Thursday, July 31, 2008

Salahuddin council president: "American forces are killing our people in cold blood"

The American forces commited another slaughter of members of a complete family Wednesday in Makshifa (10 km south of Samarra), breaking into the house of Jasam Abdullah al-Aisawi and killing his wife, 77 years old, and two of her sons Mohammed Jasam and Ali Jassam, and seriously wounding three others, including a young girl.

People in the village denounced the crime, which occurred in the pre-dawn Wednesday... Mohammed Ali Hussein, a relative of the victims, described the event as a butchery by the American democracy for whose sake they claimed they came to Iraq in the first place.


Sheikh Rashid Ahmed Asman, president of the Salahuddin Provincial Council told AlHayat that the American forces continually commit this kind of slaughter, and we are demanding the opening of a serious enquiry to find out what is behind these killings by American soldiers of our people in cold blood.
(McClatchy quotes an American statement to the effect soldiers "monitoring suspected associates of AlQaeda in Iraq" came under fire from an unknown direction. "They fired into [this particular] house after perceiving 'hostile intent' from those inside, but later found no weapons," says the McClatchy summary).

According to AlHayat, Hakim Mohammed of Tikrit General Hospital said they received the bodies of the victims and the wounded, and found "gunshots to various places in the chest, and to the head, and to other parts of the body."

Recall the report Monday July 21 of the killing by American soldiers of the 17-year-old son of the governor of Tikrit, in another Salahuddin village, another incident that the provincial authorities described as "criminal by any standard." A neighbor in that case told the reporter that killings by American forces of civilians in the area were a common and a notorious occurrence.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Bilateral talks: "The fix is in"

Mashraq Abbas, Baghdad bureau chief for AlHayat, having talked to many Iraqi participants and observers of the bilateral negotiations, believes the final outcome will finesse the issue of "withdrawal schedule" by something like the following timetable:

(a) By the end of 2008: Turnover of security in all provinces to the Iraqi security forces, and withdrawal of the American forces to their camps.

(b) By the end of 2009: Completion of the withdrawal from Iraq of around half of the American troops currently in the country.

(c) By the end of 2010, start of talks respecting a permanent treaty, and defined schedules (of withdrawal) but which will guarantee the presence of American forces in a group of bases for an additional three years, renewable (the American negotiators want this guaranteed period to be five years).

For the Bush administration and its neo-conservative backers, the advantage of signing this kind of document before the end of the Bush administration will be a way of snatching "victory" from the jaws of "failure", by setting up a new theme: Establishment of a "new Iraq", friendly to the United States, in the heart of the Middle East, and next door to Iran. In this way they hope to neutralize the Obama withdrawal proposal as a campaign issue. Moreover, by calling it a memorandum of understanding instead of an agreement or a treaty, they plan to circumvent any legislative scrutiny, in either country.

The writer suggests circumventing the Iraqi legislature, along with other key issues, aren't going to be problems for the GreenZone political elite. He writes:
With the formula "memorandum", this will not, according to the Iraqi government have to be presented to the people in a referendum, as demanded by the biggest political sect (referring to the Sadr current). In fact the talk within the Political Council for National Security, which represents the major political leadership, is toward the idea that there isn't any practical or constitutional need to present the memorandum to the parliament for a vote there either.

The use of the formula "memorandum" also weakens the whole debate about Iraqi sovereignty, even if in reality it is no different from an agreement or a treaty... The crisis scenarios over "withdrawal" that raged following the statements of Maliki (starting with his famous statement in Abu Dhabi), and then afterwards settled down again, indicate clearly that the escalations in attitudes have been built on pre-established positions and the retreat by the Iraqi government from a demand for "evacuation" to acceptance of a non-binding "temporal horizon" is also connected to that pre-established position.

The outline appears to have ended up as the signing of a memorandum of agreement on the status of forces that will involve setting up joint committees to administer operations [that's all he says about that], the turnover of security in the provinces to Iraqi security forces before the end of this year, and the conversion of the American forces' role to that of support and training...

The journalist concludes:
Clearly this discussion, which has been referred to by a number of sources, is not so much about an objective schedule for withdrawal, as it is about a future mechanism for negotiations on withdrawal, [the negotiations] to begin in 2010 and end in 2013.

Still, the sure thing in all of this is that the Iraqi political view of a complete American withdrawal differs from the American view, which is held by Republicans and Democrats alike.

Monday, July 28, 2008

A reported split within Hakim's Supreme Council bloc

This will come a surprise to people (myself, for example) who thought the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, ISCI, (formerly the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, SCIRI) and the Badr Organization (formerly the Badr Brigades) are two symbiotic parts of the same organization: AlHayat reports today that the there is a conflict between them that came to the surface during the voting-drama last Tuesday.
Informed sources say a conflict developed within the Islamic Supreme Council bloc in parliament, led by Abdulaziz al-Hakim--and which includes the Party of the Supreme Islamic Council and the Badr Organization which is led by Hadi al-Amari--[the conflict] relating to passage of the elections law. The Supreme Council (15 seats) rejected voting on the law last Tuesday and withdrew from the session, the Badr Organization (15 parliamentary seats) voted in favor of the law.
(So if we call these the political wing (Hakim) and the Badr or paramilitary wing (al-Amari), then what happened was that the Hakim's political wing sided with the main Kurdish parties in rejecting the vote, but he lost the support of the paramilitary wing).

Then the journalist quotes Hadi al-Amari as laying the entire blame for the walkout and the deadlock on the Kurds:
Badr Organization leader Hadi al-Amari put the entire responsibility for passage of the provincial elections law on the Kurdistan Alliance because of the withdrawal of its members from the voting session last Tuesday, and he added that their decision to withdraw was a mistake , and he said his staying [in the voting session] and that of his bloc was in protest against the withdrawal of the Kurds.
As for the nature and implications of the internal conflict between the Badr wing and the Hakim wing, the journalist wasn't able to get very far. He writes:
According to a statement issued by the Supreme Islamic Council, Hakim on Saturday evening studied the provincial elections law with members of the Badr Organization, which is part of [the Supreme Islamic Council], but the statement didn't mention any other details.

Jaladdin al-Saghir denied their are conflicts or splits within the party, explaining that the two sides are in agreement on the need to realize the principle of political consensus in order to solve this matter in the political forum.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Greasy little sleazy little

My theme for today is Bartholomew Bean's "Greasy little Weasel from Texas," a song you can find in several versions, on the YouTube. (H/t to Eureka Springs of FDL). For the sake of the dial-up folks in the back-country, I'm not linking to it, but it's easy enough to search for. It's a great song and worth the trouble.

Note the directness of it. "Some people call him the prezident, he's a greasy little weasel from Texas." This we call parataxis, the joining together of two clauses without any connector. He doesn't dress it up with "...however some people say he's little more than a greasy little weasel from Texas." He just says it.

Note how different this is from the USIP conference on Iraq. Colin Kahl was there (star of my celebrated "Film-flam" post of March 2007).
Kahl [writes Helena Cobban] had evidently been working hard to attain the efficient, self-confident affect of an ambitious young wannabe government official. (Indeed, he said he had already served one year in the defense Department; he didn't say under what auspices.)
Of course there is more to being a greasy little weasel than mere slick ambition. You have to actually perform. Still, the overwhelming message from the conference was politeness over substance. Another distinguished person said one speaker drew blood "politely" on a particular point; another was "tactfully silent" about an important point; and so on and so forth. Very sensitive, very proustian, you might say. More simply put: not at all in the style of Bartholomew Bean.

But suppose, just as a wild hypothesis, that there are in fact greasy little weasels in Washington that will be helping perpetuate the imperial project in Iraq while appearing to advocate for change. Then ask yourself: How long will it be before they are called by their name? How many years?

One reason for paying attention to the writings of Iraqi supporters of the resistance is for an understanding of the circumstances in which Iraqis reached that "greasy little weasel" moment. For many, it came instantly with the invasion. For others, now an overwhelming majority of Iraqis, it took the gradual deterioration of public services, the rot of sectarianism and corruption, the never-ending insult to human beings treated as objects of "collateral damage", and all the rest of the combined package of filth and vulgar rhetoric.

We need to keep those opposites in mind: On the one hand, the massive rejection by Iraqis of any continuation of the occupation and the bad faith of anyone who supports it, and on the other hand the 19th century atmosphere in clubhouse Washington, where military policy is debated at the US Institute for Peace, and where bad faith is still a scandalous idea and not to be mentioned.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Conditional engagement, etc

...Congratulations to all, both the living and the dead, in democratic pluralistic Iraq, not because the occupation and mercenary and militia forces have left, or because the age of corruption is over and those responsible for it have been called to account. No. The congratulations are in order because a member of the Iraqi Accord Front, an organization that was put together hastily to fulfill allocation-conditions, and that has been playing musical chairs for months, has now returned to the national-reconciliation government, and we have Rafie Aisawi, one of those appointed, according to the map of allocations, to the position of deputy prime minister, disclosing to us:

"the existence of efforts to draw up a road-map for the complementarity of the ministries that have direct contact with the vital necessities of the citizens of Iraq".

A thousand congratulations to the people of Iraq, on whom it is now incumbent to await the success of the efforts to draw up a road-map which will permit the attainment of the basics of life, such as safe drinking water, some electrical power, and enough food for onesself and one's family to keep away the evils of hunger and the loss of self-esteem. ...

This statement by Aisawi is a model for all the participants in the political process and in the government of the occupation. It is a government of virtual reality, with no relationship whatsoever to actual daily life. The statement by Aisawi is ludicrous and sad at the same time, and so are the statements of the others on his list and in the government, and in fact some of them are starting to show signs of suffering from symptoms of addiction to these virtual-reality games and of mental slippage into a trance or a coma transporting them far from the Iraqi people and their tragedies and their aspirations. They will not awaken from this coma unless it is to the sound of the marching feet of the soldiers of the occupation as they gather together their equipment and their virtual game machines. Leaving behind them the sons of the occupation to face the actual reality of Iraq and the resistance of those who reject the occupation and its agents.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Hakim's group worries that the Kurds might bolt

AlHayat sums up the crisis this way:

(1) The cornerstone of the UIA-Kurdish governing alliance has been the agreement about mutual solidarity respecting the "federalist" regional ambitions: The Kurdish project in the north, and the nine-governate Shiite super-region in the Center and South.

(2) There was an agreement among party leaders that would have continued and confirmed that agreement in the Kirkuk vote (via "rejection of the bill" meaning rejection of the interim partition of Kirkuk for provincial-voting purposes).

(3) The purpose of the secret vote was to enable rank-and-file defections from that agreement, among members of various of the Shiite parties that have been and are part of the governing coalition.

(4) The Kurdish-party leadership says what happened was a rejection of the whole basis and foundation of national reconciliation (meaning they see national reconciliation as something built on this inter-bloc agreement). Mutual solidarity respecting the two "federalist region" projects is something the Kurdish parties see as essential to the whole Iraqi political process.

(5) Worried about the risk of the Kurdish parties bolting from the governing coalition, one of the two vice presidents, Adel AbdulMahdi (of the Supreme Council), joined with Talabani in vetoing the law (even though Talabani's veto alone would have had the same legal effect), something the reporter describes as being "in the context of trying to reassure the Kurds as to the future of their strategic political alliance with the Shiite [parties]".

The point that is probably least-well understood by consumers of the corporate media and other coverage of Iraq is point #4. AlHayat:
The statement said that Talabani and AbdulMahdi "agreed officially on the veto of the law, because it includes constitutional and procedural violations which ruin the atmosphere of national consensus, and which blow apart the initiatives upon which the political process has been based."...

The UIA held a meeting led by Abdulaziz al-Hakim which...advised the Presidential Council to reconsider [the Kirkuk issue] in a way that is consonant with the constitution and with the national agreements.

This came after statements by Kurdish leaders which implicitly doubted the reliability of their alliance with the UIA on account of the clear direction of some of the Shiite deputies in taking positions abandoning the principles of the Shiite-Kurd alliance signed in 2006, and the "four-party alliance" set in mid-2007.
The reason the point isn't well-understood is that the two-party nature of this agreement is in blatant conflict with the US government/media PR position to the effect it has been supporting the Iraqi political process as a national project, not a Kurdish/SupremeCouncil one.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Tikrit gets lucky

Salahuddin provincial officials have announced major bureaucratic breakthroughs in recent days, with the announcement of central-government allocation of 8 billion Iraqi dinars for the first stages of development of a commercial airport in Tikrit, the provincial capital, and then today the announcement that a committee has finalized approval for compensation, to be paid Sunday, to family of martyrs and to wounded survivors of "military operations" in the province--2642 cases with total payout of over 5 billion Iraqi dinars. This is described as the "first batch" of compensation payments. (There isn't an overall description of the complete program).

Neither of these brief news-stories says anything about the politics or the timing, and it would be nice to think that the government authorities have been converted to even-handed non-sectarianism, on the occasion for instance of the recent opening of the new Najaf airport.

Recall, however, the rage of the governor of Salahuddin province following the killing of his son and another relative by the American occupation forces, who after breaking into their house, "perceived hostile intent" and shot them dead predawn Monday July 21. The governor ordered the suspension of all administrative activities by his office, and threatened to resign if the criminals were not tried and punished. That particular line of the narrative has faded into the dark depths, where it joins the story of Maliki's demand for an investigation of the killing by American forces of his relative earlier this month in his home town, and so many other stories.

But three days later the Tikrit airport project finally gets its first funding allocation, and the first batch of compensation amounts for the relatives and victims of "military operations" in the province is approved for immediate payment.

But for me this first round of compensation payments is more an occasion to stop and think of all the victims, and honor them, not just the Governor's son but all the victims in Salahuddin, and not just in Salahuddin but in all the provinces of Iraq, and not just in Iraq but in Palestine and elsewhere, so that we don't forget either the horror of each individual case, or the terrific destructive scope of American policy in the region as a whole.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


(See also the comments)

There hasn't been much by way of explanation what specifically happened to cause the current crisis. For instance:

(1) Why was the vote on the Kirkuk part of the legislation held in secret in the first place?

According to Salman al-Jamili (quoted this morning in AlHayat), described as a leader of the Iraqi Accord Front (which supports the law and says the voting was legal):
"The secret vote was not against the internal rules of Parliament", and he described the voting on the law as having been done in a "sound, clean and transparent way and consequently any re-doing of the vote would be illegal".

He added: "After it proved unfeasible to arrive at a consensus agreement between the blocs on the issue of elections in Kirkuk, and in order that deputies not be exposed to pressure or influence from bloc-leaders, the president of the Chamber of Deputies held the vote [on the Kirkuk part of the legislation] in secret". And Al-Jamili added: "The only members who withdrew from the voting session were the from the Kurdistan Alliance and the Supreme Islamic Council, while the majority voted in favor of the law."
In other words, there were prior attempts to arrive at an agreement between the blocs; this proved futile, apparently meaning that neither side was able to line up a majority via bloc-level horse-trading. And so there was a free vote. The secrecy was in order to prevent party-leaders from trying to enforce party discipline.

(2) How far did the Kurdish parties get in trying to line up support for their position on Kirkuk, and where did the problem arise?

The only specific clue I know of is from a remark by a Kurdish deputy to a reporter for Azzaman. This was included in its post-election story yesterday:
A member of the Kurdish Alliance said: "We had agreements signed with the [United Iraqi] Alliance (UIA, the Shiite coalition that still includes the Supreme Council and a branch of the Dawa party) a day before the session. Ali al-Adeeb of the Dawa Party, along with reresentatives of the Badr, and independents, and [representatives of] the Supreme Council signed with us a document of understanding not to pass the law. But we were surprised...
Whatever the details of the agreement he is talking about, what he is saying is that the Kurdish Alliance went into the session convinced that they had a (secret, but signed) agreement with enough representatives of the Shiite parties in the UIA to support their position in the voting. But the Sunni representative says what happened was that the attempts at agreement on a bloc-wide basis proved impossible, hence the free vote (also secret). So if we accept those points as plausible, then in short this seems to have been a case of a secret agreement overruled by a secret vote. And in terms of substance, the problem seems to have been lack of unity in the UIA behind the Kurdish position.

To put it another way, the vote was made secret apparently because some of the Shiite deputies that the Kurds thought were on their side, weren't.

The lack of unity in the UIA isn't news. Reidar Visser for instance has referred earlier to differences between Maliki and the Supreme Council on issues relating to "centralism", and yesterday in his summary of the contents of the Provincial Voting law he again referred to "a group of centralist Shiite politicians around Nuri al-Maliki". What is news is the highlighting and exposure of intra-UIA disunity on this important issue, in spite of all of the secrecy surrounding these events.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Netroots: Reformers or bit-players in a shabby drama?

Salah Obeidi, a spokesman for the Sadr trend, said the successive name-changes for coming bilateral security agreement are the result of US pressure.
It was downgraded from a "treaty" to an "agreement" because an "agreement" wouldn't be subject to the American Congress, and then when the American negotiator saw a problem with the (Iraqi) parliament, it was changed to a "memorandum of understanding" so that the matter wouldn't require the agreement of the Iraqi parliament.
And another Sadrist spokesman, Nasar al-Rubaie, warned in a press conference following a session of parliament that the proposed agreement will not end the occupation, only change its form:
[Obeidi said] the agreement is the termination of a direct occupation into an occupation of a different form, namely that of a "mandate."
He said there are contradictory descriptions of the agreement from the government, adding that if it is going to be considered as a "protocol" then it won't be presented to Parliament. The report of his remarks, and those of Obeidi (on a Sadrist site and Aswat alIraq) don't include further details.

Awni Qalamji, a regular op-ed contributor to AlQuds alArabi and a resistance supporter, writes this morning in greater detail about the misleading nature of these attempts to dress up the Maliki administration as the savior of Iraq.
In a single blow, without prior warning, Maliki has been converted into his opposite. Having been the prime mover in the continuation of the American forces in Iraq, all of a sudden he is demanding their evacuation or a withdrawal schedule...Not only the White House and the Pentagon have had their part in the shabby drama marketing the new-form Maliki the national hero via warnings and threats of removing him from power. The American media have also gotten into the game with all that they possess of art and propaganda and star-creation.
He refers to the recent WaPo/GreenZone report about a Maliki-Bush agreement via teleconference to the effect that had decided to postpone the long-term security issue until after the elections, meanwhile US forces activities were being cut back, converted to advisory, and so on and so forth. Says Qalamji:
All that was left for the newspaper to say was that the awaited Imam Mahdi (peace be upon him) had returned in the form of Maliki to do battle with the devil in the form of Bush and fill the earth with equity and justice, as it had been filled before with tyranny and oppression.
There follows a remark that I would like to recommend particularly to the attention of the netroots people. Qalamji writes:
There is no person who finds it difficult to identify the double aim in all of this play-acting: On the one side, it is to convince the Iraqi people of the nationalism of Maliki in the hope that they will accept the treaty once he signs it in the future; and on the other side, it is to convince the American people of Bush's seriousness respecting withdrawal, in order to prevent Obama from using this [issue of withdrawal against his opponent McCain].
I don't think he has the American politics quite right: the Spiegel incident showed Washington intent on toning down Maliki's position back to the stand-pat or "conditions-based" position of Bush, nothing really to do with Bush. But that isn't the point. The point is that there are two audiences for this shabby drama, and the main audience, the Iraqis, are supposed to take from this that Maliki is potentially a national hero for standing up to Bush (while for the secondary audience, the Americans, they are trying to tone this down for them as much as possible).

So when Kevin Drum that that "this is nuts" [referring to the Spiegel remarks, the "walk-back", now the walk-back of the walk-back], and Juan says yesterday that Dabbagh is probably a plant working against Maliki, but today Dabbagh is rehabilitated and generally cited as proving that in fact Maliki likes the Obama plan--all this shows is that people are missing the point.

Yo netroots: Naturally you want Obama to win the US presidential election, as every sensible person does, and so there is a focus on any point that is in his favor. The Spiegel interview remarks were that, and so were the Dabbagh remarks yesterday (to the effect that yes, in fact, Maliki does like the Obama plan). Which is fine as far as it goes. But here's the problem: In the course of establishing and buttressing a pro-Obama point in the election campaign (a good thing in itself), you have done so in a way that very seriously distorts what is actually happening in Iraq, namely the marketing of Maliki as an Iraqi nationalist, something he is not. It isn't just that this helps give the American people a distorted picture of what is happening in Iraq in theory, more particularly it means that the American people are being softened up to accept the conversion of one form of occupation into another more indirect occupation, on the basis that in any event this is a process that is being controlled by a bona fide Iraqi nationalist leader, a ludicrous idea you are helping to legitimize.

You don't have to accept everything that is said on this score by the Sadrists or the supporters of the resistance (which you don't seem to read anyway, even when I try to help make it accessible). All you have to do is remember the mega-bases under construction in the country, and what is meant by the "withdrawal of combat troops."

Monday, July 21, 2008

The two solitudes

I don't know if anyone is interested what Iraqi news-sites have picked up the story about US government pressure leading to the famous Dabbagh/Spiegel "misunderstanding/mistranslation" episode, but as far as I can tell the only reference to this--certainly the only one reported with any enthusiasm--is the Sadrist site They posted an item today under this heading:
After the Republicans manifested their irritation--Dabbagh: Maliki's statements supporting Obama's plan in Iraq were misunderstood !!
And it talks about complaints from the US embassy in Baghdad and Republican party leaders having led to the issuance of the Dabbagh statement.

It isn't hard to see why a Sadrist site would be interested in this, given that the movement is continuing to organize Friday demonstrations against any bilateral security agreement with the Americans that doesn't include a withdrawal schedule. It's possible that for other Iraqi news organizations the intricacies of American pressure-tactics are in some way beyond their ability to handle, much as in America the netroots have difficulty conveying anything meaningful about domestic Iraqi politics.

Netroots, meet the Sadr Trend.

Another high-profile butchery

Iraqi police said American forces broke into a home in Baiji district north of Tikrit in Salahaddin province, opened direct fire on the residents, shooting dead the 17-year-old son of the governor of the province and another relative, and wounding three other people who were sleeping. The official spokesperson for the province described this as a "criminal operation by any standard" and demanded an investigation and punishment of the killers. The governor told his office to suspend its administrative activities and any cooperation with the American forces.

The above is from AlHayat, which adds the American boilerplate about having fired only after "having perceived hostile intent" on the part of the people whose house they had broken into, and that they were hunting for a person suspected of being an AlQaeda financier based on "intelligence". The piece in AlHayat, which is by no stretch of the imagination "anti-American," adds this:
A resident of Baiji condemned the killings and the butchery that are committed from time to time by the American forces. Yunis Martada, owner of a shop selling refreshments near the house (in question) said this was not the first time the American forces have committed a butchery: "Every day there is a new butchery".
Xinhuanet says a statement issued by the provincial council included this:
The Council of the Province of Salahaddin condemned the killing by the American forces of the Governor's son. In a statement, the council described the incident as an indication of the contempt on the part of the Americans for the lives of innocent Iraqis and their lack of verification of intelligence that comes to them, before acting on it".
According to the NYT, the council's statement said the operation shows how the Americans "disregard the souls of Iraqi citizens", and instead of talking to people like the store owner who regards American atrocities as notorious, the NYT merely quotes an official to the effect "there have been at least two similar attacks by the Americans in the area," painting for Americans, as usual, a picture of the ephemeral and somewhat abstract nature of this kind of Iraqi complaints. Not that the netroots (with one or two exception) has been terrifically better in this.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Izzat Ibrahim on resistance strategy

Baathist website published the text of a lengthy speech by Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, described as "leader of Resistance and Liberation, general secretary of the Socialist Baath Party," dated July 17, and an English rendition dated today July 20. Their English is getting better; however, what follows is my own rendition of a few paragraphs toward the end of the address in which Douri mentions other groups, and resistance strategy generally:
O tyrannical aggressor: Our resistance is not official armies, arranged so that your official armies, superior in numbers and equipment, can mobilize against them, winning a victory today in this city and tomorrow in that one. They are not AlQaeda which offered itself up to you on a silver platter so that you could slaughter them; and they are not the Mahdi Army, which pleased you, and in fact which encouraged you, with their backward (meaning "undeveloped" or primitive) way of doing things, to liquidate them militarily--with all my respect, esteem, pride and love for all those who fight against you upon the land of Iraq for the liberation of Iraq.

Know, Mr President, that our resistance is the army of the Merciful whom your eyes do not see and your hand cannot reach, protected by the shield of the Merciful whom no eye sees and no hand reaches. No one knows the importance of His undertakings until they reach you, or where they will strike you... Only they will decide when and where and in what way to fight. They will not accept the fights that you plan and you decide, because the land is their land, the people is their people, and the country, the homeland and the society is their society; time also is theirs, the they have the initiative in every detail of the struggle....

Enough with your lying and deceptions for five years now. The resistance is developing, expanding and flourishing, and if it were not for the strategic errors committed by AlQaeda your presence would have collapsed in the first year of fighting. You, Mr President, know this truth better than anyone, and I likewise urge you to make a clear announcement of the number of your dead and the size of your losses, which in any event the Americans themselves will soon disclose, whether you like it or not. And what then will you say to the American people, and what will they say to you?

Likewise I call on all of the jihad factions of all affiliations and all origins to unite and to aim first and foremost in their operations at the occupier, because he is the head of the snake. And then at the agents who blatantly represent the agent authority, and the symbols of the great betrayal. And not to fight against anyone but them, unless they fight against you. And not to get involved with sellouts and agents, or with the agencies of government, including the so-called army and the police, and the Awakenings and the administration, because all of these are with the people and with the heroic resistance. They have been compelled by need and by destitution to go over to these agencies. Fight the symbols (or the embodiments) of agency and betrayal, who have been involved in capital offenses with the occupation, and in the killing and expulsion of its people.
Two points struck me: (1) For all his criticism of the Mahdi army for its backwardness, he doesn't question the good faith of the fighters, and he honors those who fought and fight for the liberation of Iraq no matter their affiliation; and (2) and he shares with Moqtada the concern for narrowly focusing the fight, so as not to end up with Iraqis killing Iraqis. Least of all is there any harping on racial or sectarian themes.

As the world turns

Ali Dabbagh's statement "correcting" or amending the gist of what Maliki had to say in his Spiegel interview, isn't available on the Iraqi government website, and I haven't seen the full text in Arabic anywhere else either (below is a link to RadioSawa's summary and excerpts). NYT said they obtained their (garbled) English version courtesy of the CentCom press office. What Dabbagh's correcting statement said emerges a little more clearly from this summary report by the US-owned earlier today (Sunday July 20):
[Dabbagh said] Maliki emphasized the existence of an Iraqi view, which is based on the reality of the security needs of Iraq, "[where] positive developments in the security situation and improvements witnessed by Iraqi cities have put the matter of American withdrawal within horizons and time-schedules that are in accord with them [meaning in accord with these positive developments and improvements]". And [this Iraqi view puts the matter of American withdrawal] in the light of the continuation of the positive security developments on the ground, which have come about within the strategic cooperation plan that was laid down by Maliki and president George Bush.
Clearly, there are two concepts: There are the "horizons and time schedules"; and there are the "developments and improvements on the ground." The horizons and time schedules are "within," and "in accord with" the "developments and improvements". Moreover, the horizons and time-schedules are "in the light of" the continuation of these developments and improvements.

So you can talk about the one, or you can talk about the other. The "time-schedules" are for talking about in the context of the Iraqi elections; the "developments and improvements" are for talking about with the Americans behind closed doors. What happened with the Spiegel interview is that the Iraqi-election rhetoric spilled over dangerously into the American electoral campaign, so it was necessary to flash the "developments and improvements" theme in order to counter that. But at the same time the Maliki administration wants to continue harping on the "time-schedules" theme for public consumption in Iraq.

So it was nicely done when you think about it. CentCom provides the NYT with a "developments and improvements" spiel from Dabbagh that is just clear enough to negate the "Maliki supports Obama" theme, but garbled enough so that it doesn't get picked up as a big "no- absolute-time-schedules" news story that could have leaked back into the Iraqi election campaign.

As for the netroots excitement yesterday ("devastating impact!"; "Maliki's game-changer!"), perhaps the less said the better.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Something for everyone

Here's the operative part of the text the White House published:
In the area of security cooperation, the President and the Prime Minister agreed that improving conditions should allow for the agreements now under negotiation to include a general time horizon for meeting aspirational goals -- such as the resumption of Iraqi security control in their cities and provinces and the further reduction of U.S. combat forces from Iraq. The President and Prime Minister agreed that the goals would be based on continued improving conditions on the ground and not an arbitrary date for withdrawal. The two leaders welcomed in this regard the return of the final surge brigade to the United States this month, and the ongoing transition from a primary combat role for U.S. forces to an overwatch role, which focuses on training and advising Iraqi forces, and conducting counter-terror operations in support of those forces.
Here's the way one of the big-circulation Iraqi papers understood that:
[The White House said Friday that Bush and Maliki] agreed that the security agreement under negotiation should define a time-horizon for fulfilling "ambitious targets" [arguably, but less obviously: "aspirational" targets] for reducing the American forces in Iraq. And [in a move that is] the closest the Bush administration has come to accepting the possibility of establishing a time-schedule of some kind for future reductions in the American forces, the White House said the "ambitious targets" will be based on "continuing improvement in conditions on the ground, and not on a random date for withdrawal."
And here is the operative part of the text of what official Maliki spokesman Ali Dabbagh said, according the Iraqi government website:
[Dabbagh explained] the two parties focused ["centered"] on the defining of a time-horizon for carrying out the complete transfer of security responsibility into the hands of the Iraqi forces, in preparation for a reduction in the number of American forces and their withdrawal from Iraq with both sides working toward increasing the abilities and effectiveness of the Iraqi forces and [toward] improving security conditions on the ground in order to realize this goal.
And Dabbagh echoed the White House statement respecting the welcoming of the most recent troop-reduction and the conversion of remaining troops to an advisory role.

Two points are pretty clear: (1) Despite the NYT/WaPo harping on "agreement", this wasn't an agreement except in the sense of agreement to talk about some combination of responsibility-transfer and withdrawal-times. (2) There are two possible readings: (a) Ambitious transfer- and withdrawal-dates will be set based on the continuing improvements on the ground; or (b) Aspirational targets will be penciled in but they will be conditional on whether or not conditions on the ground continue to improve.

(For your instant breakfast this morning, Juan serves up a simplified version of reading (a), and ridiculing the "aspirational" reading of this, and suggesting the "Bush caved in" interpretation, soothing for those looking forward to withdrawal. Elsewhere, you can find a version of reading (b), suggesting the important point is that the US has agreed to continue to help Maliki, and arguing that the US (the benevolent mediator) should have obtained some reconciliation promises in return.)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Why Maliki probably won't be a national hero

Historian Bashir Nafie writes in AlQuds alArabi about the Maliki government's demand for a withdrawal-timetable as part of any bilateral agreement. And he offers a historian's understanding why this has been met with skepticism.

The demand itself, he notes, is actually the cornerstone of the positions of all the nationalist elements, including those of the armed resistance. That the Maliki administration would take this same position, with seriousness and for the long haul, runs counter to our basic understanding of what the Maliki administration is. As he puts is:
Notwithstanding the assurances given over the past three years of the independence of Iraq and its sovereignty, the fact is that the country is still an occupied country. And the new political class has established a sectarian state, divided internally, and devoted to a multifaceted war with its own people. And as for the display of theft, embezzlement and financial corruption, human history has not known its like. Since it is this same political class that is negotiating with the Americans over Iraqi independence and a schedule for the withdrawal of the foreign forces, naturally many are skeptical about the seriousness of the official Iraqi position, and about the chances there will persevere with it.
This is not the first time in history that occupied countries have tried to set up liberal parliamentary systems without first ending the foreign military occupation, and Nafie set out a basic principle that emerges from the history of these cases:
The formula for building a independent state, having sovereignty, via a parliamentary (and sectarian/ethnic) regime, during the continuance of foreign military occupation, is an impossible formula. Prior imperial experiences show that the parliamentary system has been effectively used to confirm foreign control and to empty the [concept of] national independence of all its actual content.
Nafie contrasts the post-WWI independence movements in Ireland and Turkey--cases where there was a unified resistance speaking with one voice--with the inability in greater Syria of Iraq to do the same, and most of all with Egypt, which Nafie thinks is probably the best example of his point. In Egypt in spite of the importance and popular weight of the revolution of 1919, the British, Nafie says, succeeded in emptying the Egyptian revolution of its content.
Egypt was given formal independence, a kingdom was announced headed by King Fouad, who owed his position to the British, and a constitution was written setting up a parliamentary system. In that way the fight against the occupation was converted from a national fight against the foreign occupation, into an internal Egyptian struggle, among the parties on the one hand, and between the political parties and the court on the other, for influence, power, and decision-making authority. The British were able to become the intermediaries and the center of gravity, and the resort to which the Egyptian struggles resorted to favor the interests of this part or that. The negotiations [with the British] continued... Nafie's point is that a liberal parliamentary system established under the aegis of a continuing foreign military domination, no matter how attenuated, has a tendency not to serve to unify the country and expel the occupier, but only to prolong and confirm foreign control.

That, he says, is the position Iraq is now in, and the problem is that among the new political class there are few who have the ability or the will to come to grips with this.
The problem in the Iraqi situation is that there are few among those who occupy the political field that have shown any ability to conduct a nation-building project. The overwhelming majority of the political leadership is spoiled by its mutual accomodation on the personal, sectarian, and local levels, and this has shrunk their national understanding and narrowed the scope of their ambitions. This is probably what arouses the skepticism about the latest position of Maliki, which some see as a temporary reflection of pressure from his Iranian allies, and an attempt to contain popular pressure--and [this is why the skeptics think] Maliki will, in the final analysis, have no alternative but to comply, and to sign an agreement couched in a vague style that each will be able to interpret as he wishes.

Apart from that, standing up to the pressures and the facts of the foreign military presence would require a new policy with respect to the various Iraqi forces, and [it would require] a new understanding of the meaning of the Iraqi state and nation.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Maliki continues to press for a "withdrawal-schedule" despite the talks having been "scaled back"

WaPo this morning (Sunday July 13) says the Bush administration has scaled back to trying to negotiate an "interim" agreement insofar as its military presence and operations in Iraq are concerned, having finally realized the solidity of Iraqi opposition to the idea of open-ended American presence, and the difficulty of negotiating a withdrawal schedule.

Interestingly, a piece in Asharq alAwsat published in yesterday (Saturday July 12) quotes UIA leader Sami Al-Askari as having said much the same thing, in a story that begins like this:
A leader of the governing United Iraqi Alliance has says the United States has abandoned the idea of a military agreement, proposing instead the idea of a security protocol to be attached to a cultural agreement, which aims to define the relationship in economic and development and cultural areas, and meanwhile the Sadr trend continued its demonstrations...
AlAskari said there isn't any agreement currently, but discussions aren't ended either. He said that of the two agreements that have been under negotiation, one non-military ("framework agreement" or "strategic framework agreement") and one military, "the United States has abandoned the idea of a military agreement, and has proposed instead the idea of a security protocol to be attached to the framework agreement".

But Al-Askari's point in the Asharq alAwsat interview was also that the issues of withdrawal-schedule still persist, even with the new approach.
[He said] discussions between the two sides are still continuing, and he said the Iraqi government has proposed the matter of a withdrawal schedule and evacuation of the foreign troops, because that is the flip side of any agreement. [After quoting Maliki in his Abu Dhabi remarks about "withdrawal schedule or evacuation", Askari adds]: America is talking about a time-horizon for the withdrawal of those troops of five years from the signing of the agreement, and they see the horizon proposed by the Iraqi side of two to three years as a lower-limit.
And Askari spells out what is involved in the two-to-three-year proposal:
Askari said the turnover of the security portfolio for all provinces can be completed by the end of this year, and there will be a complete withdrawal of the multinational forces from the cities by the middle of 2009. And by the end of 2010 all troops will have been withdrawn, with an exception for air-cover provided by those forces to Iraq, and then in 2011 it will be possible for Iraq to have air-control as well.
Zeroing in on the question to what extent the military-presence issues could just be left out of a "strategic framework agreement", Askari said:
On the "strategic framework agreement" and whether it could be signed separately from the security agreement, AlAskari said: "In spite of the absence of problems in the framework agreement...still the [Iraqi] government does not want to sign it in isolation from a definition of the status of the American forces. He stressed the framework agreement would include commitment to getting Iraq out of Chapter 7, protection of Iraqi funds, commitment to democracy, the Iraqi constitution, and the economy, along with finding a solution to the problem of Iraq's creditors.
The journalist adds:
Observers think the parties could sign a "strategic framework agreement" by the announced deadline (end of this month) as a way of saving face, while still working to complete an agreement on the future of the American forces.
So if you put the WaPo story side by side with these comments by AlAskari, the conclusion appears to be the following: (1) The US side has given up on anything defining the American military presence by the planned deadline of July; however, (2) while the American sources are telling WaPo that the fallback position will be an interim, one-year agreement, the Iraqi side is still talking about withdrawal-schedule.

And the remarks attributed to Maliki's national security adviser Mowaffaq Rubaie by the Sunday Times this morning point this up very clearly: Referring to Rubaie, the report said:
A senior Iraqi government official said this weekend the [GreenZone] enclave should revert to Iraqi control by the end of the year. “We think that by the end of 2008 all the zones in Baghdad should be integrated into the city,” said Ali Dabbagh, the government’s spokesman.

“The American soldiers should be based in agreed camps outside the cities and population areas.

Which in essence is that same as AlAskari's outline including exit of US forces from Iraqi cities by the end of this year.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Something in Talabani's satchel ?

Regular op-ed columnist Haroun Mohammed has a piece in AlQuds alArabi this morning titled: "Has the time come to replace Al-Maliki?" By way of background, it is useful to recall an earlier (November 30 2007) column by Haroun Mohammed which I summarized under the title: "A more plausible reading of US policy: Maliki 'under control', leading Iraq to US-protectorate status." By more plausible, I meant that the HM's account of Maliki's character, seen by the Americans as weak and easily controllable, provides a more complete overall picture of Bush policy than the idea that he merely bungled in handing Iraq to an Iranian sympathizer.

In today's op-ed, HM says the bilateral long-term-deal negotiations that have been going on since April have been designed by the Americans so as to marginalize Maliki as far as possible, funneling the talks through his deputy prime-minister, the Kurd (and member of Talabani's PUK party) Barham Saleh. The thinking was that even if Maliki ended up having objections, it would be easy enough to sway him. Such is their reading of the man.
[Participants on the American side including Satterfield, Crocker and Petraeus] understand that Maliki is not strong on the political or legal issues and they take him to be easily made compliant, if he is beleaguered or his position is threatened or shaken. For that reason they relied on marginalizing him during the management of the negotiations respecting the agreement, and they encouraged him to concentrate on the security file, on the idea that was the priority of his government, and leave his deputy prime-minister Barham Saleh to handle the negotiations away from the limelight...
HM says Daawa party sources say Maliki appeared to accept that idea, but came on them at the last minute, leaving the Americans with the choice of either postponing the process, or making some kind of unilateral announcement but without there being time enough to effect the necessary "changes in the presidency [of Iraq] with all that would involve by way of complications and political difficulties on the ground".

What stuck in the craw of the Bush administration was not the idea of a memorandum of understanding versus an agreement, but rather the mention in the MoA of the idea of a schedule for the withdrawal of American troops. Here HM provides a specific explanation: He says Bush's idea is that there should be no mention of withdrawal at the present time, but that withdrawal, like all other bilateral issues, would be dealt with in the future under the aegis of this overall agreement. What enraged the Bush administration, he says, was their sense that this mention of withdrawal was something dangerous. In fact he says the Americans aren't prepared to even discuss the idea, particularly given the heated-up campaign comments on this from Obama and McCain.

What if anything will the Americans do? There is an old saying, HM says (old since April 2003) that if you want to know what the Americans are really thinking, go talk to Jalal Talabani, or else to his sidekick Barham Saleh. Talabani was in the Oval Office on June 25 assuring reporters that there was progress in the negotiations, which were still being described as for a long-term agreement, even though Maliki had said the talks were at a dead-end. HM doesn't mention this, but the US special-ops forces were airlifted into Maliki's hometown just outside Karbala and offed one of his relatives pre-dawn June 27. (In spite of the fact HM doesn't mention the event, this would certainly fit the scenario of trying to jog the easily-manipulable Maliki back into line).

There has been a flood of statements and rumors in Baghdad, says HM, particularly since the return of Talabani from Washington, and he adds:
Perhaps the most noteworthy [of the ideas circulating around Talabani] is that Bush told him the government people in Iraq should utilize the short time remaining to him (Bush) in his second and last administration, and an important part of this "utilizing"--this attributed to Bush--is the matter of the Agreement and the need to sign it before the 31st of the current month....[And people around Talabani say Bush also told him] that 90% of the people who share decision-making with him are not in agreement with his policies in Iraq, and that he has been obliged in a lot of cases to use presidential authority to carry out measures that his aides and advisers and his ministers do not agree with. And one of those [policies that most of his aides do not agree with] is the continuation of the alliance with the leadership of the Kurdish and Shiite parties in Iraq for which [Bush allegedly told Talabani] Bush continues to be subject to bitter criticism from those around him and from allied countries, for toppling the prior regime and replacing it with a Kurdish-Shiite regime.
In other words, according to these rumors, Bush implied, at least, that he is prepared to help perpetuate the Kurdish/Daawa/SupremeCouncil regime insofar as he can do so in the waning months of his administration, but the main element of this will have to be an agreement respecting continued American military involvement--in this context, obviously, as a support for the Kurd/Shiite regime for whose support Bush has suffered so much and such harsh criticism, and on behalf of which he has done so much "on presidential authority..that his advisers... do not agree with".

HM concludes:
Participants in the political process in Baghdad do not rule out the possibility of dramatic developments in the coming two-week period of time, with the July 31 deadline and no signing or announcement about the memorandum or the agreement. There is in circulation more than one scenario [said to be] in Talabani's satchel, and the fact he returned [directly] to Baghdad this time, and not to Sulaimaniya as he has done in earlier trips, has triggered an uproar...

Thursday, July 10, 2008

On the difference between a "time-limit" and "the concept of a time-limit"

The GreenZone newspaper AlSabaah continues this morning the exercise of putting a tough image on the government's stance respecting American troop withdrawal. Bearing in mind the comments by various politicians quoted by AlHayat (see prior post), let's take a look at the AlSabaah version this morning, starting with the headline:
The government proposes the concept of American withdrawal from Iraq within five years: Washington hopes to arrive at an agreement with Baghdad for a SOFA: Baghdad--AlSabaah. Informed sources said the government proposed to Washington a temporal upper-limit for the withdrawal of the American forces from Iraq within five years, in negotiations for a SOFA agreement for security cooperation. The government stressed that any future bilateral agreement with the United States will have to include a final deadline for the withdrawal of the American and allied forces. And the government spokesman Ali Dabbagh said: "Any schedule for the withdrawal of forces will be subject to the circumstances and conditions the country will experience," however he stressed that the withdrawal of the allied forces will be within three or four or five years."

He explained that the government does not have a defined time-limit, but he stressed the necessity of an agreement on the principle of setting a final time-limit. And he explained in a press statement that differences respecting American bases, and the authority that will be enjoyed by those forces, are what are standing in the way of the American administration's aim of securing an agreement by the end of July.
There you have it. The Maliki administration has proposed the concept of a time-limit for the withdrawal, but when they say "proposed the concept" they don't mean they have proposed including an actual time limit, only that the have proposed including the concept of a time-limit.

So although the rhetoric remains, in fact it seems pretty clear that the government has already caved in on the time-limit demand, if in fact there ever was one, and the issues now waiting to be caved-in on are those respecting American bases and the authority for the American forces to continue operating in Iraq as they have been doing.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008


Regrettably, it appears the whole excitement about a demand for a "fixed-date schedule for troop-withdrawal" has been the product of weasel-words intended to create a strong image for the Maliki administration, the actual position being that the troops should withdraw when conditions on the ground, and/or the capabilities of the Iraqi forces, permit it.

AlHayat quotes Jalaladeen Al-Saghir, a SupremeCouncil leader, who explained that the demand for a "withdrawal schedule" was put to the Americans months ago, but has become more realistic only since the recent Iraqi-forces operations in Basra, Mosul and so on. American withdrawal should be based on the continuing improvement in Iraqi-forces capabilities, he said, adding: "Consequently, the Iraqi demand is for a withdrawal schedule that is not established on a fixed basis...We have told Washington that an agreement has to include a time-schedule for the withdrawal of the American troops, or at least a defined mechanism for arranging the withdrawal and its date, to be linked to the development of the Iraqi security capabilities".

Following the outline of Saghir's remarks the journalist quotes the Sadrist leader Salah Al-Obeidi, as follows:
[Obeidi] accused the government of trying to escape from the [popular Iraqi] pressure being put on it with respect to signing this agreement with Washington. He said: "There is growing popular pressure rejecting the agreement, in addition to the determination of the marja'iya and other religious figures, Sunni and Shiite, to reject it." He added: "The government is trying to lighten this pressure by means of these declarations" [about fixed-date withdrawal and so on], and he stressed: "There are very major doubts about the ability of the government to follow through on these declarations".
Next, the AlHayat reporter quotes Daawa party leader Ali Al-Adeeb, with an explanation of the Iraqi position that goes like this: The withdrawal schedule should be
...linked to the turnover of security portfolio for all of the provinces of Iraq, and he added: "the operation will begin with the withdrawal of the American forces from Iraqi cities following the turnover of the security portfolio for all 18 of the Iraqi provinces, and following that there will be an assessment of the security situation every six months, to last between three and five years, and finally the definition of the final date for the American withdrawal."
And the AlHayat reporter then turns to the inevitable "senior government official who preferred not to be named" [it's just like Washington!], and that official said it is still the case that an agreement with Washington is very unlikely "in the current round", because of the distance between the two sides on a number of issues, so the solution will likely be a Memorandum of Understanding to include the immediately necessary legalities including "finding legal cover for the presence of the foreign troops in the country" once the UN mandate runs out the end of this year.

The unnamed government official didn't say what particular issues continue to divide the two sides. But given this apparent backtracking on the tough-sounding Maliki-Rubaie statements on the issue of fixed dates for withdrawal, the Sadrist Obeidi's remarks (above) about the government trying to dodge popular pressure seem particularly well-taken.


AlHayat this morning sums up this way:
The negotiations between Iraq and the US have reached a ticklish stage with the disagreement having been made public: Baghdad is insisting on a schedule for the withdrawal of the forces, and rejects immunity from Iraqi law [for the US forces]; while Washington says it is not opposed to a temporal framework [probably "timeframe" is the Washingtonese] for the operation (of withdrawal) and it links the operation to circumstances on the ground.
To illustrate the Baghdad position, they quote Mowaffaq Rubaie following his meeting with Sistani in Najaf where he said: "We are not now talking about a schedule for the presence of the forces; rather, we are talking about the evacuation of the foreign forces from the country." He said in effect, we have our dates, and they have their dates, so there isn't an agreement yet. Rubaie added: "We cannot talk about fixed [or permanent] bases in Iraq", but the reporter notes he also mentioned the "possibility of camps subject to Iraqi sovereignty."

On the Washington side, the reporter refers to a statement by the White House that said the negotiations with Iraq are not aimed at a "deadline" [or "firm date"] for withdrawal, however this does not rule out the possibility of an agreement about a timeframe". And he reviews the Pentagon statement about any agreement being linked to conditions on the ground.

But setting aside the question of "firm date" versus "time-frame", I think there is an important point raised in yesterday's AlHayat story that hasn't been noticed. What that source said was that Washington had agreed to a transitional or bridge agreement (by way of a memo of understanding) for, among other reasons, a specific Washington-centered reason: namely that there is a desire to avoid the risk of any "dramatic change" in US policy in Iraq and the region with the change of administration. And at about the same time, there has been this highly-publicized Obama "move to the center" in the form of a new focus on the idea of conditioning troop-withdrawal to conditions on the ground. If you put those two developments together--switching the negotiations to a bridge agreement, and Obama's switch to the kind of "conditionality" that isn't in principle any different from that of the Bush administration--then the conclusion seems to be that the negotiations have become "bipartisan" on the Washington side. So that he only partisan differences are in the rhetoric: Yes to speedy withdrawal on the Democratic side; Yes to taking into account conditions on the ground on the Bush-administration side.

The candidates' reactions to the Maliki and Rubaie statements illustrate this nicely: AlHayat quotes McCain telling MSNBC that "the Iraqis have told me very clearly" that they think withdrawal should depend on conditions on the ground... "We will withdraw...but the withdrawal must be dictated by events on the ground". And Obama, for his part, is quoted by AFP as having said on Monday:
"I think it's encouraging ... that the prime minister himself now acknowledges that in cooperation with Iraq, it's time for American forces to start sending out a timeframe for the withdrawal."
In other words, Washington position is "timeframe, with links to conditions on the ground", and this is shared by the two parties, with only rhetorical differences in emphasis. And the agreement to switch the negotiations to a bridge or Memorandum of Understanding format is the mechanism for handing this bipartisan position off to the new administration.

And you thought there were two parties in Washington involved in a struggle over this.

Monday, July 07, 2008

AlHayat source: US not opposed to a memo of understanding setting out a withdrawal schedule

Elaborating on Prime Minister Maliki's remarks yesterday to the effect his government is negotiating what will be either an "evacuation of the American forces" or a "withdrawal schedule", and not a "strategic agreement", AlHayat cites a "prominent political source" who says the scheduled-withdrawal concept (via a "Memorandum of Understanding") in fact has met with the approval of the American side, for two reasons: (1) They don't like the risk of an abrupt change of policy under a putative Democratic administration, so this will be a smoothing mechanism; and (2) They aren't keen on the idea of a battle between Bush and Congress in the final months of his administration. The source put it this way:
A prominent political source told AlHayat yesterday that the specifics of a withdrawal-schedule have been under study for a month already, in the absence of any American objection. And the source indicated that "The American side is taking into account domestic developments in the light of statements by the Democratic presidential candidate Barak Obama indicating his intention of accelerating the withdrawal of the forces if he is successful in reaching the White House."

The source said the scenarios of withdrawal of forces will be linked to the powers of (meaning the rights accorded to) the American forces," and he stressed: "The complete temporal horizon has not yet been defined." He explained: "The withdrawal of rights (of the American forces) will be done in stages, linked to the withdrawal of the military units". However, he also stressed that "the question of exit of Iraq from Chapter 7 is something that our country will perhaps be dealing with on its own".
Here the reporter interpolates something from USA Today that said there could be substantial troop drawdowns next year no matter who is president. Then continuing:
The Iraqi source also stressed: "The withdrawal schedule, in addition to being an Iraqi requirement, is also a requirement of the American side". He explained that the present American administration is not prepared to see any dramatic alteration in the direction of American policies in the Middle East, and for that reason it is anticipating the possibility of a Democratic administration after the elections, via a Memorandum of Understanding". He added that the reluctance to sign a Status of Forces Agreement has to do not only with Iraqi objections, but also with the fear that Congress might insist on [its right to] ratification, and not be content with presidential ratification, whereas a Memorandum of Understanding would not require getting into a battle with the legislators in the last months of the Bush administration.


The editorialist at AlQuds alArabi this morning scoffs at the idea (responding to Maliki's statements, obviously not to the AlHayat piece which also appears this morning). In his amusing way, he points out that Maliki appears to have forgotten one important fact: His country is not sovereign but is occupied miltarily by 170,000 American troops. And America didn't spend $60 billion and have 4000 killed and another 30,000 injured
so that Mister Maliki or anyone else can come to them and dictate to them a schedule of withdrawal that is contrary to their plans in Iraq and in the region as a whole. Maliki could accomplish that in only one way: If he were to lead a movement of liberation and wage a serious war against the occupation, inflicting on them enough losses so that withdrawal would then be at the top of their agenda. But that isn't the case, and in fact Maliki relies completely for his existence and the continuance of his government on the protection of the American forces, and he would perhaps not survive in his position for a single day if these forces were to withdraw.
The editorialist notes it didn't take the Pentagon any more than 24 hours after Maliki's statement to put out a statement saying any drawdowns would depend on conditions on the ground, clearly meaning, the editorialist says that it is the Americans who will decide this, not the Maliki administration.

Iraq, love it or leave it

I've seen no follow-up whatsoever to the recent tough-sounding statements by vice-president Adel AbdulMahdi (previous post), not even on his own site Nor have I seen any news about follow-up to the arrests in question (of the president of the Amara provincial council and other senior people), or any indication of renewed Sadrist complaints either. So I have no information or views at all on that score. Much as I hate to say so.

The UAE president's friendly remarks on the occasion of announcing the debt-relief decision are another mystery. If this is a turnabout in Gulf-state policy with respect to the Maliki administration, it isn't at all clear what the trigger was. Meanwhile it might be worth noting this part of the report in the UAE paper AlKhleej:
[The UAE president and Maliki] reviewed the situation in Iraq, and the efforts that the Iraqi authorities are making for the restoration of security and stability in every area of the country, in the context of the sovereignty of the state, and their standing up to every effort to infringe on the unity of Iraq in its land or its people, and they also reviewed various regional matters.
This is only a thought: (1) "Unity of Iraq" would be an attractive theme to the Gulf states if it meant abandonment of the Supreme Council's Shiite super-region project for the South and Center of Iraq. (2) The stress here isn't on rooting out "gangs and outlaws", but on protecting the "unity of Iraq", which makes sense if you take the Bush-type world-view and assume that those who oppose the government oppose the unity of Iraq, suggesting perhaps the idea of abandoning externally-supported Sunni groups as a quid pro quo for Maliki going after the Sadr trend...

President of the Iraqi parliament Mashhadani (thank you for the correction) made some remarks quoted in AlHayat this morning suggestive of a punchier attitude in closing of the ranks in the Green Zone. His remarks included this:
He said the parliamentary blocs are called upon to work collectively to build a unitary national government that will take on its shoulders the correction of prior errors. And he called on those politicians who do not believe in the political process and who will not adapt to it, to leave the country.
But that's just the way it sounds to me.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

AbdulMahdi's statement

Here are the opening paragraphs of the statement of vice-president of Iraq Adel AbdulMahdi on the subject of lawlessness by government forces in general, and the recent events in Amara in particular.

The important accomplishments of our armed forces and our security forces in establishing law and order, and the major sacrifices that have been made by their officers and men, ought not to be besmirched by the actions of certain units or certain constituents of [meaning: under the] patronage of authorities or individuals, or of the multinational forces.

We have been told repeatedly of offenses against the rights of citizens during the circulation of [local] forces and [local] authorities, and during the circulation of citizens in their daily affairs while waiting their turn at fuel stations and at government offices and other daily activities. Similarly we have news of attacks against innocent people during search and arrest operations, and of threats to the security of families of women and children and old people, and of illegalities during arrest and thereafter. And of torture carried out at some prisons and by some units. And many incidents have been recorded by various human rights agencies, and ministries, and by the human rights committee of parliament, and by political parties, and national and international centers of observation and information.

And we have [now] learned that the search of the home of the Governor of Maysan, Mr Adel Mahaudar, and the arrest of the president of the Council of the Province of Maysan, Mr Abdel Jabbar Wahid and his associates, were carried out in a way inconsistent with respect for their rights as citizens, not to mention their rights as important authorities in the province.

All of that is unacceptable, and cannot be justified. Serious and strict investigations must be undertaken and those outside the law must be punished. The constitution protects the rights of citizens, and Iraqi law prohibits these operations and considers them crimes no less than the crimes crimes against law and order by [ordinary] criminals and suspects.
AbdulMahdi continues by noting that both the Presidency Council, and Maliki himself, have spoken out against official lawlessness, but to no avail, because
Because in spite of that we see the continuation from time to time of these offenses and excesses and illegalities on the part of those entrusted with law and order. This must stop. And those who are undertaking this must know that they will be held absolutely no less responsible than [ordinary] accused persons.
AbdulMahdi has more to say about the importance of respect for law by the authorities, and his remarks include this:
We will absolutely not permit the return of the dark days of arbitrary arrests and attacks on citizens and torture, and the justification of this lawlessness and abuse of human rights by the arguments that this is for the defense of [certain] authorities or of the regime, or any other excuses, whose result will be the collapse of the situation and a betrayal of the care that we have been charged with.


More particularly on the question of the "collapse of the situation" that AdelMahdi is talking about, compare the remarks of a Sadrist leader quoted in AlHayat this morning:
Nasar alRubiae said in a press statement: "The Sadrist current is convinced that the aim behind the arrest of the president of the Maysan provincial council is the realization of certain political aims: First and foremost the attempt to provoke members of the Sadrist movement to [get them to] spread the appearance of the collapse of security in the province", referring to the fact that "certain political forces are trying to draw the Sadrists into military confrontation with the security forces engaged in the "harbingers of peace" operation."

Friday, July 04, 2008

The elections that are going on right now

AlHayat outlines conflicting explanations for the delay in handover of the security file in Anbar from the American to the Iraqi authorities. The reporter leads off with the views of a leader of the Dulaim tribal group, who said the Anbari tribes convinced both Maliki and the Americans that it would be dangerous to transfer authority to the Iraqi forces at a time when the Islamic Party of Iraq controls the local council. He said the IPI is penetrated by all kinds of armed groups; and he also said the following: (which is a remark I would like to underline): At the present time, the Anbar provincial council controls the movements of the police and army in Anbar.

Hamid alHayess, leader of the pro-American Anbar Salvation Council, said the only reason for the delay was the sandstorm. He too denounced Islamic Party control of the local council, focusing on the issue of corruption, and he stressed that the Awakenings have formed alliances aimed at throwing them out at the coming elections.

An Islamic Party spokesperson said the party has strong and always-improving relationships with the tribal groups, Hayess is just being silly, but he too thought the reason for the delay was the sandstorms.

The journalist concludes by reasserting that there is in fact escalating tension between the Awakenings and the tribal leaders on the one side, and the Islamic Party on the other, based on charges of corruption and failure by the local council to provide basic services. (What the journalist doesn't mention is any supposed "secret deal" between Maliki and the IP to help crush the Awakenings).

We shouldn't lose sight of the context.

In Sadr City, the American forces (and embassy staff) took a very direct role in trying to engineer a takeover of the local (in that case advisory) council by anti-Sadr forces. This was disclosed in the wake of a bombing on Tuesday June 24:

Steven Farley, a State Department official working to build up the local government in the Baghdad enclave of Sadr City, knew he and his colleagues had taken a bold step, his son Brett recalled Tuesday.

Farley and other U.S. officials had learned that the Sadr City District Council's acting chairman was loyal to the anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and had urged other members of the local advisory group to force the man to resign.

That was last week. On Tuesday, Farley, 57, and three other Americans were killed after a bomb exploded in the District Council building, just minutes before the selection of a new chairman was to begin.

Capitalizing on recent security gains in Iraq, U.S. soldiers and diplomats have waded deeply into Iraqi politics in an effort to build moderate and responsive government bodies that they hope will erode the appeal of extremists.

In Amara, the news yesterday of the arrest of the Governor and members of the provincial council made it clear that the military campaign there has local-council takeover as one of its main objectives too.

In those two cases the objective, shared by Maliki and the Americans, is de-Sadrification by military means.

It stands to reason that the Americans and Maliki have comparable objectives in Anbar, relating to control of the local government, and for that reason I highlighted the above remark by the Dulaim leader to the effect that currently, the local council has a big say in police and military operations in the province. But which side is trying to oust which group?

The theory being promulgated by the two Abu's is that there is a split between Maliki and the Americans over this, complete with a "secret agreement" between Maliki and the Sunni parliamentary parties to support the existing provincial council and put an end to the Awakenings. This theory had its first public exposure in an anonymously-sourced story in the Haq News Agency (Iraqi) and the same story in the UAE paper Al-Khaleej.

So first of all we have the disgraceful spectacle of US forces cooperating with Iraqi forces to engineer the takeover of local governments by anti-Sadr forces, even where they have a relatively good record of governance, in order to oust elected governments. (At least one other person, I am pleased to note, has called attention to the parallel here with the US campaign in Palestine in support of Dahlan for the discrediting of the elected government of Hamas).

So what are we to make of the theory that in Anbar the Americans and Maliki have an disagreement about which of two competing groups to oust, and which to support? These are military campaigns to shape a political outcome. Is it not like a debate about which prisoner to torture?

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Sadrists outraged

As if to make it clear how important elections are, the Iraqi government forces, as has been widely reported, yesterday "arrested" the head of the Maysan provincial council, and two other council members, and broke into the home of the provincial governor, "arresting" 30 of his security people. All are members of the Sadr trend. No reasons were given for any of these "arrests".

Naturally, the question arises what role this operation is thought to be playing in the ongoing process of national reconciliation. Official reactions, for instance from Sadr spokesman Obeidi, were naturally critical and pointed out that there was an earlier promise by Maliki not to arrest people just for belonging to the Sadrist trend.

Non-official reactions were more demonstrative, and one can see in them signs of a very understandable feeling of sectarian persecution, and its result, sectarian anger. Here's what Nahrainnet said in its sidebar to its Maysan story today, under a picture of blindfolded and handcuffed prisoners:
At a time when thousands of prisoners are being released from American and government prisons, most of them having been accused of being followers of the dissolved prior regime or cooperators with tafkiiri and terrorist organizations--at this time the government with the support of the American forces is undertaking to arrest hundreds of members of the Sadr trend and members of the Mahdi Army in Maysan province, having before that arrested thousands in Basra and Baghdad and Diwaniya and Kut and Karbala. Now is this National Reconciliation? Is this the winding-up of the de-Baathification law in real terms?

Is this the reward for the faithful who withstood the oppression of Saddam for decades, only to now face the oppression of those who rule in their own name...
The accompanying article points out that some of those arrested are the very people who had arranged for a smooth and problem-free entry of the government forces to the province, on the promise that the operation would be non-sectarian.

The theme of treachery is taken up by another Sadrist news-site, which posts a picture of a Sadr City demonstration apparently from 2006, where pictures of Adbulaziz al-Hakim and Ibrahim al-Jaafari are raised along with those of the elder Sadr, the caption reading: "this was not so long ago", and the text pointing to the Sadrists' role in elevating Maliki and his supporters to power, but no sooner had they attained power than they turned on the Sadrists, and "sold them to the occupation," a betrayal that calls to the writer's mind that of Abd al Rahman ibn Muljam, the murderer of Ali bin Abi Talib in the early days of Islam. I would quote more from this piece, and I would stress its importance as another sign of the hardening of feelings in the Sadrist street as a result of the continuation of this now blatantly sectarian "law-enforcement" campaign. I would also like to call attention to the latent contempt that is implied by the absence of any indication of this Sadrist outrage from American news and commentary. But I would risk being called up again before the Disciplinary Committee on civil discourse.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Kurds bad-mouth the fee-for-service approach to oil

AlHayat calls attention to the fact that the oil-policy dispute between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government now involves not only the question of who can sign contracts, but also the question of the fundamental nature of the contracts themselves, as a matter of government policy. Baghdad oil minister Husein Shahristani said on Monday that the Iraqi government failed to sign the expected package of "short-term technical support agreements" with a group of oil majors, and he said this was because the companies "rejected our proposal that they provide advice (or consultancy) on developing oil production, demanding instead a production-sharing proposal, but we are still negotiating with them". Shahristani added: "The model contract that Iraq will offer will be tender of services and not production-sharing, for this reason: This wealth belongs to Iraq and we will not permit anyone to share with Iraqis in its oil".

In reply, the Kurdistan Regional Government resources minister Ashti Hawrami said at the 19th World Petroleum Conference in Madrid yesterday (Tuesday July 1) that the policy of his government is diametrically opposed to that. "Since when did the majors become consultants," he wanted to know, adding hat the contract on offer by Baghdad is "lousy" (AFP report from Madrid; the same remarks are featured in the AlHayat story this morning). He said Kurdistan has been highly responsible in offering contracts that are in accord with "proven international standards".

It had been expected that the initial short-term contracts, described as oilfield service agreements, covering six existing oil-production areas, would have been signed by now, but somehow this has turned into a dispute over production-sharing versus service-contracts. AFP put it this way:
Iraq said on Monday that it had failed to sign technical support deals with global oil majors hoping to cash in on boosting the war-torn country's extensive but underexploited oilfields.

Iraq is still negotiating with Shell, BP, ExxonMobil, Chevron and Total, and a consortium of other smaller oil companies, to develop six oil blocks and two gas fields, Oil Minister Hussein al-Shahristani told a press briefing.

"We did not finalise any agreement with them because they refused to offer consultancy based on fees as they wanted a share of the oil," he said.

"The TSAs (technical support agreements) are only simple consultancy contracts to help us raise the production during the interim period" before the ministry enters into long-term contracts to develop the oil and gas fields.

In any event, the main point being made by the AlHayat reporter this morning is this appears to have developed into full-scale dispute in principle between Baghdad and the Kurdistan region, not just over the nature of particular contracts, whether short- or long-term, but over the basic policy respecting service-contracts versus production-sharing.

Not only that. The Kurdistan resources minister went on make remarks apparently aimed at chilling oil-company interest in the initial set of six short-term agreements being proposed by Baghdad. AlHayat:
Hawrami advised the global oil companies "not to use the contract on offer from the oil ministry without open bidding, because this is not in the interests of Iraq", and he said, "Iraq does not need office-studies done at a distance from outside Iraq; what it needs is investment and actual work by corporations on the ground."
Notice the peculiar fact that he is warning the majors off dealing with Baghdad, not because this isn't in their own interest, but supposedly because this isn't in the interests of Iraq.

What the AlHayat reporter is pointing out is that over and above the details of particular negotiating situations, the fundamental disputes between Irbil and Baghdad are two: (1) Who can sign contracts; but also (2) whether government policy is to be for service contracts or for production-sharing contracts.

Oddly enough, this point has been completely absent from the recent outbreak of indignation over the initial proposed short-term contracts.

See also the comments

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

What's up with Maliki's latest tribal-council proposal

On Sunday June 29, Maliki hosted a meeting of notables from the Jubbur tribe, where he spoke glowingly of the role of tribes and clans in Iraqi society and history, adding that he proposed to set up a national council of tribes, which would work hand in hand with the government in such important tasks as applying the law and so on. It was not a widely-noticed meeting or statement.

This morning (Tuesday July 1), Baghdad reporter Zaid Al-Zubadi explains in Al-Akhbar where this fits in the ebb and flow of the Maliki administration. There was a time, he says, when the Americans and Maliki felt that the Shiite South-Center was under control, but faced with local elections and the difficulty in getting agreement on a long-term security agreement, that view changed, and one result was the military campaigns in Karbala, Basra, Amara, Sadr City and so on.

The victor in some sense was Maliki, but in terms of popular support, he and his Daawa party emerged empty-handed, apparently leaving (on the tacit assumption of no Sadrist resurgence) the Supreme Council top dog in the South-Center. Hence this new plan to salvage something of popular, and American, support. Zubaidi puts it like this:
Observers think that Maliki emerged from these fights (in Basra and elsewhere) empty-handed, while the biggest beneficiary on the sectarian front was the Supreme Council...while at the same time the idea of renouncing sectarianism was taking hold of the Iraqi street. These observers think the latest call by Maliki for the creation of tribal support councils could be the last card he has available to preserve any remaining popular and American support: In other words, having prevailed in the sectarian activities, he now wants to hitch himself to the tribal gangs in order to preserve his influence.
Zubaidi thinks this last-resort explanation is what accounts for the penchant of Daawa leaders Maliki, and Jaafari before him, to flatter the tribes, and the thinking would be that the Supreme Council, by contrast, is satisfied with the evolution of events, leaving it with "a monopoly in the 'Shiite field', following the blows delivered to its fundamental rival, the Sadrist trend."

That's Maliki's plan, Zubaidi or at least these observers think. But there could be one or two flies in the ointment, as he explains:
However, this tribal policy of Maliki is still surrounded by the murky question of the American attitude to it, after all the problems that the Awakenings have caused, having shown their bloody side, and the situation having gone so far that there is criticism about "not being permitted to kill suspects", the killing of prisoners on their release by the occupation forces, struggles for influence, and the start of inter-tribal fights in place of sectarian fighting.
(Thanks to Roadsto Iraq for pointing to this article, and she reflects on why some of these phrases sound so familiar to her).

Talabani points the finger at the Iraqi Daawa party (Updated in the notes)

The Association of Muslim Scholars of Iraq issued a short statement on the Janaja affair, as follows:
The media have published the criticism, by the Prime Minister of the present government Nuri al-Maliki, of the airlift operation carried out by the American forces at dawn Friday in Janaja...which involved the killing of one of the guards, and the arrest of another at the home of [the Prime Minister's] sister.

What is noteworthy in this is the speed with which the government has criticized and condemned this incident, at the same time that it remains committed to silence respecting all of the other crimes that have been committed and continue to be committed by the occupation in every corner of the land of the two rivers. In fact we find this government and its bodyguards have an attitude of support for all of the crimes of the occupation, and for its plans.

AMSI records its condemnation of this particular crime, but this case is the same as the case of all of the other crimes, and we call attention to the need to avoid ambiguity in our dealings, and to avoid selectivity [in what we criticize], because this only fosters differences within [our] single people.

And the Iraqi people keeps in mind that the occupation is drawing to a close, and that what will remain is only what is authentic.


For this section, see also the notes.

President Jalal Talabani made remarks on AlHurra TV which, although they apparently didn't relate overtly to the Janaja incident, nevertheless the Sadrist news-site Nahrainnet found them to be peculiar in Talabani's references to the Iraqi Daawa Party (which as everyone knows is Maliki's party). Here is how Nahrainnet presented the remarks:
Talabani, in his second expression of solidarity with the United States against the call by Nasrullah for Iraqis to support the resistance as the only way to get rid of the occupation, again criticized this call, and said, in an interview with AlHurra TV, which is financed by the American congress...that "many of the leaders of Hizbullah have long-standing relationships with Iraq", giving it as his opinion that "the Iraqi Dawa party is really responsible for the spread of the Islamic call (daawa) in Lebanon, to the point that some of the leaders of Hizbullah were members of it (members of the Iraqi Daawa party).

President Talabani was wrong about this, because Hizbullah drew its jihadi school from the Iranian revolution; the Daawa party has no connection with the spread of the Islamic call or of the Islamic movement in Lebanon; and there is not the slightest evidence for that. [Not only that, but] the Daawa party was one of the group of parties that agreed to cooperate with the occupation [in Iraq] in its secular political operations, when the government was acting to liquidate the jihadi line, which was embodied in a number of provinces by the Mahdi Army, [at a time when there weren't yet US-sponsored Awakenings].
I don't know if there is an AlHurra transcript of this interview (there is: see the notes), but as far as this Nahrainnet summary is concerned, there doesn't appear to have been any specific trigger for Talabani to be zeroing in on the Iraqi Daawa party like this, right on the heels of the Janaja incident.

(For comic relief, the Nahrainnet writer notes that Talabani criticizes Nasrullah for having assumed that the United States is interested in a permanent occupation of Iraq, when in fact there is a strong movement in the United States for the withdrawal of the US troops from Iraq. Talabani added he would like the Lebanese to communicate with him via Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, with whom he has a good relationship).

And Talabani also said this:
Undertaking to call us to resistance will be interpreted wrongly in Iraq because he who calls himself resistance does takfiir on the Shiites generally, and considers all Shiites to be rejectionists, so how can a Shiite party join its voice to this kind of criminal resistance?!!
The writer reminds us that last May US embassy officials were urged to get Iraqi government people to reply to the Nasrullah resistance call; and that Talabani has already responded to that once, so this is his second reply.