey -- his first in approximately five years. Mehmet Ali Birand (Hurriyet Daily News) opines, "We shouldn't expect Barzani to grab a weapon and fight for Turkey up in the mountain or fight against the PKK. No matter how much he dislikes this terrorist organization and is against the interests of Iraqi Kurds, this means a war between Kurds. That's why we shouldn't expect Barzani to fight for Turkey against the PKK. But on the other hand, we expect him to take measures and stop the PKK strolling around freely. We can do this only by acting together." Today's Zaman reports, "While expressing support for the Turkish government's efforts to engage its Kurdish population with the aim of ending decades of fighting with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has killed tens of thousands of people, Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani on Thursday also voiced regret over the deaths of young people in the conflict between Turkish security forces, no matter if they are Kurdish or Turkish."

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Thursday, June 03, 2010






"When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men, and a discharge for loving one." So reads the tombstone of Leonard Matlovich, a Vietnam veteran who served in the Air Force. After 12 years of outstanding service, Matlovich wrote a letter to his commanding officer explaining he was gay. This was March 6, 1975 and he was then subjected to a week long hearing (starting September 16, 1975) at Langley Air Force Base. Nearly 22 year before Ellen DeGeneres declared "Yep, I'm Gay" on the cover of Time magazine (April 14, 1997), Matlovich appeared on the cover of Time magazine (September 8, 1975) announcing "I Am a Homosexual." ( where he was released from the military. Matlovich fought back for years, eventually taking a settlement (including an honorable discharge and $160,000 in back pay). (Martin Duberman covered the hearing for the New York Times Sunday magazine in "The Case Of The Gay Sergeant; Leonard Matlovich's strange trial betrayed a profound shift in American attitudes -- and not only toward sexuality" with an indepth look at the witnesses and events -- including Matlovich being asked to sign a statement swearing he would never practice same-sex relations and you can click here for Time magazine's much more brief September 1975 report on the hearing.) 35 years after Matlovich began his fight for equality within the military, the battle continues.
KPFT's Queer Voices (out of Houston -- and Mike covers it at his site) is among the programs that features This Way Out's weekly newswrap and we'll note this from the latest:
A critical US Senate Committee and the full House of Representatives each took steps this week to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell -- the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in America's military. The Senate Armed Services Committee voted 16 to 12 to approve a repeal admendment to the annual national defense authorization act earlier in the day on May 27 and the House voted 234 to 194 later that night comfortably above the required 217 to add the amendment to similar legislation. Susan Collins of Maine was the only Republican on the Senate panel to vote for the amendment while Senator Jim Webb of Virginia was the only Democrat to vote against it. Five Republicans in the House, breaking with their party's stated opposition, supported repeal. [. . .] The drama is far from over; however, some Republicans have vowed to filibuster on the entire defense spending bill if it includes the repeal provision when it comes up on the Senate floor in June and the White House issued a statement deploring some of the specific appropriations for military hardware in the House passed bill generally pushed by Congress members whose districts financially benefit from them. The statement warned that the Pentagon has indicated that it doesn't need nor want some of those military products and the president might veto the entire measure if those appropriations remain. Meanwhile Defense Secretary [Robert] Gates confirmed in a video message to the troops that the ban remains enforced and Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the pro-repeal Servicemembers Legal Defense Network cautioned that, "It is important for all lesbian and gay active duty service members including the reserves and the National Guard to know they are still at risk. They must continue to serve in silence under the Don't Ask, Don't Tell law that remains on the books." While most LGBT advocacy groups applauded the progress made on repeal this week, not everyone was celebrating. Kip Williams, co-chair of the new grassroots queer rights group GetEQUAL was among the non-celebrants: "The sad fact remains that this vote in Congress won't stop the firings of lesbian and gay service members," he said in a media statement. "We keep asking the question 'When will the military discharges end?' -- and have not yet received an answer from the legislative and executive branches. It is the president's moral responsibility to issue an executive order banning the firings under Don't Ask, Don't Tell until the process can play itself out. LGBT Americans, especially those serving our country admirably in uniform, need their 'fierce advocate' now." Lt Dan Choi and Capt Jim Pietrangelo -- each twice arrested for handcuffing themselves to the White House gates to protest Don't Ask Don't Tell -- announced that they've begun a hunger strike because the actions this week don't end the anti-les-bi-gay policy fast enough. Choi, a West Point graduate, fluent Arabic linguist and Iraq War veteran outlined their three demands to Newsweek magazine. "Stop firing people," he said. "Stop the study that insults everything America is by considering the question of whether or not discrimination is America. And replace the current military discriminatory policy with comprehensive non-discrimination policies."
Monday, Marcia noted, "Again, I support Dan Choi. I like him. He's a real leader. But I wish he wasn't on the hunger strike. I just don't see this ending well. I hope I am wrong." This community supported the hunger strike staged by CODEPINK in the summer of 2006. But some of us took it seriously. Others, who swore they'd stay on it until the Iraq War was over didn't. (I am not referring to Diane Wilson or Cindy Sheehan who took the hunger strike very seriously.) Hunger strikes have a long political history but when that one ended, Ava and I made it clear that we would never endorse a hunger strike again and that we were surprised and caught off guard by that one. (The US has enough eating disorders without further equating strength with starvation through political action.) We're noting Dan's hunger strike now. What does that mean?
Jessic Green (Pink News) reports it has thankfully ended and that he and James Pietrangelo "abandoned the protest yesterday evening after supporters voiced fears for their health. Unfortunately, Dan has "hinted" it may come up again. It is a political action but we won't support it. I'm sorry I've spoken to too many groups over the years about body issues and eating disorders. It used to just be young girls and young women. Then it became more and more boys and young men. Some of the males -- not all - are gay. I just cannot personally support a hunger strike again. We'll continue to note Dan, he's a wonderful leader but this is a longterm issue (eating disorders) that many people struggle with and I am very uncomfortable sending any sort of message that we show strength or garner attention by starving ourselves. That's me. Others can do what they want, especially if they're adults. (But I am very glad Dan and Jim are off their hunger strike and think it would be great if they would stay off but they're going to do what they think is best and more power to them on that.) And to be very clear (because as usual Lez Get Real is yet again attacking Dan -- we're not linking to that site ever again), I am sure the strike was powerful and sparked many thoughts, I just personally do not support hunger strikes (for reasons outlined above). Overturning Don't Ask, Don't Tell will require a variety of actions and each person should pursue the ones they can tolerate (go beyond comfort zone). Rev. Irene Monroe has long covered issues of equality and she breaks down the basics on where things really stand for San Fransico Bay Times:
But at the end of the day of all this historic voting, last week, the plight of our LGBTQ service members remained unchanged.
Investigations and discharges for being an openly LGBTQ service member will continue on as usual. Why? Because the Pentagon has not completed its study, reviewing how to maintain the military's "unit cohesion" while integrating LGBTQ service members.
December 1 is the day the country will know the results of the Pentagon study. We will also know if the welcoming mat will truly begin to unfold for our LGBTQ service members.

That's the reality. For fantasy, see this ridiculous editorial in the Vacaville Reporter. Nothing is "virtually assure[d]." Nothing except a year long study will take place. A study? Has anyone ever done a study? You start out with one set of beliefs, that doesn't mean you end with them. The study is supposed to find out what the military rank and file feel about the issue and about how to best implement a change. The study could very well argue that the best way to implement a change has yet to arrive and that the policy (discrimination) should continue. USA Today offers a much more reality-based editorial here. Sean Kennedy (New York Magazine) notes that the bill doesn't include an anti-discrimination measure (would it be covered by Bill Clinton's executive order -- possibly unless a future president issues an executive order nullifying Clinton's). Today Ryan Grim (Huffington Post) outlines some of the craven deal making that led to the nothing yet to brag about moves by Dems and informs that one-time KKK cover boy Senator Robert Byrd insisted that there be sixty days after the review is released before any repeal can take place. So in other words, you can attempt to legally buy a gun and submit to a background check quicker than Byrd would have people come out. You can get your hands on a gun quicker than you can be open about who you are? Some old men in the Congress really need to retire and Robert Byrd is one of them. In fact, maybe we need to pass amendments wherein death in office might result in state's seeking compensation from the Congress member's estate for the costs of special elections?
Adm Mike Mullen is the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and he spoke at Fort Bragg yesterday. Martha Quillin (Raleigh News & Observer via Miami Herald) reports, "Openly gay recruits will likely be admitted into the military, and the services will adjust to their presence, Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a group of soldiers at Fort Bragg on Wednesday." The military's Sgt 1st Class Michael J. Carden quotes Mullen stating, "The law needs to change. Fundamentally, it's an issue of our values. It's very critical for us as an institution, and I'm hard-pressed not to support policy and a law that forces individuals to come in and lie everyday." At Iraq Veterans Against the War, Wes Davey offers a look back at the policy and he's incorrect when he writes of Bill Clinton, "Members of Congress from both sides of the political aisle did everything but pour boiling oil over him, and in the end he settled for a compromise that did absolutely nothing for gays and lesbians serving in the military." If it did nothing, Bill's actions wouldn't have outraged anyone. The "Don't Ask" aspect was never seriously implemented (and court cases should have resulted from that) by the military. But to say it did nothing is to rewrite history. George H.W. Bush was against gays serving in the military and so was Ronald Reagan (decorating his house and dining with him or comforting them over the loss of longterm partner were apparently different for Reagan) and you can go back further on that. But the policy was that the witch hunts were taking place. Don't Ask, Don't Tell revolved around the premise that your sexuality was your business.
Today we can rightly see it didn't go far enough (something Bill himself admitted and listed as a regret in his final presidential interview with Rolling Stone). But with the climate at that time, this was a huge step. It went from "You're sick and disgusting!" to "You have no right to stick your nose into my sexuality." When the policy is repealed (which may or may not be in December), it'll be a futher step forward. But it's wrong to say that it did nothing ("absolutely nothing"). It also helped establish new boundaries (ones of respect) for a national dialogue that's been taking place since 1993 on this issue. Bill took a hit on it, he didn't walk away from it. He pushed it as far as he could at that time. I personally wish he would have brought back it up but I'm also aware that gas bags like Michael Tomasky were already sharpening their knives on gay rights and that the balance in Congress was shifting away from Democrats (whom Wes Davey rightly notes did not all agree that gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve openly). And to clarify, Michael Tomasky (and Toad Gitlin and other left, White, male, presumably straight gas bags) led an attack on LGBT rights (and on feminism and Latinos and all subgroupings except African-Americans -- they were too scared to attack the Civil Rights Movement but not to say it's work was "done") following the Don't Ask, Don't Tell passage. That's not noted in any of the histories. These screaming mimis hissing "identity politics" and attacking those attempting to work towards equality had quite the platform and very few people confronted them directly (Ellen Willis, as always, didn't run scared from the crazies and did reject their nonsense). History is the tale of progression. Before 1993 (immediately before), the military's policy was that any gay male or lesbian wasn't fit to serve. Don't Ask, Don't Tell was a step away from that. And the attacks on this step did not come solely from the right-wing, centrists and supposed leftists attacked the policy as going too far, as distracting from 'real issues' and much more. That's the real history and it goes beyond what Congress did and what Bill did and what a few others did. This was a national dialogue and there were many, many players. (And the Tomaskys big fears were that the Democratic Party -- by embracing equality -- was running off White male voters and would never win an election that way.)
How does this relate to Iraq? Well the LGBT community is persecuted. You have LGBTs in the US military and they are Iraq War veterans. So you can justify it that way if you need a reason for why it's in the Iraq snapshot and in it at such length. But this is a really important issue (and I'm glad Wes Davey and IVAW weighed in -- I've only picked apart one sentence of Davey's and that just because I do not care for the revisionary history that's set in on that time period and is now being taught to other people -- such as Davey -- as fact) and there are a lot of people (including Tomasky) who are starting to whisper that Democrats need to move away from it now as election season creeps up on the country. So we'll probably go into this issue in this much length many more times this year.

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Wednesday, June 02, 2010










We'll start with some of the financial costs of the Iraq War for the US. The Institute for Public Accuracy issued the following today:
Comerford is executive director of the National Priorities Project, which analyzes budget choices. She said today: "Over the weekend, the National Priorities Project Cost of War counter -- designed to count the total money appropriated for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars -- passed the $1 trillion mark.

"Taxpayers in Natick, Massachusetts have paid $206.9 million for total Iraq and Afghanistan war spending since 2001. For that amount, instead of implementing a proposed 4 percent cut for Natick's libraries in 2011, the town could double its total current library budget, and pay for it for 56 years.

"To date $747.3 billion has been appropriated for the U.S. war in Iraq and $299 billion for the war in Afghanistan. The pending supplemental making its way through Congress will add an estimated $37 billion to the current $136.8 billion total spending for the current fiscal year, ending September 30."

See NPP's
Cost of War counters.

For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020 or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167
March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. To form the next government, the magic number is 163. No political party or slate reached that number. The leading slate was Iraqiya which won 91 seats. They were followed by State Of Law (Nouri al-Maliki's slate) with 89 seats, the Iraqi National Alliance with 70 seats and the Kurdistan Alliance with 43 seats, minorities have 8 seats, Gorran has 8 seats, Iraiq Accord Front has 6 seats, Unity Alliance of Iraq has 4 seats, Kurdistan Islamic Union has 4 seats and the Islamic Group of Kurdistan has 2 seats. Speaking on BBC's HARDtalk today, Iraqiya leader Ayad Allawi outlined a strategy though talk of and focus on the violence may have prevented some from absorbing that.
Ayad Allawi: This is what we are seeing now. There is, again, a new trend of sectarianism emerging in the country which can be -- which can be very bad and this is causing a lot of violence already.
HARDtalk: Do you understand those Shi'ites though who say, "Look we were ruled by Sunni regime, we were ruled by Saddam Hussein. We know that your party is backed heavily by Sunnis and we just don't want to go down that road again. We're not willing to take that risk."
Ayad Allawi: No -- Well, uh, you know, it's uh, the-the Iraqiya is Sunni and Shia, it's not --
HARDtalk: No, but you were heavily backed of course by Sunnis.
Ayad Allawi: Because they wanted to see change. As the Shi'ites voted for us, the Sunnis voted for us. The Sunnis want to see change and of course they don't want to align themselves with Shi'ite groups so they found a secular group which is us and they voted for us. And I think they should be encouraged. And people want to see change in the country ultimately. They don't want to be -- to have the country stagnate on sectarian issues and bases.
HARDtalk: You've warned that unless there is a deal, the country is in danger, and I quote you, "of descending into a new sectarian war." That's very strong language. What are you saying there?
Ayad Allawi: I am saying that if sectarianism comes to Iraq again, depending upon, of course, the drawdown of the American forces and withdrawal, this would lead the country into severe violence unfortunately as we have witnessed in 2005, '06 and '07.
HARDtalk: Are you worried -- you sound as if you're worried in particular about the reactions of the Sunnis who backed your party. That if they feel that they're being sidelined and left out of any government deal by Nouri al-Maliki and other Shi'ites that they will do something.
Ayad Allawi: It's not a matter of them doing something. It's a matter of getting Iraq back into the sectarian beginning when things went very bad -- because sectarianism is associated with extremism. And if this visits Iraq again and the landscape is reversed now back to sectarianism then of course Sunnis and Shi'ites will clash.
HARDtalk: I suppose the ultimate conclusion to that is that it still could lead to this very real worry that people have had for many years of the breakup of Iraq.
Ayad Allawi: Unfortunately. I hope this is not going to happen. I think Iraq is still holding itself very tight. Definitely sectarianism will cause a lot of trouble to the country.
HARDtalk: Aren't you fueling all of these splits though by talking about sectarianism. I was talking to an Iraqi friend of mine and she said very clearly, "Look, I'm secular too -- lilke Allawi. But he's destroying the country. He needs to accept that he's not won this election. He can't become prime minister. He needs to either do a deal with Nouri al-Maliki or just leave the political stage and let someone else get on with trying to form a government.
Ayad Allawi: No, we are -- Of course, we are ready to make a deal but we have won the elections definitely. The seats we have --
HARDtalk: But you're sixty or seventy seats short of an overall majority. That's --
Ayad Allawi: Fine. Everybody is short. Not only us. But we don't want to merge with a sectarian outlook -- whether it's Sunni or Shi'ite. That's why we think and believe our natural allies are the Kurds and will be the Kurds. And we are looking into the smaller groups that have formed the new Parliament -- are forming the new Parliament. And I think this will give us the edge again. But here we are not talking about this. We are talking about two separate issues. One is the spearheading the formation of the government and the second issue is the vote of confidence by the Parliament. It is not necessarily that we are going to get the vote of confidence. Of course, then people like Maliki and others will try their luck. But definitely as far as we are concerned, we should spearhead the formation of the government.
HARDtalk: This would seem on the face of it a very dangerous moment for Iraq.
Ayad Allawi: It is. It is very critical. And that's why everybody has said this is an important milestone for the country.
Key points (in terms of freshness) from the interview: "That's why we think and believe our natural allies are the Kurds and will be the Kurds. And we are looking into the smaller groups that have formed the new Parliament -- are forming the new Parliament. And I think this will give us the edge again." Is it possible? Assuming that the current power-sharing coalition between State Of Law and the Iraqi National Alliance holds and assuming he meant only the Kurdistan Alliance, that's 43 plus 91 for 134. 29 seats would still be needed. Gorran might come on board (might not) to give an additional 8 seats. for example. But if the SOL and INA power-sharing coalition held, that would mean Iraqiya would need -- plus the Kurdistan Alliance -- all the groups (Gorran, Unity Alliance, Iraqi Accord Front, Kurdistan Islamic Union, Islamic Group of Krudistan and the minorities) to not only reach the magic number but to ensure that SOL and INA didn't reach it. At 159, the coalition is only 4 seats away from the magic number.
And with the above, you have a little bit of information. Not all. Waleed Ibrahim, Ahmed Rasheed, Suadad al-Salhy, Jim Loney, Mark Heinrich and Eric Beech (Reuters) report that the Supreme Court ratification of the vote yesterday was "final" and that Chief Judge Midhat al-Mahmoud declared the new parliament will need to be called "into session within 15 days." Leila Fadel (Washington Post) adds, "The court decided that the largest bloc on the day the 325-member parliament convenes will be the first contender to appoint the prime minister and cabinet. It is unclear whether the ruling is binding, but the tentative merger of Maliki's coalition with its Shiite rival, the Iraqi National Alliance, could mean that Allawi's bloc, most popular among Sunni Arabs and secular Iraqis, won't get to form the government." When Parliament is seated (sworn in) what else can happen? Bloc voting can fall aside. Once your sworn in, you are an MP. You can't be replaced by your political party. Right now you can be. And the two candidates that weren't signed off on (one from Iraqiya, the other from the Iraqi National Alliance) are being replaced by their respective political parties. Once you're an MP you may or may not stay in a bloc vote. You may cut a deal. You may loathe Allawi or al-Maliki so much that you cut a deal. Any number of factors could figure into this. Should that happen, Nouri and Ayad will not only need to make deals with individuals in attempts to woo, they'd also need to make sure those already showing support remained firm. notes that the 325 MP seats include 5 for Christians: "In total, 14 seats out of the 325-seat legislature are held by non-Msulims, five of which are Christians. In comparison, Christians held two seats last term." In other Iraqi Christian news, John Pontifex (Catholic Herald) reports on the continued violence aimed at Christians and notes, "It is not clear whether the objective is primarily political - to force Christians out of Mosul into the neighbouring Nineveh plains - or is purely an act motivated by religious bigotry. What is beyond dispute, however, is that Church leaders see a strong government as a pre-requisite for reducing the security risk." Evan Williams (England's Channel 4 News) is embedded with the United States Third Infantry Division explored Mosul for last Friday's broadcast of Unreported World. Williams blogged:
On February 27 this year, he said, three Arab gunmen entered their family home shouting that they had to leave. When Father Marzan's father and two brothers tried pushing the them out of the house, the gunmen opened fire killing all three men instantly.
Father Marzan wouldn't allow us to film his mother, but as he started to describe in detail how her husband and sons were brutally gunned down in their own home, I had the horrible sudden realisation that I should have asked the old lady to leave the room. The look of pain and shock on her face was almost unbearable, as if someone were going to walk in at any moment and tell her it was ok and they were all still alive.
Father Marzan is priest in the Chaldean Church, one of the world's oldest Christian communities, founded 2000 years ago among the Assyrian people of northern Iraq, who have been here for millennia.
They have suffered pogroms and attacks in the past, of course, from the Persians, Arabs and Turks. But a new level of violence is now driving many out of the country for good. When the Americans invaded in 2003, there were about one million Christians in Iraq. Now, Church leaders told us, half have already fled the country and more are trying to leave.
The US military is training police forces in the area and they (Iraqi security forces) tell Williams their guess for what happens when the US departs is "civil war." Aamer Madhani (USA Today) reports from the area (Hamdniyah) and notes threatening calls to nuns and a bombing of the Immaculate Virgin convent, the flood of refugees the violence is creating and, "The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a government panel tasked with monitoring religious freedoms around the world for the State Department, recently recommended that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton designate Iraq as a 'country of particular concern' because of the violence against Christians and other religious minorities." AINA notes, "In a recent BBC radio interview, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams lamented that the 'level of ignorance about Middle-Eastern Christianity in the West is very, very high.' According to Williams, many even well informed Westerners think Middle East Christians are primarily 'converts or missionaries,' rather than indigenous communities that predate Islam. Of Tony Blair and George W. Bush, the archbishop surmised their Christianity was 'on the whole, a very, very Western thing,' and, 'I don't sense that either of them had very much sense of the indigenous Christian life and history that there is in the region'."
Meanwhile, the always embarrassing Tom A. Peter (Christian Science Monitor) makes the usual idiot of himself today with a whine that could be entitled, "Iraqi Christians Have It Easier!" Based on what, he never can say. He can whine about more of them being in the US (on the first page, burying on the second page the UN point that they make up a huge precentage of Iraq's external refugees) and he can hiss and boo. It's really embarrassing. Elizabeth Campbell of Refugees International might want to think twice before speaking to him again. Her comments are taken out of context and reassembled by Peter to push the story he wants. (Read her comments carefully, she's not backing up the thesis Peter is proposing -- her conditionals undercut his thesis.) The Monitor itself might want to ask why Peter (or as I always think of him: DICK) is pushing something as news when it's not news, it's his opinion. This isn't a column, it's passed off as reporting. He has no proof, the UN does not release the figures he would need, Campbell gives him conditional quotes, and there's no independent backing, just DICK PETER writing about his hunch as if it were fact. For the record, that press pulling that sort of crap? That's exactly what led Mary Baker Eddy to start the Christian Science Monitor. DICK PETER is not only an embarrassment, he's a disgrace to the news outlet.
Yesterday, assertions were made and denied that the Iran had entered Iraq. Xinhua reports, "The Iranian troops entered the Iraqi semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan on Tuesday, Dubai-based Arabiyah Pan Arab news television reported. The Iranian troops have entered 5 km inside the Iraqi territories, the channel said without giving further details about where exactly the incursion took place." Aysor Armenian News adds, "Iranian troops were operating three kilometers inside Iraqi territory following a series of clashes in recent days between Iranian forces and rebels of Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK), an Iraqi official said, requesting anonymity." The Kuwait Times runs an AFP report making the same assertion; however, Iran's Fars News Agency quotes KRG Minister of State for Peshmerga Affairs Jafar Mustafa stating, "Infiltration of the Iranian forces into the soil of Iraq's Kurdistan region is a baseless and false claim. We have not witnessed anything like this."

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Tuesday, June 01, 2010







The northern region of Iraq is the Kurdistan Regional Government and, throughout the Iraq War, the northern region has been bombed by the Turkish military. These days, Iran's shelling is becoming a concern. (Iran and Turkey share a border above Iraq.) Sherko Raouf, Shamil Aqrawi and Matt Robinson (Reuters) report that there are rumors (denied by Kurdish officials) that Iran has entered northern Iraq but that over 100 Iraqi families have fled the area in the last seven days. Sunday Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN)reported the Iranian shelling claimed the life of 1 teenage Iraqi girl in nothern Iraq. Xinhua (link has text and audio) identified the 14-year-old as Basouz Jabbar Agha. As with the Turkish military, Iranian military claims their target is the PKK -- a group identified by many countries (including the US) and the European Union as a terrorist organization and one that has established a base in nothern Iraq (among other places). [They would actually claim their target is PJAK and we're not drawing a line between the PKK and PJAK here -- they have the same leader, the same goals and are 'mingled' in the northern Iraq bases.] The PKK seeks an official Kurdish homeland (usually within Turkey) and points to decades of persecution. One of their leaders is Abudllah Ocalan who has been in a Turkish prison since 1999. The BBC reported over the weekend that he was rumored to have announced "he was abandoning efforts for dialogue with the Turkish government." Hurriyet Daily News reports that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will hold a terrorism summit on Wednesday (Turkey labels the PKK a terrorist organization).
Meanwhile AFP quotes an unnamed "security official" stating that Iranian troops have moved "three kilometers" into northern Iraq. Caroline Alexander and Kadhim Ajrash (Bloomberg News) quote KRG spokesperson Kawa Mahmoud stating, "These reports about an Iranian incursion into Krudistan are totally false. There may be Iranian activity near the border, but there is no incursion." The reality? At this point unknown. Iran's most recent invasion of Iran (December 2009) was greeted with denials from some Iraqi government officials and from some Iranian government officials. But the violation of sovereignty did take place. From the December 18th snapshot:
Iraq's requesting that Iran withdraw. Caroline Alexander and Margot Habiby (Bloomberg News) report, "Iraq's National Security Council said today that Iran violated their shared border and Iraq's 'territorial integrity' and called on the Islamic republic to withdraw its forces from the region." Timothy Williams and Eric Schmitt (New York Times) add, "The Iraqi government said Friday that Iranian troops had crossed the border and occupied a portion of an oil field situated on disputed land between the two countries, but Iranian officials immediately and vehemently disputed the account." Dow Jones Newswires states they were told that by a Missan Oil Compnay official that "Iranian forces took hold of an Iraqi well in a disputed section of the border after opening fire against Iraqi oil workers"; however, the official tells Dow Jones this action took place "two weeks ago." Suadad al-Salhy, Missy Ryan and Ralph Boulton (Reuters) quote Ahmed Ali al-Khafaji, Deputy Interior Minister, stating, "At 3:30 this afternoon, 11 Iranian [soldiers] infiltrated the Iran-Iraq border and took control of the oil well. They raised the Iranian flag, and they are still there until this moment." Gulf Daily News adds, "Officials have summoned Tehran's envoy in Iraq to discuss the matter, he said. Iraqi officials said the soldiers crossed into Iraqi territory yesterday and raised the Iranian flag at Fakka." Mosab Jasim (Al Jazeera) states, "The Iraqi president called for an emergency session to discuss what they describe as a violation from Iran, but nothing came out of the meeting and whatever actions they are going to take are still not clear." The President of Iraq is Jalal Talabani. However, the report indicates Jasim was referring to Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki. Hannah Allam (McClatchy Newspapers) offers this context, "Reports of the incident aggravated long-standing tensions between the countries, which fought a 1980-88 war that claimed as many as a million lives. Although Iraq's Shiite Muslim-led government and Shiite Iran have grown closer since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion ousted Iraq's Sunni Muslim dictator, Saddam Hussein, border issues remain thorny, with sporadic posturing from both sides." If it's been seized, what's been seized? Alice Fordham (Times of London) explains, "The well is one of several in the Fakka oil field, which was part of a group offered to foreign investors in June, but no contract was awarded." She also notes that Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani went on state television to insist, "Iraq will not give up its oil wealth" today. Adam Arnold (Sky News) offers US military reaction: "A spokesman for the US military confirmed the soldiers had taken control of the oil well but added it was in 'disputed territory' near the border and happened fairly frequently. 'There has been no violence related to this incident and we trust this will be resolved through peaceful diplomacy between the governments of Iraq and Iran,' he said." While that source is unnamed US Col Peter Newell is on the record offering Arnold context. What really happened? Who knows? It will slowly emerge over the weekend, most likely. What is known is that the talk/rumors/incident had one result. Nick Godt (MarketWatch) reports that the rumors led to an initial rise in the price of oil per barrel today.
Today Alsumaria TV reports, "Central Quality Control revealed that local mineral water bottles in Iraq are more polluted than imported water bottles." Look for Nouri al-Maliki to attempt to spin that as yet another reason why he should continue as prime minister despite four failed years in the post already. Alsumaria TV reported Monday that Nouri was in the Kurdistan Region trying to drum up support there. Nouri continues his stay in the Kurdistan region as he continues attempting to woo the Kurdistan bloc. Alsumaria TV reports that he'll talk today with Jalal Talabani. Talabani is the current president and would like to remain as such -- the two will no doubt attempt to cut a deal on that; however, Jalal's not very popular in the KRG these days and, deal or no deal, his support may end up a negative and not a blessing.

March 7th, Iraq completed Parliamentary elections. Since then, Nouri has done everything legal and illegal to attempt to remain prime minister despite his political slate's second place win. Saturday Khaled Farhan (Reuters) reported, "Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said on Saturday his party would not compromise on its choice of government leader, resisting pressure from potential coalition partners for him to step aside." Saad Abdul-Kadir (AP) added the "comments revealed an unwillingness to budge in negotiations." Mshari al-Zaydi (Asharq Alawsat Newspaper) reported Saturday that the Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali al-Sistani has stated he is favoring no one and quotes Iraqiya's Raif al-Issawi stating, "Al Sistani expressed no explicit support for anyone." One meeting that has not taken place is between Nouri and Ayad Allawi. Sunday Rahmat al-Salaam (Asharq Alawsat Newspaper) reported, "An informed sources who spoke to Ashraq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity revealed that the reason that Iraqi Prime Minister and leader of the State of Law coalition Nuri al-Maliki backed out of a meeting with the leader of the Iraqiya bloc Iyad Allawi, was a visit undertaken by a senior official from one of the neighboring countries. The source said that 'the official's visit which took place two days prior to the meeting that was scheduled to take place between Allawi and al-Maliki was to put pressure to prevent this meeting from taking place, and that is what happened'."
Who should form the government? In Alsumaria TV's ongoing poll, 58.59% currently say Ayad Allawi. Of course it's a nonscientific poll but then so was the one Quil Lawrence and others pimped the day after the election -- the one that had Nouri's State Of Law sweeping the elections with a clear majority. No doubt due to time and space limitations, Quil and the others were unable to explain that Nouri's spokespeople provided them with the poll or that State Of Law paid for the poll. You had to go to the European media to find those facts out. Hassan Hafidh (Wall St. Journal) reports that the election results have been certified by Iraq's Supreme Court . . . But it's never that easy. 323 people have been certified as winners. But there were 325 races. The two not certified yet are Iraqiya's Omar al-Karbouly and the Iraqi National Alliance's Furat Muhssein Saeed. Jim Muir (BBC News) points out that this development should not be read as the coalition government is on the verge of being formed and, "The ruling meant that all Mr Maliki's relentless efforts to whittle away at Mr Allawi's narrow lead by lodging complaints and demanding a manual recount in Baghdad were in vain. The court referred the cases of two of the elected MPs for further examination, but only one belonged to the Iraqiyya bloc, and both could be replaced from within their own lists, so this would not make any difference." Liz Sly (Los Angeles Times) explains what, according to the Constitution, is supposed to happen next, "Within 15 days, President Jalal Talabani is supposed to summon the new parliament for its first session, at which the 325 legislators are to choose a speaker and two deputies. Within 30 days of that first meeting, the parliament is to elect a new president, who will be empowered to ask the leader of the biggest bloc to name a prime minister and form a government." Andrew England (Financial Times of London) notes, "Diplomats hope the parties will form an inclusive government that represents all groups in a nation blighted by sectarian and ethnic divisions. But the concern is that Iraq will have a Shia-dominated administration, similar to the one that took office in 2005. If so, Arab Sunnis, who turned out in force to vote for Iraqiya, may feel excluded from the political process." US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued the following statement today:
I welcome today's action by the Iraqi Federal Supreme Court certifying the results of the national election. Voter turnout in the March 7th vote was strong across Iraq's 18 provinces. Iraq's electoral commission and security forces successfully organized and carried out a credible and competitive election. Since then, the electoral commission has worked in a careful, professional way to bring the process to this concluding point. This experience demonstrates that Iraqis want to use the political process to choose their leaders and settle differences.
With the election results officially certified, we call on Iraq's political leaders to move forward without delay to form an inclusive and representative government that will work on behalf of the Iraqi people.
In the coming months, we will work together as our partnership continues its transition with the goal of building a robust and long-lasting relationship between our two nations -- a partnership that will contribute to growing peace and prosperity in Iraq and stability in the Middle East.
Meanwhile Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) reports that Iraqi exiles with ties to the Ba'ath Party, apparently former leaders, have held meetings in Istanbul and Damascus:

The groups could find receptive audiences in Iraq if the next government is widely seen as having insufficient Sunni representation. Many Sunnis accuse the Shiite-led Iraqi government of being sectarian, pointing to factors such as the disproportionate number of Sunni detainees and efforts to weed out Sunnis from government jobs.
Sunnis made a strong showing in the March 7 parliamentary elections, propelling the largely secular Iraqiya bloc to a first-place finish. The bloc did not win enough seats to secure the majority needed to form a government, however, making it likelier that an alliance of two Shiite groups will appoint the new prime minister.
Hannah Allam (McClatchy's Miami Herald) observes, "The nearly three-month delay is frustrating for ordinary Iraqis, who risked their lives to vote, and for American officials, who need to coordinate the full withdrawal of U.S. forces with the next government. The Obama administration hopes to have just 50,000 service members remaining in Iraq by the end of August, but many political observers are skeptical that the incoming Iraqi government will be seated by then." Adam Levine and Paul Steinhauser (CNN) report on a new CNN - Opinion Research Corp poll which found that if an Iraqi government is formed by August, US respondents support the drawdown by 64% but that public approval slips to 51% if there's not a government in place. The term "stable" is used, that's a qualifier and it's meaningless. Go over the polling data and the judgment being made by respondents is whether or not a government is in place. The slip still keeps those favoring the drawdown at above 50%; however, go over the polling data and you see weakening factors. In other words, should a bloodbath take place in Iraq, that over 50% could drop further.

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