Sunday, August 31, 2008

Weekend reading

In its two latest editions, the big-circulation Iraqi paper Azzaman has featured scary security-situation stories based on Western, not Iraqi, sources, to wit:

In its Thursday/Friday edition, Azzaman featured this across the top of its front page: "Official in American center for security studies: Maliki refuses to include over 100,000 Awakening volunteers in the Iraqi security apparatus", naming Colin Kahl as the author of the warning. Then it its weekend edition, the paper's top front-page story was based on the Agence France Presse story about Sadrists signing the blood-oath, and the heading read: "Mahdi Army announces keeping up the fight and its rebellion against the order to freeze its activities". The actual AFP story quoted a person signing the oath to the effect he would prefer to fight but will follow Moqtada's orders. There was nothing in the story about a rebellion.

Conversely, Azzaman, along with the Washington media machine, has little to say about the crisis of confidence in the government, reflected in the dramatically low voter-registration turnout. There was a report last week that Sistani had issued an order for people to register, something that has been subject to various comments. An AlQuds alArabi op-ed writer writes that this is a throw-back or a remnant of the days when the occupation government had to rely on sectarian religious leaders to get people to acquiesce in its projects, something the writer says isn't working any more. On the contrary, writes Haifa Zankana, an important lesson the people have drawn from the corruption and lack of government services is its non-sectarian nature. And an AlHayat writer quotes Shiite cleric Jawad al-Khalasi:
Sheikh Jawad al-Khalasi told the Maliki government to stick to the statements officials have made about the wthdrawal of American forces by 2011, adding: All of the religious elements support a schedule for withdrawal, and if the government sticks to the announced schedule, it will enoy the absolute support of the religious figures.

[On the Kirkuk issue, he urged all politicians to prioritize the unity of Iraq].

[Then on the reported Sistani call for voter-registration]: He doubted what certain media have reported [about Sistani's statement]. And he said the news is not correct. The marjaiyya makes its announcements in an official way, and not by satellite TV. He accused local satellite TV stations belonging to [political] parties of spreading [their own] ideas.

He explained that "the poor turnout of electors at the registration offices has motivated some politicians and parties to have recourse to Sistani in order to correct [people's] attitudes", and he added: "The people's lack of confidence in the authorities, and the worsening of the crisis in [government] services are among the main reasons behind the people's desisting from registering their names at the election offices."
And in case you don't listen to al-Khalasi, the AlHayat journalist goes on to cite none other than Adel AbdulMahdi, who reaffirmed Sistani's re-affirmation of the importance of Iraqi independence and sovereignty, and this is twinned with the get-out-and-vote pitch:
[AbdulMahdi said:] "The withdrawal of the multinational forces should be by a defined deadline, and in the meantime during their presence there should be Iraqi control over legal and operational matters". And he indicated that the marjaiyya "stressed the necessity of participating in the elections, and is a supporter of the democratic election process."
I don't think it takes too much reading between the lines to understand the dynamics: The Maliki government, supported by the Najaf hierarchy, faces a crisis of popular confidence reflected in the low voter-registration turnout, and turns to Sistani for support, on a sink-or-swim together approach. At the same time, in order to compensate for the lack of popular support based on governance, the Maliki government and the hierarchy are left with one remaining claim to popular support, and that is a tough stance on the American withdrawal. And this could be what accounts for the intransigence in the withdrawal negotiations.

By contrast, what you could call the coalition media (which now seems to include Azzaman) frame the issue quite differently, namely as a configuration of military issues, were they exist and even where they don't exist, with General Maliki seen as the overconfident commander in the war that is Iraq. It's not the whole story, to say the very least.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Resistance and re-awakening

Haroun Mohammed writes in his regular op-ed in AlQuds AlArabi about the crisis facing the Awakenings, in the form of persecution by the sectarian Maliki administration and malign neglect by the Americans. He says those under attack deserve the support of Iraqi nationalists and anti-occupation forces of all descriptions. He writes:
As we have said repeatedly, the occupier has no friends and no associates and his only priorities are his own interests. His role here is not only to abandon the Awakening groups, but to maintain the position of a neutral onlooker as the forces and the agencies of the government prepare and make ready their attacks on Awakening units first in Diyala and Baghdad, and then in a later stage in Anbar as well...

[There is] a national and moral responsibility that calls on the national and islamist forces that stand against the occupation to protect the Awakenings, and to turn the page of the recent past because the Awakenings include--and this is true--a group of former officers and soldiers and employees who were deceived or compelled to join them, and [this responsibility calls on us to] work to rehabilitate them, to assist them in confronting the expected actions of the government against them, and protect them from the persecutions that are being set up against them by a deceitful government.
There are thousands of people involved, he says, and they should be restored to all their rights and given their old jobs back or their pensions. However:
If the government does not respond to their just demands and continues its antagonistic policy, then they will be obliged to follow whatever path seems suitable to them, and once there has been laid bare [not only the government's aims, but also] the truth about their own leaders' self-interested opportunism, and to organize themselves and unify their efforts and prepare for the worst, so that either they obtain their full rights without diminution, or else it is confrontation. And the latter alternative seems inevitable given a government with a sectarian and racial agenda that sees in the Awakenings a threat to its continued existence.

"Confrontation with Russia could make Iraq a more dangerous place for the occupation army"

Jordanian left writer Nahid Hattar says in an op-ed in AlArab alYaum the new confrontation between Russia and America will have an impact on Arab affairs, resulting from greater Russian militancy, and he lists some of the areas where he thinks there could be changes: (1) Russian destruction of a Georgian airbase was a warning to America against attacking Russian ally Iran over its nuclear program; (2) Syria will be strengthened in its relations with Israel and with Lebanon; (3) moreover domestically, Syria will probably become less captive to the privatization/capitalist movement; (4) and it won't be possible to talk any more about disarming Hizbullah or altering the internal Lebanese dynamics. And Hamas will be stronger.

Then he writes about Iraq, as follows:
Fifth and most important: This will bring about changes in Iraqi affairs. Moscow will renew its political and info-ops pressure against the American occupation of Iraq. And in its capacity as a protector of Iran, it will have strong influence on Iranian policy in Iraq. And it will be possible for Syria, supported by the Russian military presence, to resume support for the Iraqi resistance and to activate it.

And there is a realistic scenario that can be expected, namely that modern Russian weapons will flow to Iraq, and the American army will face serious difficulties in the ability of Iraqi fighters to destroy tanks and other vehicles, and to bring down helicopters, meaning the stripping the occupation army of its military superiority, just as happened to the Israeli occupation army in southern Lebanon in 2006.
And he writes in conclusion:
The world will be better off with a strong Russia reclaiming its role as an international power.

(another h/t to Ladybird at RoadstoIraq)

Some say US hinting at unilateral withdrawal with undesirable consequences for Maliki

The Kuwaiti paper AlQabas prints a summary of various ambiguous and unclear points in recent draft(s) of the proposed bilateral security agreement, and Ladybird at RoadstoIraq goes through a number of the points in more detail, based on a draft published by one of the resistance groups.

There are a couple of other points in the today's AlQabas article, relating to the negotiating process itself: First, their sources say the Ayatollah Sistani has been taking a detailed interest in the process, and continues to object to, and will no doubt reject, points where there is any infringement of Iraqi sovereignty.

Also, there is this:
And since the Americans are not ignorant of what has happened [apparently referring to the Najaf role in the process], according to a knowledgeable source, an assistant Secretary of Defence (I guess it's now State) General Kimmitt delivered a message to the Iraqi government that included the possibility of arriving at an ambiguous result prolonging the presence of the American forces in Iraq within [Chapter 7 as authorized by] the Security Council, because of the tension that has arisen with Russia as a result of the Georgia crisis. And the message hinted that "the technical problems have been dealt with, however the common political horizon between the two countries are still in a problematic standoff and for that reason it should not be ruled out that we take our decision on withdrawal.
I'm not even sure which "two countries" that refers to--US-Russia or US-Iraq--but the main point is explained by the journalist as follows:
This message is understood--by some Iraqi politicians--as a threatening form of pressure on the Iraqi side in order to hasten the formation of an agreement, and [these Iraqi politicians] explained that the intimation about "taking a decision on withdrawal" contains within it reference to a scenario previously prepared by Washington that could follow upon such a step, and which would not be in the interests of the political forces that are still rejecting the draft security agreement.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Sistani: "Register to vote, darn it"

Ayatollah Sistani issued a statement that said people should register with the Electoral Commission to vote in the provincial council elections. The newspaper Azzaman notes this with only the following additional comments:

(1) The Commission has said recently that only 1.5 million people have registered, out of 13 million eligible voters (an earlier article in AlHayat quoted an independent source as putting the estimated number of people having registered at one million. (This would be in the neighborhood of 10% of eligible voters)

(2) An informed source said the ratio of eligible voters that have registered in Najaf, home of Sistani and the Shiite hierarchy, is only around 5%.

(3) The director of something called the Furat Center for Development and Strategic Studies
said their recent research in the field indicates that there has been a relative decline in voter-support for the Islamic parties.

(The Association of Muslim Scholars of Iraq also published a short note on Sistani's call, under the heading: The occupation government calls on the marjaiyya for help with the failed electoral game).

Ultra-low voter-registration, with a particular drop in support for the Islamic parties, seems to be consistent with the overall point of view expressed by the AlQabas op-ed writer (see prior post) namely that the government (supported by the Islamic parties Dawa and the Supreme Council) feels obliged to keep on putting out these recent tough-sounding statements on the bilateral negotiations, because it is "going through a difficult situation in which it is threatened with the complete alienation of the Iraqi street..."

(See also last Saturday's post called "Suggested scapegoats...")

National(ist) pressure making Maliki keep up the sham about "withdrawal"

Here's the way an op-ed writer at the Kuwaiti paper AlQabas, Zahir al-Dujaili by name, explains the confusing yes/no pattern of Iraqi assertions of a withdrawal-schedule followed inevitably by the US denial, something he says has become a topic of sarcasm among Iraqis outside the GreenZone.
Political observers attribute this [yes/no pattern] to the fact that the Iraqi government is going through a difficult period, which threatens the complete alienation of the Iraqi street from the government. The government faces national (or nationalist: wataniy) pressure from growing popular forces that demand it place a light at the end of the tunnel and defining the exit of the occupation forces from the country. Because as long as the government is saying it is capable of keeping law and order, the nationalist forces are saying to the government: Then why do you not agree with the occupier on a time-schedule that will free the country from foreign domination?
It is in response to this intense pressure that the Maliki administration continues to make these would-be reassuring statements about agreement with the occupier. And, the writer adds:
Of course this political fraud is completely unacceptable to the American negotiators who are still studying proposals that the Maliki government is trying to make out to be agreements.

I met two days ago a senior adviser who works in the GreenZone with the American forces and I asked him directly a question to settle this confusing debate about the agreement: Do you think the occupation authority has agreed with the government on a fixed date for withdrawal and will that be included in the agreement?

He replied smiling: What people are saying to you is completely wrong. The American army will not withdraw from Iraq. It will remain in many different forms. It will not bind itself to a fixed date for withdrawal, nor to the desires of Maliki and his government. And there will not be a crisis of separation [either], because of all the people on the face of the earth it is the Iraqi authorities are the most in need of the forces of occupation. They are between a people who want the withdrawal [of the occupation] and an ally who wants to remain, and Washington understands the dosage [or the medicine] for this disease.
h/t Ladybird of

As the world turns

An AlHayat reporter says an Iraqi negotiator says they have an agreed text, now all they have to do is figure out what it means.

Chances of completing the signing of an agreement... retreated following the optimism caused by the statements of [C Rice] in Baghdad last week. The two sides said negotiations are still going on in an attempt to solve their differences, and one of the members of the Iraqi negotiating team told AlHayat that the two sides are in agreement on the broad lines, but there are particular conceptual and legal differences respecting these clauses and the methods for applying them and their timing. Meanwhile parliamentary sources [said they] are inclined to think that putting this through Parliament will be delayed until next year.
The journalist notes Maliki has said there is agreement on no American forces in Iraq after 2011, and Washington has denied that. He continues:
The member of the negotiating delegation, who asked not to be named, said "The negotiating sessions with the American delegation are still continuing, and with escalating tension, in order to come to a determination on the differences in the document on security". He added that the negotiations "have reached their final stage, and what is now coming out about the contradictions between statements by Iraqi and American authorities are differences of understanding and of law in the interpretation of some of the text which was left susceptible to interpretation. He explained: "The agreement includes a definition of a time-schedule for the withdrawal of the American forces from the country, and that is something that was clearly agreed upon by the two sides. But the disagreement arises in the identity of these forces [literally in "what are these forces"] and their classification, and in the timing of their withdrawal.

Monday, August 25, 2008

News ?

Azzaman did a cut-and-paste from an AFP feature on the shortage of drinking water and lack of proper sewage in Baghdad, and AlHayat went one better and put the whole AFP feature into Arabic and printed it under its byline "Baghdad--AlHayat", without any attribution. Just in case you thought any of those papers were putting any actual effort into the story.

Meanwhile, AlHayat printed a short note to the effect that AMSI denied making the statement the paper attributed to it on boycotting the provincial election. But the paper left it at that: It repeated the contested statement, and said AMSI said it didn't make such a statement, without answering the obvious question: Well, in that case where did you get the story and do you stand by it for any reason or not ?

In the big news, people reading another AlHayat story probably think the American ambassador Crocker expressed confidence a bilateral agreement will be signed before year-end, but he added this: "The lack of a signing of the treaty would require the Iraqi government to return to the United Nations to renew a request for the American forces, because that would be the only solution on a legal basis for their remaining. The Iraqi government is sticking to not making such a request, and the American side is in agreement with them on that issue, and that is what makes it necessary that there be a signing of the agreement before the end of the current year."

The ambassador made a point of saying there has to be agreement on all of the pending issues before their is final agreement, perhaps suggesting the American side is rejecting suggestions for some kind of an interim agreement that would somehow avoid a final decision on sovereignty-related issues like legal liability and so on.

Meanwhile, the Washington spin machine seems to have gone into neutral, with the Ambassador continuing to tout security improvements, while the news reports nothing but renewed violence. The uncertain direction of the spin is leading to signs of unusual disunity in the Washington "policy community": Stephen, it seems, is breaking with Michael and the other guy over some aspect of Iraq policy. And the hottest question of all: Was Colin Kahl too optimistic?

On the underlying question of the Awakenings, the funny thing is that the "policy community" isn't drawing any connection between the Maliki crackdown on the one hand, and American attempts to get him to sign a bilateral security agreement on the other--involving, for instance, possibly giving Maliki the green light for a purge, on the idea that this will not only please Maliki as part of the bargaining, but will also generate feelings that perhaps the American troops are in fact needed for just a little longer, depending on circumstances of course...

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Suggested scapegoats for poor voter-registration

AlHayat reported on Saturday morning August 23 that "The Association of Muslim Scholars of Iraq and the Baath party call for boycott of the provincial elections". AMSI, however, says on its official website that it has issued no such statement, in fact no statement at all of the subject, and in a note it calls on AlHayat to please make a practice of verifying its information before publishing it, adding this has happened before.

The paper said the (purported) AMSI statement included this: "The local elections are part of a strategy being carried out by the United States for the complete partitioning of Iraq, and their clauses were written into the Constitution in order to effectuate the partitioning of Iraq by virtue of them. And the Law on Provincial Councils is nothing but a confirmation of that strategy", and the journalist went on: [AMSI] indicated that the American administration has deluded a many Iraqis into thinking that partial control, power and separation of all provinces is correct and necessary in these circumstances.

And the journalist goes on:
The Association has said on many occasions that "The Law on Provincial Councils, which was the subject of controversy originally between groups and parties participating in the political process, is the magic key for the partitioning of Iraq into 18 statelets, having many dimensions positions and features of partition that are obvious."
The general position of AMSI is that the fact of the occupation vitiates the "political process". I don't know if they have ever said anything of this kind about a partition into 18 statelets. But given the fact that this large-circulation newspaper is citing here an apparently non-existent current AMSI statement, it is worth considering possible motives for that, and the solution is not far to seek.

Because the other major point in this news article is that there has been dramatically poor response to the call for voter-registration. A source is quoted to the effect that in spite of three extensions of the registration deadline, there have been only around one million registrants nation-wide, compared to 8 million voters in the last election (out of 14 million eligible voters). These are not official figures of the Independent Elections Commission of Iraq itself, and the paper cites them merely to give an indication of the orders of magnitude. The paper does, however, quote someone at the Commission who said the poor response is not limited to certain areas of Iraq, but is the same throughout the country, reflecting a general aversion on the part of the citizenry to registering for this. No doubt they are starting to look for scapegoats.

(As for the statement attributed to the Baath party, I haven't been able to find any evidence of that either, but that doesn't necessarily mean there wasn't one).

Say it again, Sam

Given that he is a knowledgeable person, it's worth paying attention to what Sam Parker has to say (quoted in footnote one of the linked text) about the Maliki administration (via Reidar Visser):
In a normal parliamentary political system, there is an assumption that the government can be voted out and replaced, that this transition of power will occur peacefully as a result of everyone following the rules. But what if you have a ruling coalition that never intends to share power if it can get away with it, openly flouts parliamentary procedure, owns the "state" security services in a way that is very unlikely to be transferrable, all within a set of governing institutions that has not once experienced a peaceful transition of power? The PTB are trying to lock up and shut down the political system, whatever rudiments of democratic institutions may be formally in place.
The context of his remarks is an explanation of the utility of the powers-that-be/powers-that-aren't phrase as a defining form of shorthand to describe the current Iraqi political situation. But what he is actually describing as the PTB is something that would be more simply described as the startup phase of a military dictatorship.

What does this imply about current US policy? Visser notes (scroll to his entry for August 21) that the US ambassador Crocker has come out in support of what is essentially the Kurdish position on interim arrangements for Kirkuk (namely continuing the current Kurdish control) despite the fact that there was a majority Parliamentary vote for a different, power-sharing interim arrangement. In the LATimes today there is an unambiguous statement by the US military official in charge of the Awakenings file:
"Our goal is that by June 2009, the Sons of Iraq are out of business," said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Kulmayer, who is charged with the Sunni paramilitary file.
So it seems that on the key issues the US is unambiguously backing the PTB: overriding of Parliament on the Kurdish question, and adopting the antagonistic government attitude to the Awakenings--supporting key manifestations, in other words, of what Parker describes as a closed, autocratic system.

What you get by not calling this the startup phase of a military dictatorship, but rather "the powers that be", is the suggestion of a possible form of enlightened and benevolent US policy. Here's how Parker explained that in his post at Marc Lynch's site:
Is supporting this government worth the cost to the US? The interests we sacrifice, the destabilizing role such a government would play in the region, the lives and money, and so on. How much better is it than alternatives that would emerge without our managing of the political scene? I mean that as a serious question, meaning I'm open to the answer to the first question being "yes." If we are going to stick with this general idea, however, we do need to tilt things in the general direction of getting the PTB to let more of the PTA in.
He is suggesting that the benevolent US administration could do more via marginal adjustments to "tilt things" in the direction of softening the intransigence of the "powers that be". If he had spelled out what he now says he meant--that the PTB are a nascent military dictatorship--that would not have made much sense. And it would have brought into much sharper relief the question of US policy with respect to the bilateral negotiations.

So what really is the US position in the current negotiations for a bilateral agreement? I think the indications are that the Bush administration has turned "strategic conditionality" on its head, and is actually supporting this autocratic administration and helping them secure their grip on power, if they will only please just sign something that authorizes the continued US troop-presence.

Keeping up with the news

A Sistani representative made semi-cryptic comments on the bilateral security agreement, but which to my ear suggest the Najaf establishment is on board with a relatively non-specific provision for troop-withdrawals. Here are the bits that Aswat alIraq reports:

Aswat AlIraq: A representative of Ayatollah Sistani, Ahmed al-Safi said in his sermon in Karbala yesterday that the bilateral agreement that is expected to be signed with the United States "should take into account the long-term future of Iraq, and not just the immediate present." He said the agreement includes "mechanisms" and it includes also [word here that means purport, meaning or significance, implying a contrast between outward mechanisms and inner meaning]; and what concerns us is the purport."

He also said: "There is no doubt that the Iraqi authorities have national feelings, but this agreement is of the utmost importance to Iraqis, and it its purport should not focus on just one point of view only; that would be insufficient".

He urged the authorities to take into account the need to avoid "shackling Parliament with an agreement that would make it impossible to solve the problems the country is going through."


Azzaman quotes an unnamed member of the Diyala provincial council to the effect there is a new militia operating in Baquba linked to the governing parties in Baghdad. Their story begins like this:
The Diyala provincial council said yesterday that militias linked to the governing parties in Baghdad are active within the areas of operation of the [official] government forces. A source in the council, who didn't want to be named, said a new armed organization (militia) calling itself the "chosen brigades" is operating to prevent dislocated families from returning to their homes in Baquba...

[The source specified districts where these groups are operating, and adds]: "The appearance of armed groups in areas that the security forces have insisted are 100% secure is an indication of a serious breach that we can't be silent about".


As for the Rice discussions with Maliki and others: AlHayat says the main thing that happened was that Rice showed herself willing to "bargain" in the following sense: She would agree to withdrawal dates of some description being included in the agreement, "in exchange for concessions by the government on the issue of the powers of [the US forces]". As for the dates themselves--2009 for exit from cities; 2011 for exit of combat troops; then 2014 for complete exit from Iraq--it is worth noting that this is the pattern predicted in the July 29 summary by AlHayat. The dates are roughly the same, but the meaning is different, particularly in the following sense: The period 2010 (or 2011) to 2014 is being described by the sources today as a period leading up to "complete withdrawal", but what the earlier summary said was that
this was to be a period during which a permanent agreement would be negotiated, and that the three-year period to 2014 ( or a five-year period as the Americans were asking) was to be a period of guaranteed continuation of American bases etcetera, the actual period, which could be longer but couldn't be shorter, to be negotiated during that period.

This is of course in addition to all the other ambiguities respecting the meaning of "withdrawal from cities", "combat troops", what the "timelines" really mean, and so on.


McClatchy, which earlier attributed the famous Diyala raid to a "rapid reaction force" on what an American military official described as a rogue operation, today quotes the Iraqi interior ministry operations chief as follows:
Abdul Karim Khalaf, an Interior Ministry spokesman who's serving as the interim commander of police in Diyala, described the emergency response unit as a counterterrorism force that's nominally under Interior oversight but with its own chain of command. The name of its leader and the size of its force are classified, he said.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Spinning the non-existent agreement

Bernhard at Moon of Alabama does a good job summarizing some of the crucial points that are missing from the latest round of speculation about the US-Iraq security agreement. In a nutshell, the issues include the weasel-words "combat troops", "conditions", (along with Rice's new expression "aspirational timeline"), and so on. I would only add the following:

The netroots Ackerman-Yglesias duo is touting that idea that (if the reports are true) this will represent a major victory for the left, because:
That plan is right out of the Center for American Progress’ Strategic Redeployment paper of 2005 — get out of the cities, get less visible, move from a combat mission to a training mission, and then go. The left won the Iraq debate. Period.
But the fact is that anything that has been leaked so far is equally consistent with the opposite wing of the Democratic party policy proposals, namely the "conditional engagement"/conditions-based withdrawal line. The godfather of that position is or was social scientist James Fearon, who on the basis of the postulate of an underlying Iraqi "civil war", wrote (in Foreign Affairs March/April 2007):
As long as the Bush administration remains absolutely committed to propping up the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki or a similarly configured successor, the U.S. government will have limited leverage with almost all of the relevant parties. By contrast, moving away from absolute commitment -- for example, by beginning to shift U.S. combat troops out of the central theaters -- would increase U.S. diplomatic and military leverage on almost all fronts. Doing so would not allow the current or the next U.S. administration to bring a quick end to the civil war, which most likely will last for some time. But it would allow the United States to play a balancing role between the combatants that would be more conducive to reaching, in the long run, a stable resolution in which Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish interests are well represented in a decent Iraqi government. If the Iraqis ever manage to settle on the power-sharing agreement that is the objective of current U.S. policy, it will come only after bitter fighting in the civil war that is already under way.
In other words, "get out of the cities," then "play a balancing role between the combatants..." (via troops still based in Iraq but outside of the cities, in bases, as he explains elsewhere). There is a clear family connection linking this position with the current one of Kahl, the AM doctor and others. And it is just as consistent with what has been leaked about the "agreement" as the above-noted "get out of the cities...then go" spin.

So some of the current spin can be explained as a reflection of this internal disagreement within the Democratic party policy clubhouse. Which is also what gives this discussion a good deal of its glossy, superficial character. Both parties leaving out, for instance, the role of the US forces as combatants, and treating them merely as benevolent and neutral arbiters. And leaving out as well, as reader Alex tirelessly reminds us, any analysis of the heart of the Iraqi anti-occupation political reality behind Maliki's reluctance to sign.

I think what is also being missed is the prospect of something even more glossy and superficial, namely how the Republicans would spin an agreement of this ambiguous type. They would sideline the ambiguity of the military points, and trumpet instead the image and the concept of Iraq as having finally become, through Bush's efforts, a US-friendly regime in a difficult area with wonderful economic-development prospects in collaboration with its American friends...

If you think that is too far from reality to serve as a US presidential-campaign issue, think again.

The hidden hands

A statement issued by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs yesterday described an Iraqi army unit's nighttime operation at one of the Labor Ministry's buildings as having been carried out in a way that was "an offense to the state," when what was supposed to be a checking or verification operation turned into break-ins and destruction of authorities' offices, smashing of furniture, and so on. The army said it arrested 100 individuals in that operation "which was based on intelligence", and is currently investigating why they were on the premises. Aswat alIraq publishes the bare bones of the Labor Ministry statement. makes it real:
Eyewitnesses speak of crude and provocative treatment by the members of the National Guard, which reminded them of the methods of the prior regime, in the sense that these National Guard officials lost sight of any standards of moral or civilized behavior, showing themselves like a mercenary force that knows nothing but terrorizing people, intimidating them and tyrannizing over them.

A senior official in the [Labor] Ministry, who didn't want his name mentioned, said "This raid reminded us of the regime of Saddam and his security intelligence people, and it shows that we are living a 'democracy and system of institutions' that is completely false and without reality".

He told Nahrainnet: "I can tell you I was taken aback and in disbelief at what happened, and for a considerable time I was discouraged and I had this strange feeling that Iraq is being controlled by hidden hands, and that what we have been saying and hearing about the [Iraqi] state of institutions is a deception without any reality. And that the real rulers of Iraq are not the ministers and the state authorities, but rather the generals and the security forces that are hidden within the state".
(Once you understand that way of looking at things, you might want to query any American involvement in these hidden hands. In which case please recall the Diyala operation of Monday, where the American involvement has been made clear (a "rogue operation" according to the deputy commander of US forces in the region), and this American involvement has elicited no follow-up whatsoever by those who purport to explain "counterinsurgency" to the American people from some kind of a supposedly progressive standpoint. Preferring instead to push ahead with the story about the American forces as a moderating influence.)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Americans did it (correction: We still don't know. See Saturday post) Now let's forget that and start beating the drums for "sectarian conflict"

The unit that carried out the Diyala raids was the "emergency response unit" of the "multi-national force", according to the spokesman for the commander of Iraqi ground forces, and that makes it an American-run operation. Which obviously requires the covering fire of verbiage, so that "it was what appears to be a rogue operation" (a US spokesman) and the McClatchy editor still leads the story on this by referring to the unit as an "Iraqi special forces unit".

"It was what appears to be a rogue operation. It's definitely concerning that we have an element that would go do something like that," said Brig. Gen. James Boozer, the deputy commander of U.S. forces in northern Iraq, which oversee Diyala.

A spokesman for Gen. Ali Ghaidan, the commander of Iraqi ground forces, told McClatchy that the unit involved was the emergency response unit.

The Multi-National Force-Iraq Web site describes the emergency response unit as a "highly trained 746-man team trained to respond to national-level law enforcement emergencies. Team members undergo a robust eight-week specialized training course specifically developed for the current counter-terrorist fight."

If we add this information to the analysis referred to in the prior post (and discount the "rogue operation" ploy) , the state of the question becomes, not whodunnit, but for what reason, on the basis of what strategy? What would be the American interest in taking out of the picture, in a high-risk operation, the local Diyala official who appears to have been the primary official defender of the local Awakenings, namely Hussein al-Zubaydi, the head of provincial-council security committee and chief rival of the Awakenings-enemy Qureyshi?

This is where the PTB/PTA-based analysis lets us down, and possibly why the excellent recent Diyala analysis seems to have come to a screeching halt. Because it is one thing to say that the question of the Awakenings is a question of struggles for slices of the pie. But why on earth, in that case, would it be in the Americans' interest to launch a high-risk operation to disadvantage the Awakenings in the way that they have done? Unless they see the Awakenings as something other than a self-interested group (powers that aren't) that will eventually wither away in the struggle with the powers that be in Baghdad--the "withering away" hypothesis being the centerpiece, not only of the "Surge is a success" meme (Republicans), but also of the "we plan to withdraw our troops" meme (Democrats).

The most important point is this: If you overlook the Americans' crucial role in this, they you can go ahead and start beating the drums for the story of "sectarian strife", as we can already see this morning. "Escalating sectarian tensions", "Baquba raids roils Sunni-Shiite relations", and so on. Ideal background, you might say, for a final push for the bilateral security agreement.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Whodunnit ?

(1) The state of play:

The Diyala Deputy Governor told Aswat alIraq that the force that killed the governor's secretary, and arrested the head of the local security committee and the president of Diyala University, was a force "of unknown identity". In similar blunt language, the Green Zone newspaper AlSabaah said this morning that no group has "claimed responsibility" for the incident. And the newspaper mentioned this detail as well: The governor's secretary was shot and killed by the intruders when he attempted to alert people at the nearby security-coordinating office of what was going on. That office is currently headed by Abd al-Karim Khalaf, who in addition to being acting Diyala police chief, is also the head of operations for the Interior Ministry nationwide. This, taken together with the subsequent gun-battle between the intruders and Interior Ministry police, could make it difficult for the government to put together an explanation to the effect the fiasco was merely the result of "poor coordination" (as Reidar Visser says it appears they are planning to do).

(2) One suggested conclusion:, a Sadrist news site, reports the incident this way:
[Headed: Forces from the Dirty Squad brake into the office of the Governor of Diyala, kill his secretary and arrest the person responsible for security]. In a deadly security scandal, that exposes the extent of American concealment of government sovereignty and the takeover of military operating decisions from it, a unit of the Dirty Forces, which is supervised by the American occupation forces, broke into the office of the governor of Diyala, Raad Rashid al-Mulla Jawad in Baaquba in the early morning yesterday and killed his personal secretary, arrested the person responsible for security in the provincial council, Hussein al-Zubeidi, and withdrew after a firefight with other Iraqi units.
(The journalist notes that Zubeidi is a member of the Iraqi Islamic Party, headed by Tareq alHashemi, something I note only to underline that there is nothing sectarian here, these are just identifying tags). As for identifying the attacking group in question, he writes:
A senior person in the Defense Ministry admitted that the force that broke into the provincial building is an Iraqi special unit that is linked to the multinational forces," explaining that "it acts under orders from the American forces only, and it does not carry out orders of the ministry of Defense. Hence the problems. We have no knowledge of their movements."
He added that Maliki's announcement of an investigating commission is an attempt to blunt the anger over his.

(3) The local situation explained:

Sam Parker of USIP (writing a guest post in a completely unexpected location), focuses on the relationship between the former police chief Ghanem al-Qurayshi, fired last week by order of the provincial council (a firing supported by the governor), and Hussein al-Zubeidi, head of the provincial council's security committee, the person who was arrested by this so-far unidentified group. They are, or were, rivals, and there seems to be no doubt that Zubeidi's arrest had a lot to do with Qurayshi's firing. Qurayshi is currently ISCI, but earlier he is thought to have had Baathist connections in the security area, and Parker says some said he should have been "de-Baathified". Local Awakening Councils opposed his appointment as police chief, and demonstrated against him, alleging he was involved in kidnapping operations and so on. Zubeidi supported the Awakenings in this, and Parker says Zubeidi's "connection to the Awakenings is almost certainly the reason for his recent arrest."

This naturally raises the question how to explain this enmity between Qurayshi (and his presumed supporters in Baghdad) on the one side, and the governor and provincial council on the other, considering that both sides belong to ISCI. And Parker's suggested solution is that perhaps this comes down to a struggle between the local powers and the Baghdad powers. It is a hypothesis, and Parker sums it up this way:
The lines of conflict in Diyala, apart from the big struggle against AQI, mainly appear to be mostly local vs. central, not ethno-sectarian in nature, or even the expression of national political rivalries on the local level.
Which naturally raises the next question, namely what is the nature of the "central" pole in this: Quraishi, ex-Baath security, now ISCI, opposed by the local Sunni Awakenings and also by the Shiite-dominated provincial council, whose firing is followed up by an attack on his rival from Baghdad by unidentified special forces some say take their orders from the Americans. In an operation for which so far "no group has claimed responsibility".

Premonitions of fitna on the eve of Rice's visit

Diyala, with a Sunni-majority population, has a provincial council is dominated by the SupremeCouncil/Kurdish alliance that supports the Maliki administration, and the governor is Shiite. So when the council fired the Diyala police chief recently responding to allegations from the Sunni majority that he was engaged in sectarian anti-Sunni operations, this appeared on its face to be a case of cross-sect accomodation in the elimination of sectarian antagonism. Reidar Visser tells us "the interior ministry was reportedly unhappy with this decision of the provincial council".

And when, in the predawn of Monday to Tuesday of this week (the case widely reported yesterday), Iraqi government special forces raided and ransacked the offices of the governor and killed his secretary, this appeared to be a case of confrontation between Maliki and a provincial governor belonging to one of his main support-parties.

The special forces went on to arrest two individuals--head of the provincial council committee on security and the president of Diyala University--both of whom are Sunni, and an Islamic Party spokesperson blamed Maliki personally for ordering the operation. English language press reports have focused on the latter Sunni-versus-Shiia theme, completely ignoring the indications pointing in the direction of division within the governing coalition. (Reidar Visser sums up these points in a brief note on his website).

There are a couple of other peculiar features of this, introduced by AlHayat this morning in the following way:
The Diyala security situation deteriorated as a result of fighting at the provincial council [offices] where a "special" military security force broke in and killed the secretary of the governor, arrested the head of the [provincial] security committee and ransacked a number of other official buildings, also arresting the president of Diyala University. The Sunni Acord Front said the force was getting its orders directly from Prime Minister Maliki.

And at a time when informed sources said Baghdad is awaiting a visit by US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice in order to move forward the negotiations on a security agreement with Washington, the American army denied any connection with the events in Diyala, and stressed the return to Iraq of senior militia leaders who had fled to Iran during the security operations in Basra and Mosul.

Security sources in Diyala told AlHayat that [Iraqi] army special forces broke in...[and there is a summary of the above noted killing and arrests]. And the governor Raad al-Mulla Jawad condemned the operation and announced at a press conference a three-day suspension of administrative operations in mourning, and he criticized the force that carried out the operation.
So the bare bones of this, according to the AlHayat account, is that on the eve of a visit by Rice to promote the bilateral security agreement, there is a high-profile operation of uncertain origin, that could be seen as a trigger for re-igniting Sunni-Shiia fitna, and that the US special forces (which are always involved with Iraqi special forces in this kind of operation, as several people have noted) denied any involvement in this one.

Continuing with the AlHayat account:
The Deputy Governor announced yesterday that Maliki has ordered formation of a ministerial committee to investigate the events. The Accord Front laid the responsibility on Maliki, comparing the "special forces" with the "death squads" that have carried out killings and kidnappings dressed in the uniforms of the police and the army. An Accord spokesperson, Salim al-Jubburi, told AlHayat she despises the operations that have been created in Diyala by forces said to have an exclusive relationship with the Prime Minister. She said these operations remind us of the chaos that used to be prevalent, and that will remain an obstacle to the success of the [current] operation "harbingers of the good" in the province of Diyala.
And the journalist explains:
Forces dressed in the uniforms of the police and the army carried out killings and kidnappings on the streets of Baghdad in 2006 and 2007. And the American forces formed a special group that was linked to them [linked to the aforementioned forces dressed in official uniforms] which they called "Brigade 36" but which was popularly called "the dirty tasks group". And some sources draw a link between these [current] events and those groups. But the American army yesterday denied any connection with the events at the provincial government buildings, and spokesman Abdullatif Ryan said the operation was done without the knowledge or assistance of the coalition forces that were nearby.

Prior to these events, no one had mentioned any special force linked to the Prime Minister, but on Sunday [a day before these events] the Iraqi Islamic Party did call for the dissolution of all units special to the Prime Minister and their incorporation into the Interior and Defense Ministries. These developments come a day after Lt General Lloyd Austin, the number two in the American military lineup, said he expects the return of Shiite militia leaders who fled to Iran for training, and who make a habit of disrupting stability.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

iRack (with an additional note)

In an earlier time, you probably could have written popular accounts of Canada and called yourself Dr Canuck, or about the American West or South and called yourself Dr Injun or Dr Nigger. Naturally without being expected give any deep account of the humanity and aspirations of the people in question, and anyway those days are gone by. What then to make of this time-traveller from the nineteenth century writes about Iraq and calls himself Dr iRack?

In the Iraq news this morning, there are a couple of items that tell how Iraqis feel about current events under the American occupation, for instance: Aswat alIraq says the provincial administration in Diyala has shut down for three days "in mourning and in protest" against the killing of a provincial official during a raid by forces of the Iraqi Interior Ministry on the provincial offices, conducting a military campaign in the province "with the logistical support of the American forces." There were similar attacks on Provincial government offices and officials in Amarah recently, also with logistical support from the Americans, and it should also be remembered that the American military and diplomatic officials who were killed at a Sadr City government office in June were there to supervise the anti-Sadrist takeover of a local advisory council there.

American-supported attacks on local-government structures, and the reactions from grief and protest, to bombing, aren't part of the "iRack" story. Nor is the general revulsion against the American occupation. Rather, what we hear this morning is a warning: The Maliki government may have started attacking groups that are America-funded and America-supported. The horror! Everyone who is interested in Iraq "should keep a VERY close eye" on "this story," says our nineteenth-century popular historian. That is "Iraq" through the eyes of the local American military commanders. Or "iRack", I should say. (Don't miss his very feisty defense and counter-attack in the comments).

NOTE: Back on the topic of the actual Iraq, Reider Visser has posted a brief note about Sunday's Interior Ministry raid on the Diyala government offices, noting that the governor is SupremeCouncil (ISCI), and this appears to be another manifestation of a struggle between Maliki and his circle on the one side, and the SupremeCouncil, or parts of it, on the other. (The Diyala police chief who was fired by the provincial council the other day seems to have been close to Maliki, and the move probably displeased the Interior Ministry). There is a lot that is still unclear about the Maliki-SupremeCouncil relationship, so it doesn't seem possible to talk with certainty about the origins, or the implications, of this split in what is supposed to be a unified "powers-that-be" front.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

A peek at the fall-winter fashions

We've all heard of the standard "AlQaeda in Iraq" brand, and of course the crossover "Sunni Arab guerrillas" label, which so memorably fused the badness of AQ with the broad sweep of the "Sunni-Arab" resistance. But times and fashions change, and now there's this new thing Juan calls "Qutbist vigilantes". What is it? The truth is no one really knows. All we know for sure is that it was time for a change and a new look.

"AlQaeda" was obviously getting to have a shopworn feel to it.

And as for "Sunni Arab guerrillas", something interesting happened. Many of them became "Awakenings", thus changing from bad to good. Which is important because that makes Maliki's refusal to hire them a bad thing. Not only a bad thing, but his signature bad thing, and the feature that could well be the hook for a new "Maliki-bad, we can't withdraw the troops just yet" theme. So the broad bad sweep of the "Sunni Arab guerrillas" label became a problem.

If you don't want to get stuck in yesterday, you can't harp on "AlQaeda", and you can't harp on "Sunni Arab guerrillas" either--you need a fresh look. But why "Qutbist vigilantes"? The best I can make out is that the very obscurity of "Qutbist vigilantes" is what makes it attractive. Since nobody knows what it means, you can't say: "Oh they're just harping on that old Qutbist vigilante threat". And you don't risk triggering the old "we have to fight the Qutbist vigilantes over there so we don't have to fight them over here" joke.

In other words, a new look, a fresh start, a new departure.


We've all heard of "government,""opposition", and "resistance". So what's with the new PTA/PTB label that's all the rage? Same thing--it's the fresh look that's important for the new age. In the old days there were groups that resisted the American military occupation, and on the other side, there were the collaborators. But not any more, say the stylists. Nowadays all anybody wants is a slice of the cake, it's human nature. Of course it's paradoxical, but now that the whole country opposes the American occupation, with Maliki in the lead, they're all resistance and none of them is--so there's no more "resistance versus collaboration". It's all PTA versus PTB.

So the fall-fashions story is this: "Sunni Arab guerrillas" has been pulled, the bad guys having been re-branded as something so arcane nobody really knows what it is. Meanwhile, the armed resistance, instead of being lumped in with AQ in the "Sunni Arab guerrillas" label, is now merged with the new-look PTA, hunting for their piece of the cake like all the other PTA groups.

Of course, so much could go wrong! So much, in fact, that obviously it would be imprudent for the US troops to leave. But here's the important point. If the troops actually did leave, you probably think the Maliki administration wouldn't last a day, and the rest of the collaborators would be heading for the exits too. No no no. That's the old story. The new story is (*stifling a yawn*) American "diplomats and commanders", with nothing but stability on their minds, merely making sure the PTA get their fair share. "Strategic conditionality" if you must have a name for it. Or you could think of it as a softer, gentler version of the older "we have to stay to prevent a civil war" look.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Basra group reported starting one-governate federal region campaign

This is a few days old, but Iraqalaan says a meeting of civic leaders in Basra announced on Saturday the commencement of a campaign to earn for the single governate of Basra the status of a federal region (something the constitution provides for under the same provisions as for a federal region of several governates), with a call for citizens to sign a petition, soon to be distributed. This will be presented to the central government with a formal request for a referendum on the issue.

The announcement at the meeting was made by Wail AbdulLatif, described as an independent member of the Iraqi parliament from Basra, and the proposal is being supported by the governor of Basra, Muhammad Musbih al-Waili, who is a senior person in the Fadhila party, which is presumably (and Reidar Visser says in fact it is) supporting the project. A number of academic studies on legal and other aspects of the scheme were presented at the meeting, but there aren't details.

The proponents of the scheme talk about the advantages of being able to provide basic services to the citizenry (something that is not the case now, they say), establish equitable methods for the distribution of wealth, and generally end the political and economic marginalization of Basra under the central Baghdad government. The governor, in his remarks to Iraqalaan said it is true there will be complications and no doubt some failures along the way, but in the long run status as a federal region is the best alternative for the governate.

This news-item doesn't explicitly mention the Fadhila affiliation of the governor, or refer to any particular political-party promotion of the scheme. All the writer says is that there are some blocs in Baghdad that oppose the federal system (outside of Kurdistan region) in principle, like the Iraqi Accord Front, and some that support it in principle, like the Supreme Council, but he adds that the latter party is for a large multi-governate federal region in the South and Center of Iraq.

The purpose of the news-item is merely to introduce the scheme and to note that the promoters are getting ready to distribute the initial petition for signatures. It doesn't talk about the various issues this could raise if it goes ahead--for instance the relationship of Basra to the neighboring provinces of Maysan and Dhi Qar which have been part of earlier talk about a three-governate region of the Southeast; or relationship to the other provinces in the Supreme Council's proposed nine-governate region.

(h/t Ladybird at

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

"Peshmerga will stay in Diyala until there is a Baghdad-Irbil political solution"

AlHayat and AFP report that the Peshmerga unit that is deployed in northern Diyala province has refused an order from the head of the Iraqi army to vacate the area and return to Kurdistan region, on the basis that it responds only to orders from the Kurdish authorities, and so far it has received no such order from them., the Sadrist news-site, calls the standoff a "blatant challenge to the authority of the central government," and it cites some additional remarks, among them this remark by Jabbar Yawar, a Peshmerga spokesman:
"This is a secure area, and is not in need of the Iraqi forces coming in, nor is it in need of a military operation....Our forces were deployed in this area by a request from the American forces and the Iraqi forces, with the aim of protecting Kurdish residents, Shia and Sunni, from terrorist attacks," adding that his forces have made many sacrifices in the course of that.
And there is this from the Kurdish State Minister for Peshmerga Affairs, Jaafar Mustafa:
Our forces will remain in place until such time as there is a political determination made between the political leadership in the [Kurdistan] Region, and the central government in Baghdad."
So it is that what was no doubt thought of as a pragmatic military decision at the time by the Americans (inviting the Peshmerga in) threatens to blow up into an additional political crisis, on top of the Kirkuk issue.


On the topic of crises, AlQuds alArabi warns in its lead editorial this morning that the highly-touted "security improvements" in Iraq are superficial, warning in particular that the Parliamentary vacation this month will be followed by Ramadan (which starts this year on the last day of August or the first of September), a time when some extreme Islamist groups step up their attacks. Moreover:
The political process is threatened with collapse because of worsening differences between Iraqi sects, whether in the Kirkuk crisis and its elections, where the Kurdish parties are threatening to annex it by force to Kurdistan Region, against the fierce opposition of the Turkmen and Arabs--or whether as a result of the threats by the Sadr trend to ignite the security situation if the Americans do not set out a time-schedule for the withdrawal of their forces from Iraq.
On the topic of the bilateral agreement itself, the editorialist says this:
The security agreement might not be finalized in the era of the current American president George Bush and instead be rolled over to the new president, because finalization will be tantamount to suicide for Nuri al-Maliki, given the tremendous opposition to it, not only from his allies in his governing coalition, but also from the Iranians...
All of which, in addition to over-optimism about the demise of AlQaeda and other issues, is by way of stressing that the current "security improvements", while they are big in the propaganda announcements of both governments, are in reality based on a situation that is as desperate as can be.

Badger laments his insufficient Arabic

If I live long enough
Mahmoud Darwish
I'll learn to read your poems, and those of others
But for now I'll take the word of the good people who can already read, who can listen
They say you said the truth and it wasn't cheapened by hate
And the anger wasn't cheapened by false patience

For the most part,
Mahmoud Darwish
In my country those who speak about it aren't our best people
They can't read, and they say what is said to them,
Putting it in the newspapers, and round and round
Mainly they are cowards, relying on the cowardice of many others

If I were you,
Mahmoud Darwish
Here I would raise my hand, and my voice ever so slightly:
"They have built a fortified structure of cowardice, and they live in it"
But not only can they not read
They can't listen, and I am not able to speak

Some day,
Mahmoud Darwish...

"Horizon for reduction and redeployment" = "timeline for withdrawal" ?!!

It was noted earlier here that foreign minister Zebari's widely-publicized remark about a demand for a "very clear ufuq" (horizon: same meaning in Arabic as in English: range of vision) for the withdrawal of the American troops, was rendered "ufuq" in Reuters Arabic, but "timeline" in Reuters English, then "timeline" in the AP version, and "timeline" in the reports by Juan and Marc. And our friends at GG located and posted on Flikr a message from a Reuters Arabic editor to please make it clear in the story that "ufuq" is not "schedule" (see comments toward the end of the "Dhari speaks up..." post). So the uniform use of "timeline" in all the English language versions, and the fact that the issue was raised by a Reuters editor, suggest a decision by the important people reporting in English that in fact "ufuq", or "range of vision" is actually "timeline".

But apparently the "timeline" exaggeration, while swallowed without a problem in the Anglosphere, proved to be something of a PR bridge too far for the Iraqi market. Zebari is quoted today in AlQuds alArabi as follows:
Zebari denied that there is talk of a "time schedule" for the withdrawal of the American forces from Iraq, saying: "What Baghdad is demanding is a time-ufuq [time horizon, or range of vision with respect to timing] for the reduction of the forces, and their re-deployment, according to conditions in the field". Adding that he expects an agreement "soon".

With respect to what has been attributed to remarks of his about an agreement being expected soon with the United States that will define a time-schedule for the withdrawal from Iraq of the American troops, Zebari said, "We are not demanding a time schedule. What we are talking about in some of the announcements is a time horizon for the reduction of the forces and their re-deployment. This [latest] statement was reported in a mistaken way by some of the news agencies and newspapers.

The negotiations are still going on...

For English-language readers, It doesn't matter. The anglo expert/media megaphone has decided and established that the Maliki administration is demanding a "timeline for withdrawal". (Juan, for instance, still refers this morning to
PM Nuri al-Maliki's demand that the US set a timeline for the withdrawal of US troops.
without any reference to Zebari's clarifiation.)


One other note before I head out to enjoy one of our few nice days this summer: The July 22 group is brought together by a number of common policy positions, nicely summarized by Reidar Visser in a comment to the prior post.

Spokespeople for the Kurdish parties and the SupremeCouncil have lost no time in replying to yesterday's AlHayat piece on the July 22 group, the gist of which is that what happened July 22 was a result of failures of coordination between the SupremeCouncil and the Kurdish parties, and these will have to be fixed. But the July 22 movement either doesn't really exist, or else is an attempt to bring down the political process.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

July 22

(I said the wrong month in the original version of this !)

"The July [not June !] 22 forces", AlHayat says, are now recognized as a potential threat to the big-bloc power-structure in the GreenZone, following their successful passage of the special clause for Kirkuk (in the Parliamentary vote on July 22) over the opposition of the big-bloc, an historic first, the AlHayat journalist notes.
What is noteworthy about the July 22 force is that it includes [people from] parliamentary blocs of different sects and races....The expression refers to the groups that voted in favor of [the Kirkuk measure] and in includes members who are Arab and Turkmen, Sunni and Shiia, from the Iraqi List (25 members), the Accord Front (44 members), the Sadr trend (30), the Fadhila party (15) the Front for National Dialog (15) National Reform trend (3), and including also a number of members from the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance. [The numbers in parentheses total 132, and they refer to the total parliamentary representation of the respective blocs, almost all of whose members voted together on July 22].

The force's total membership is 127 [the number that voted together on June 22] and this is approximately half of the Iraqi Parliament membership of 275, which means it would be able to decide the fate of measures and bills that are proposed to Parliament, accepting or rejecting them. Observers think what joins this group together is an attitude of opposition to the orientations of the main governing parties, which formed a little while ago a four-part alliance (Supreme Council and Dawa, along with the two main Kurdish parties).

Izzat al-Shabandar, a spokesman for the Iraqi List said the birth of a political or parliamentary grouping bringing together the July 22 forces reflects an urgent necessity in Iraq today, and it isn't as difficult as some people think...
Still, Shabandar said, there is a lot of work to be done to turn this into a group that is able to deal in a consistent way with all of the important issues that will come up in the coming period of time. The journalist also quotes a member of Jaafari's National Reform trend with a more enthusiastic assessment: "What happened in that session [on July 22]", he told the AlHayat reporter, "was a signpost of change in the political situation in Iraq, indicating that the current stage is a new stage compared to the [era of] polarization and lining-up, and completely different from the sectarian and ethnic basis that has characterized our politics since 2003."

Judging from the comments by leaders in the governing coalition, the new movement isn't something they are prepared to work with. Khalid al-Attiya, a leader of the Supreme Council parliamentary delegation, said the purpose of the new movement is wreck the political process. A Kurdish delegate, Mahmoud Othman, said these are people who have been working for a long time to take away from the attainments of the Kurds.

The new trend is something that Reidar Visser alluded to in some detail in the wake of the July 22 vote. But within the gravitational pull of Washington the movement has been ignored.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Iraqi forces to be ready by the year 2020, according to plan

The following is somewhat fragmentary and short on sources, but I think it makes a couple of important points. (Reading you might say, the newspapers we have, not those we wish we had). Here it is, from Azzaman this morning:
Iraq announced that it has commenced implementing a three-stage plan for the re-arming of its army and security forces and supplying them with medium and heavy weapons, the program to be completed by the year 2020.

The Minister of Defense Abdul Qadir Jasim alUbaydi said the Iraqi army will be capable of carrying out all of its military missions on its own and without relying on any foreign help by the middle of the end of the coming year. But military sources said the length of time of the program [talking now about the above-mentioned rearmament program to end in 2020] is quite long, and during that time the country could experience challenges that is is unable to face [on its own].

And contrary to the statements of Ubaydi, an American report has said that no more than two of the 14 new brigades are ready to fight and bear their responsibilities independently. The other brigades are unable to fight because of lack of weapons, training and support and supply equipment.

The sources [mentioned above, the ones that said 2020 is a long way away and a lot could happen in the meantime] said that the Iraqi forces that participated in the operations in Basra, Sadr City, Amarah and Diwaniya had obtained operational and logistical support from the Americans.
So (1) for logistics and "operational" aspects, the recent operations, from Basra to Diwaniya, were by units that are still reliant on American support. And (2) according to the latest plan, there won't be fully independent military capacity before the year 2020. Which reinforces the points made by knowledgable people in this JWN thread and on an earlier thread here, to the effect that the much-talked-about "withdrawal of combat troops" or "withdrawal to bases" doesn't mean loss of power and control once you consider logistics, air-support, pre-positioned equipment, etcetera. All the more so when the plan is to obtain Iraqi self-sufficiency only by the year 2020.

The journalist goes on to review earlier corruption scandals in military supply and funding, and notes that the Americans have been concerned about arms ending up in the hands of militias rather than the regular army.

Then the journalist quotes a former officer with the rank of brigadier general who spoke about efforts to establish an infrastructure upon which to build the new Iraqi army, but who added: There are some who are still trying to give priority to the militia-istic mentality over the military in structuring the national role for the army.

Two regional views of the Caucusus war

(1) From the "mixed-up US strategy" point of view (AlQuds alArabi)

The South Ossetia war came at a particularly bad time for the US-backed Georgian president Saakashvili, says the AlQuds AlArabi editorialist this morning, because Washington is in the midst of a diplomatic campaign to nurture some kind of international alliance on the issue of pressuring Iran, and a key point in that campaign is winning over Russia. Noting that Bush abandoned his Georgian ally without giving the matter a second thought, the editorialist explains:
The Georgia-Russia war came at the wrong time, not just because it coincided with the Olympics, but also because it coincides with a major American effort aimed at escalation against Iran, and the establishment of a Western consensus for punishing it following its renewed rejection of uranium-enrichment.

The Russian attitude, along with that of China, is thought to be decisive if they are to avoid a repetition of the bitter experience of having launched the war against Iraq without an international consensus, something that turned out to be counterproductive for American unilateralism.

And once again Washington has demonstrated that there is no place for the slogans of democracy and the march of freedom when the issue has to do with the needs of regimes "less than democratic". That's what the Georgian president found out when he called for intervention by the international community, and the calls fell on deaf ears.
Russia, says the editorialist, found in this an opportunity to let Washington know the extent of its anger over NATO expansion in its back yard. And Washington didn't respond in any meaningful way, partly because it has other fish to fry in the form of trying to build consensus against Iran.


(2) From the pipeline-policy point of view (AlAlam)

The Iranian news-site AlAlam published yesterday a lengthy analysis that focused on the pipeline business and Israeli involvement in providing Georgia with large-scale military and other assistance. Its conclusion seems to be that Russia's current aim is to alter the policical and business policies of Georgia, from pro-NATO and support of pipeline planning to serve the interests of Israel, to a pro-Russian stance. So it can't be determined right now whether the war is over or not. They write:
Observers think Moscow would not be concerned about the continued presence of the US-leaning Saakashvili who is trying to join Georgia to NATO, provided he discontinues those projects of his, and the projects of the Western oil companies, including the Israeli companies in extending the Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan pipelines through Georgia to Turkey, and instead agrees to the passage of the Russian oil pipeline.

If Saakashvili agrees to the Russian demands, then Russia would cease its support for the separatists in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. If he does not respond in a way favorable to Russia, then the war will continue and the situation will deteriorate...
You could call it the malleable puppet theory.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Dhari speaks up for the Sadrists

Ladybird at obtained a short video clip of the speech of Harith al-Dhari to the AMSI general meeting in Damascus last week (see also the prior post), and she prepared a transcript of the remarks, where he says the following:
They say that this government has retreated from its sectarianism, namely by striking the Sadrist trend, to provide a "balance" between striking the Sadrist trend on the one hand, and striking Sunnis in various areas on the other.

We say: They are throwing sand in our eyes. This is still a government of sectarian allocations. They struck the Sadr trend because the Sadr trend had come to represent pressure on it, and had become a strong competitor in the coming elections--and because foreign interests from here and there wanted to clip the claws of this movement, because in this movement there are nationalists [wataniun: and in his delivery Dhari dwells on the word] who do not want the partitioning of Iraq; who oppose the occupation and all that goes with it. And that is the reason they struck the Sadr trend, despite what had been done by some of the trend's renegades, some of the sellouts, some of the ignorant, did to their brothers in an earlier period.

Ladybird underlines the importance of this, and adds that so far there isn't any report of this on the AMSI site or apparently anywhere else either. She thinks there could be AMSI-Sadrist talks going on in Syria.

Meanwhile, in a statement read before Friday prayers in Kufa, Sadrist spokesman Salah Obeidi said Moqtada al-Sadr will dissolve the Mahdi Army if the Americans start to withdraw their forces from Iraq according to a defined time-schedule. He also said, according to, that there are feelings that the American forces are serious about setting a time-schedule for their withdrawal from Iraq, and such a move would change the Mahdi Army into a cultural organization, in addition to retaining its military units.

Any bilateral agreement will end up in the trash can: AMSI

The official spokesperson for the Association of Muslim Scholars of Iraq, Mohammed Bashar al-Faydi (spelling corrected), read a statement and answered questions at the conclusion of the AMSI's fifth annual general meeting in Damascus. The statement included the following remarks on the armed resistance:
Sheikh al-Faydi said: The resistance is the sure way to end the occupation and this resistance has not and will not cease or disappear; when it disappeared from Anbar as a result of the projects of the Awakenings that are loyal to the United States, it returned and grew in Mosul, Diyala and other areas of Iraq, and in fact it moved into places where the occupier didn't expect it, like the South of Iraq.

Several Arab countries today maintain support for several of the forces opposing the occupation, and other countries will follow them in that, once the current administration [in Iraq] has been changed, and he said the Arabs will be engaged in the matter of Iraq once the current administration is changed...

He said the fact that the occupation and the parties that benefit from the occupation oppose AMSI's project is of no consequence, "because these parties and this government are the object of popular resentment that has reached its high point, given their theft of billions of dollars from the nation's annual budget....The government... is living its last moments. The occupation, in its own interests, is providing [the government] with life-support, in spite of its considerable irritation with [the government]," and he warned that "once this administration falls, the government will be in its death-throes".
In answer to a question, the spokesman said:
AMSI is not worried about Kurdish separatism. "They will not separate, because in spite of the current political operations, if [the two parties] were to declare separation, the Kurdish people will not support them". He said AMSI has surveys showing over 80% of Kurds in the north don't support the two main parties; and over 60% don't support federalism, adding that the ratio of people in the South rejecting federalism is even higher.
And there was a question about the US-Iraq security agreement.
Whether the government signs the agreement or doesn't sign it, the national forces in Iraq have registered their rejection of any agreement with the occupation, of whatever kind, whether political, military, economic or cultural that is damaging to the sovereignty of Iraq and to its security and to its wealth. The force rejecting the occupation cannot deviate from this principle. If the government wants to sell the occupation, that sale will be null and void, because it doesn't represent reality. The wastepaperbasket is the fate that awaits [any such agreement] on the liberation of Iraq.
(Their own English version is available here, worth a read because he raises a couple of other interesting points as well).

Thursday, August 07, 2008

"Withdrawal" issues

Hani Khalaf, who will be the new head of the Arab League mission in Baghdad, is on a preliminary one-week exploratory visit. Among the interview remarks he made to AlHayat is the following relating to the Iraq-US negotiations for a security agreement. He said:
We are not yet aware of the nature of the agreement, and the Arab League hopes that the agreement will not affect the group of regional equilibriums or Arab interests or Arab national security by establishing permanent military bases. On the principle of brotherliness it is possible for the Iraqi government to make the Arab League familiar with the clauses [of the agreement] that are important for regional security, before signing of the agreement.
Suggesting first of all that he thinks an agreement will be signed, and secondly that the Arab League has no firm idea what is in it, and is concerned first and foremost with the issue of American military bases in Iraq and their impact on regional stability.

He isn't the only one with the Iraq-US security agreement on his mind. There was an AP story today (Thursday July 7) that goes like this:
Iraq and the U.S. are near an agreement on all American combat troops leaving Iraq by October 2010, with the last soldiers out three years after that, two Iraqi officials told The Associated Press on Thursday. U.S. officials, however, insisted no dates had been agreed.
Which, when you compare it with the earlier accounts in AlHayat and AlSabaah suggests where one of the problems lies. The AlHayat reporter said the timetable is going to be for US troops to withdraw to bases by 2010, not to withdraw from Iraq by that date. This, in all probability is what is concealed in the expression "withdrawal of combat troops", and no doubt it is what is on the mind of the Arab League representative: Iraqi government agreement to continuing American military bases in Iraq, if they are anything but withdrawal-stations, will have regional-security implications, so the League would like the Maliki government to be more forthcoming about what it is about to sign.

Americans should be worried too, because what the AP story reflects is an uncritical acceptance of the idea that "withdrawal" has its normal meaning, not the presumed Bush/Maliki meaning of "withdrawal" to bases.

More broadly, the AP story also touts the idea, citing Iraqi sources, of complete withdrawal (not just "combat troops") by three years after the 2010 date. But what the AlHayat reporter said is that a process of negotiating complete withdrawal and/or a permanent treaty would begin in 2010, and what is currently at issue is the length of a guaranteed post-2010 period of continuing US troop presence, whether three years as the Iraqi side wants, or five years as the US side wants.

The AlHayat piece has been studiously ignored by the netroots/expert conglomerate. And when the AlSabaah piece got into the food-chain yesterday and today via Kevin Drum and others, they studiously avoided telling their readers that the paper is a GreenZone mouthpiece and the piece should be read as Maliki-administration spin.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Arab tribes of Kirkuk say they are ready for confrontation

Around 500 Arab leaders in the Kirkuk area met yesterday in Hawija (50 km west of Kirkuk city), including leaders of the Abeed, Jabbur, and AlbouHamdan tribes, and heads of local awakening councils. Their spokesperson, Hussein Ali al-Jabburi said the Arab tribes are "in a state of readiness" (in the event the Kurdish parties persist in their threat of annexation), adding that their tribal relationships "extend to all of the cities of Iraq". The gist of the statement is reported by both AlHayat and AlQuds alArabi, the latter paper in more detail. The AlQuds reporter leads the story this way:
The crisis over the fate of Kirkuk saw further escalation yesterday, with a threat by Arab tribal leaders to use force in defense of the Arabness of the city, in response to the demand of the Kurds for annexation to Iraqi Kurdistan, and [in response to] their forces having surrounded the Arab and Turkmen districts...
The spokesman said: "[We] Arabs have a limited patience, and if we are obliged to confront, then we will do so. We do not want recourse to violence but we are ready, and we have capacity and capability that should not be underestimated."

The journalist points out that Jabburi is also head of his local Awakening. Having expressed his hope that the crisis with the Kurds would not lead to violence, he added: "We do not want violent confrontation; we are part of the political process, and we are fighters against AlQaeda and against criminals...Our concern is the dispossession of the rights of Arabs and the confirmation of the Iraqness of Kirkuk".

There isn't any further information on the actual state of affairs in Kurkuk. The rest of the AlQuds alArabi story is about the failure in Baghdad to agree on the elections law, and the adjournment of Parliament to Sept 9.

The AlHayat story reports even less, including only the gist of the statement by al-Jabburi in addition to the news about the adjournment of Parliament.

Azzaman, for its part, describes the Parliamentary adjournment as an effort to calm the situation in Kirkuk, indicating generalized fear that any any decision could be destabilizing. The Azzaman writer says the adjournment was decided on:
after the security situation in the city deteriorated to the point where it could explode at any moment, with bad security repercussions for all the cities of Iraq, particularly Mosul and Diyala.
He doesn't elaborate.

Peshmerga reportedly on the move

AlHayat: (The background being hawkish statements made by Masoud Barzani at the Irbil airport on his return from talks in Baghdad yesterday):
Within hours of the threat by [Barzani] to incorporate Kirkuk into the Kurdistan region in the event of failure to agree on the matter of the provincial election law, and [within hours of his calling] the parliamentary confirmation of the law (on July 22) "a conspiracy against the Kurds," two brigades of Kurdistan region protection forces (Peshmerga) were being deployed to areas adjacent to the border between the [Kurdistan] region and Kirkuk province, in a way that closed off the road to Arab regions in Baiji or Turkmen regions in Daquq or Taza for movement into the city of Kirkuk. Eyewitnesses told AlHayat that these forces set up roadblocks [where they] raised the Kurdish flag, causing indignation among the residents.
(Recall that in July 2007 there was an announcement that Peshmerga forces, apparently with the agreement of the GreenZone government, were being sent to protect the road between Baiji, where there is a major oil refinery, and Kirkuk, this road being outside of Kurdistan region).

AlHayat adds that the Iraqi defense minister Abdulqadr al-Ubaidi visited Kirkuk yesterday to inspect Iraqi army units there, and held closed meetings with the governor of Kirkuk and the president of the regional council [correction, I meant the provincial council]. Ubaidi is reported to have said that "there isn't a need for additional forces from the Center and South of Iraq, because the security situation in the province is stable, and the security forces in place have shown their fitness".

AlQuds al-Arabi this morning publishes the same report about Peshmerga troop movements and the closing of the Baiji-Kirkuk road, suggesting the two papers had a common source for this. The AlQuds reporter explains that the Kurdish units in question are technically part of the Iraqi forces:
The sources added that members of these two brigades--which were earlier annexed to units of the Iraqi army by virtue of an agreement between the Kurdish government and the central government in Baghdad--raised the Kurdish flag in a way that aroused the indignation of the residents.
The disposition of troops on the ground isn't made crystal clear, but the AlQuds headline puts it this way: "New failure in arriving at a solution to the elections law; Peshmerga encircles Arab and Turkmen districts in Kirkuk".

AlQuds AlArabi adds remarks by a political analyst by the name of Ibrahim AlSumaidaie who warns the country risks a new round of internal fighting, this time of a racial character. He says the Kurdish parties' intransigence is owing to their conviction that they are the balance of power in national politics, something he says is not entirely the case any more. The Kurdish parties could have laid their hand on Kirkuk in the period after the 2003 invasion, he says, but instead they chose to rely on political deals they thought would result in eventually obtaining Kirkuk as a gift.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Monday news roundup

President of the Republic Jalal Talabani left for America on Saturday evening to have that knee looked at again, and Azzaman this morning adds that one of his vice presidents, Tareq al-Hashemi, is in the Turkish capital Ankara recovering from an operation on his nasal cavity that was carried out in that city last week. The other vice-president, Adel AbdulMahdi, the only one of the three who doesn't seem to be in need of foreign medical attention, received on Saturday evening a phone call from president Bush, the "greasy little weasel from Texas", during the course of which Bush reiterated his support for the Iraqi political process. Make of it what you will.

Meanwhile, the GreenZone newspaper AlSabaah says this morning that the GreenZone political leadership have received a new summary of progress in the bilateral talks, adding this:
...the continuing negotiations between the two parties are nearing completion, which could permit the signing of a SOFA security memorandum of agreement in the coming period of time. And the sources, who preferred not to be named, spoke of the attainment of great progress in the talks and the attainment of bilateral in-principle agreement on the withdrawal of American forces during 2010 and 2011, and that these timings are subject to adjustment according to circumstances, and there could be withdrawal mid-2010. [The sources] also explained that there is agreement on the issue of arrests, where the agreement says that all arrests carried out by the American forces will be subject to prior knowledge of the government, and that there will be no violations of the rights of Iraqis. ...The sources added in a telephone call that there is also agreement on prior return of all the American forces to their camps (barracks) and the continuation of training... and supply...
Which, if you compare the recent AlHayat summary, you can easily deconstruct as follows: The American troops might, depending on circumstances, return to their camps ("withdraw") by 2010 or 2011, meanwhile arresting Iraqis with the "prior knowledge of the government", without of course violating their rights by killing any of them, or anything like that. Actual withdrawal from the country, the AlHayat reporter said, would be negotiated starting in 2010 at the earliest, and these talks would include a guaranteed period of non-withdrawal of three or five years.

Back to this morning's AlSabaah account, here is the stinger:
[The sources] stressed that the political leadership has authorized Prime Minister Maliki to sign the memorandum of understanding, following the national[ist] attitudes that he has expressed during the course of these negotiations between Iraq and the United States of America.
In other words, the GreenZone-friendly readers are being told that the vaguely-indicated "political leadership" (actually "political leaderships") have agreed that it won't be necessary to put this through any parlimentary process, because the recent "expressions of nationalist attitudes" has been enough.