Sunday, April 23, 2006


An Iraqi man carries a young Iraqi girl, killed during a Saturday night clash between militias, Sunday April 23, 2006 in Baqouba, 60 km (35 miles) northeast of Baghdad, Iraq. Note: as is often the case, the only report of this incident is the photo caption. Numerous other photos depicting otherwise unreported events in Iraq can be found here. Bring 'em on: Three U.S. soldiers killed by roadside bomb in Baghdad at 11:30 am Sunday. CentCom gives no further details. Note: This brings the total of U.S. military personnel killed in Iraq to 2,389. Average U.S. military deaths per day in April have been 2.74, the most since November. OTHER SECURITY INCIDENTS Mortar attack on Iraq Defense Ministry kills 5, wounds 3, according to Reuters. AP account of this incident gives death toll as 7. Also reports on 8 additional mortar rounds, apparently attacking the Interior Ministry, which did not result in casualties. Police find the bodies of six young men in Adhamiya, bound and shot in the head. Two Iraqi actors murdered by Islamic militants, troupe's building burned down. Major oil and gas facility in Iraqi Kurdistan is ablaze. No information on whether accident or sabotage is responsible. POLITICAL DEVELOPMENTS WaPo summarizes Parliament action on top officials. Note: Al-Maliki seems, on the record, to be an odd choice to lead a national unity government, but evidently other factions are willing to give the benefit of the doubt, at least publicly.

The prime minister-designate, Jawad al-Maliki, an outspoken advocate for the country's Shiite Muslim majority, will have the colossal task of mending a nation nearly shattered by decades of war, dictatorship and sectarian rivalry. He is joined by a Kurdish president, Jalal Talabani, and a Sunni Arab parliament speaker, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, in a government that reflects a lengthy debate over how power would be divided between the ethnic and sectarian groups that make up Iraq's population. "The great thing will be if I succeed in cementing national unity and regaining security, stability and services," al-Maliki said at a news conference that followed the parliament's meeting in Baghdad. "We have been able to accomplish several things today, and with these accomplishments we shall complete the building of the new Iraq on the basis of freedom, equality, plurality for all." Al-Maliki, 55, also signaled that he was prepared to crack down on Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias responsible for the rise in sectarian violence that threatens to plunge the nation into civil war. "Weapons should be only in the hands of the government," al-Maliki said, noting that laws require militias to be integrated into the nation's security forces. Saturday's meeting of the 275-member parliament, just the second since the election, provided rare and overdue images of political accord against the backdrop of this beleaguered, war-weary country. In the fortified Green Zone's Baghdad Convention Center, still undergoing slow reconstruction and lacking air conditioning, parliamentarians sweated and fanned themselves. Their rhetoric shared a tone of restrained optimism, reflecting the division, violence and lawlessness that have taken the country to the brink of civil war since the vote last year. snip In his new role, al-Maliki must make overtures to the disaffected Sunni Arab community, the backbone of the insurgency. Sunni Arab politicians accepted al-Maliki despite his reputation as a hard-line champion of Shiite rights. Al-Maliki was deputy chairman of a committee formed to purge Saddam allies from political life. Many Sunnis believed the committee's goal was to deny them a role in Iraq. He also was a tough negotiator in deliberations over Iraq's new Constitution, passed last year despite Sunni Arab objections. He resisted U.S. efforts to put more Sunnis on the drafting committee as well as Sunni efforts to dilute provisions giving Shiites and Kurds the power to form semiautonomous ministates in the north and south. Under a deal worked out with Sunnis last year, parliament has four months to consider constitutional amendments, a process likely to strain relations among the ethnic and religious groups at a time when the Americans are pushing for unity. Sunnis and Kurds said al-Maliki would start with a blank slate, unlike al-Jaafari, whom they considered a weak leader during his year as the transitional prime minister. "It's a good step forward, and we will cooperate with him," said Mahmoud Othman, a senior Kurdish politician. "I don't think he's a strong sectarian. Now he's a prime minister, and he has to rule all Iraq, he has to be balanced and objective."
Juan Cole provides English-language synopsis of report in Al-Hayat on voting for Speaker.
Mahmoud al-Mashadani, a Sunni Arab fundamentalist and a physician, received 159 votes out of 256 cast. Note that 159 votes is not all that great. He needed 138 for a simple majority. There was obviously a lot of opposition to him, even though he was apparently running as the only candidate for the post among Sunni Arab delegates! In all the celebratory reporting about the "end" of the "logjam" and the "glimmer" of hope, it appears that no one is stopping to ask how stable the new political process is. If 20 MPs had declined to support him, Mashadani would have failed. Al-Mashadani had been a member of the constitution drafting committee and hated the final product, of which he said, "We have reached a point where this constitution contains the seeds of the division of Iraq." Last December, he told Knight Ridder of Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia, "Perhaps it will be difficult to control them." He was among those who led the charge to unseat outgoing prime minister Ibrahim Jaafari. Since the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance and the Kurdistan Alliance are very committed to the constitution, he is unlikely to get along with them. After a government is formed (if al-Maliki can succeed in putting one together), parliament will have four months to revisit the permanent constitution passed by referendum on October 15. Sunni Arab delegates are determined to overturn the provisions that allow provinces to form confederacies and to claim 100 percent of future oil and other natural resource finds, denying those resources to the federal government. Since Sunni Arabs have no such resources presently, they will be severely disadvantaged by such a system. Since Mashadani is speaker of the house, he will presumably have a certain ability to set the legislative agenda, and to influence the negotiations over the constitution. Al-Hayat reports that in the voting for speaker, 97 blank ballots were cast. Apparently among those who abstained in this way were the delegates of Iyad Allawi's Iraqi National List (25 MPs) and Salih al-Mutlak's National Dialogue Council (11 delegates). These two largely secular parties, which include many ex-Baathist nationalists, were protesting the "sectarian" character of the new government. It will be dominated by Shiite fundamentalists, Sunni fundamentalists, and Kurdish autonomists. Allawi and al-Mutlak and their secular MPs have apparently been cut out of cabinet and other high posts, since their lists garnered so few seats in parliament and the religious parties decline to forgive them for their secularism and the Baathist pasts of many of them. Allawi, for instance, has frequently publicly attacked Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani's influence on Iraqi politics, a stance that inevitably makes him a pariah for most of the fundamentalist Shiites.
Yesterday's LA Times report, just prior to the Parliamentary vote, has some additional observations:
Maliki, a longtime Shiite Islamist, spent the years of Hussein's rule exiled in Iran and Syria. He has publicly accused Sunni politicians of being in league with insurgents and forcefully condemned any suggestion that the government negotiate with rebel Sunni Arab groups.He has relished his role as a vocal proponent of de-Baathification. Mishaan Jaburi, a Sunni legislator facing corruption charges who has endorsed reconciliation with Baathists, once accused Maliki of threatening to dispatch a team of assassins against him. In terms of ideology and personal history, Maliki and Jafari appear to be carbon copies. Both men are in their 50s and hail from the Shiite shrine city of Karbala. Both were idealistic and devout Shiite opponents of Iraq's Sunni Arab rulers and the Baath Party. They became underground members of the Islamic Dawa Party. Both fled into exile in Iran after Hussein came to power. They spent their years abroad as spokesmen for the Dawa Party, once considered a radical group that claimed responsibility for bombings and assassinations against Hussein's government. The two became prominent figures in exile communities from London to Damascus, Syria, as they plotted against Hussein. Both quickly rose to power in the initial months after the U.S.-led invasion three years ago. Jafari became one of 25 members of the Iraqi Governing Council handpicked by Americans, and last year Iraqi legislators elected him prime minister in the transitional government, while Maliki was his trusted and vocal deputy. He was among those who helped hammer out the details of Iraqi sovereignty in 2004 with then-U.S. administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer III. He was a fiery figure during negotiations over the constitution, dismissing Sunni concerns about a charter that redefined Iraq's relationship with the Arab world and its Sunni-dominated past. Jafari, a physician and theologian, agreed to step down only after he was confronted with intense domestic and international pressure. Among several preconditions, he demanded that his successor be a member of the Dawa Party. "Jafari's agreement wasn't without a price," said the aide to one high-level Shiite legislator. "Otherwise the floor might have been opened and another candidate might have been chosen." Maliki holds a master's degree in Arabic language studies and worked in the Iraqi Education Ministry. He became a member of the Dawa Party in his youth and fled to Iran in 1980, moving to Syria in 1987, where he remained until the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. He has three daughters and two sons. In person, he is soft-spoken and even-tempered, working prayer beads as he contemplates questions, his eyes shaded by tinted sunglasses. A frequent talking head on Iraqi and Arab television, he has often been at the forefront of an increasing move among the country's Shiite majority against the U.S. military presence. After a U.S.-backed raid last month on a Shiite house of worship allegedly used to torture and hold kidnapping victims in northern Baghdad, Maliki condemned the U.S. and called for an investigation. In an interview with The Times in February, he accused those who opposed Jafari of acting as dupes for Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador.
DEVELOPMENTS IN THE OCCUPYING POWER Day late and a dollar short department: John Kerry blasts Iraq war, calls dissent patriotic. Note: Shorter John Kerry: "I was for the war before I was against it.
Before a wildly enthusiastic crowd of hundreds at Faneuil Hall yesterday, US Senator John F. Kerry exhorted Americans to speak out against the war in Iraq, declaring that troops are dying because of what he called an inept and deceitful policy orchestrated by the Bush administration. It was the 35th anniversary of the day Kerry, as a young Navy veteran returning from the Mekong Delta in Vietnam, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, famously asking, ''How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" Kerry's case yesterday was much the same: that Americans have a duty to speak out against a war that is sacrificing lives on the ''altar of stubborn pride." ''Presidents and politicians may worry about losing face or losing votes or losing their legacy; it is time to think about young Americans and innocent civilians who are losing their lives," Kerry said, to a thunderous standing ovation. His speech, back on home turf, was billed by aides as a major address on the importance of dissent during wartime. Jabbing his thumb in the air and sweeping his hands across the lectern, Kerry could barely complete three sentences without being interrupted by applause. Standing beneath oil portraits of Samuel Adams, George Washington, and John Quincy Adams, Kerry invoked history, from Congress's attempts in 1798 to silence Thomas Jefferson to Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy's crusade against communism in the 1950s. ''The bedrock of America's greatest advances -- the foundation of what we know today are defining values -- was formed not by cheering things on as they were, but by taking them on and demanding change," Kerry said, again to applause.
Meanwhile, in spite of the new Prime Minister designate, no commitment to reduce U.S. troop levels from the Decider. So what else is new? Former CIA Europe Chief says CIA told administration six months before the invasion of credible intel that Iraq had no Weapons of Mass Destruction™ or, for that matter, Weapons of Mass Destruction™ related program activities.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The former chief of the CIA's European operation is accusing the White House of ignoring the spy agency's doubts that Iraq had a budding nuclear program or weapons of mass destruction as the U.S. prepared for war. "The policy was set. The war in Iraq was coming and they were looking for intelligence to fit into the policy," Tyler Drumheller told CBS' "60 Minutes" for an interview to be broadcast Sunday night. The network released excerpts ahead of the airing. The White House has denied that intelligence, while flawed, was exaggerated or manipulated in the months before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Drumheller, who retired last year, said the White House ignored crucial information from a high and credible source who claimed that there were no active programs for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. "60 Minutes" identified the source as Iraq's foreign minister, Naji Sabri, with whom U.S. spies had made a deal. CIA Director George Tenet delivered the information to President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and other high-ranking officials in September 2002, according to Drumheller. A few days later the administration said it was no longer interested. Drumheller said he was told about the exchange that followed: "And we said, 'Well, what about the intel?' And they said, 'Well, this isn't about intel anymore. This is about regime change.'" CIA spokesman Tom Crispell said Saturday that Drumheller's remarks do not reflect the views of the agency.
Think Progress summarizes pre-war statements by the architects of the Iraq war, and the rewards they have reaped for failure. Max Cleland, while not exactly saying the war was wrong in the first place, says "it is immoral to take advantage of volunteer soldiers by sending them into combat "with no strategy to win and no strategy to end" the war." COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS Note: As usual, the opinions expressed herein are not necessarily those of the editors Commentator Mike Whitney accuses occupying power of deliberately fostering sectarian violence in furtherance of breakup of Iraq Paul Street discusses the U.S. political situation, analyzes the contrast between the unpopularity of the Iraq war and the comparatively limited public protest. Excerpt:
Part of the difference between the first and ongoing/second quagmires, then, is precisely the legacy of the original one, which left Americans' with an especially healthy dose of decent democratic and humanitarian skepticism regarding the proclaimed noble claims and objectives of U.S. foreign policymakers. The unfortunate thing, however, is that public opinion seems considerably less relevant to the making of policy in the early 21st century than it was in the 1960s and 1970s. Part of the difference has to do with the sheer 9/11-enabled and encouraged messianic madness of the current hard-right White House, whose super-authoritarian and militaristic authorities go beyond the at least comparatively rational and politically sensitive Lyndon Baines Johnson and perhaps even beyond the racist and paranoid Richard M. Nixon administration in its determination to force policy down the throats of the mere citizenry. A bigger part has to do with the savage authoritarian fraying and atrophy of communities and institutions: the loss of basic organizational and political connections linking ordinary people to policy and enabling public, democratic, and collective resistance to concentrate power in ways that policymakers cannot afford to ignore (for a useful primer on this tragic inner-American collapse, see William Greider's haunting book, Who Will Tell The People: the Betrayal of American Democracy [1992] See also Noam Chomsky's chilling Failed States: the Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy [April 2006], pp. 204-250). The Iraq war is being conducted by the authoritarian "leaders" of a possibly post-democratic U.S. (see also Gar Alperovitz, America Beyond Capitalism [2005]) in a time when the shocking disconnect between mere public opinion and actual policy in world history's most powerful state endangers the best aspects of the western and U.S political traditions and the very survival of the human species. Mass despair and cynicism, both partially self-fulfilling cause and horrible effect of that supremely dangerous disconnect, are part of why antiwar protests are often so slightly attended these days even as the citizenry has at least privately opposed the second "quagmire" more quickly and widely than it privately opposed Vietnam.
THE DANGEROUS NEIGHBORHOOD Talabani is concerned about Turkish and Iranian troop concentrations on the Iraq border
Turkey has moved thousands of troops to the border region in what its military said was an offensive against Turkish Kurd guerrillas. Iran has also reportedly moved forces to the border, and last week shelled a mountainous region inside Iraq used by Iranian Kurd fighters for infiltration into Iran, according to Iraqi Kurd officials. There were no reports of casualties from Friday's artillery and rocket barrage. Talabani said that so far Iranian and Turkish forces have stayed on their sides of the border. But "I have expressed my concern over these concentrations ... Iraq is a soveriegn independent nation that won't let other nations interfere in its internal affairs," he said at a press conference with U.S. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad in the northern city of Irbil. Turkey has called on the United States to crack down on rebel bases in northern Iraq, but U.S. commanders, struggling to battle Iraqi insurgents elsewhere, have been extremely reticent to fight the rebels, who are based in the remote mountain areas in one of the few stable parts of the country.
Turkey, however, is vowing to bring 'em on.
By SUZAN FRASER | Associated Press April 23, 2006 ANKARA, Turkey (AP) - Turkey's army chief vowed stepped-up offensives against autonomy-seeking Kurdish rebels in comments broadcast Sunday as the military sent thousands of soldiers backed by tanks to its overwhelmingly Kurdish southeast and the Iraqi border. "As long as the PKK exists our operations will continue in ever-increasing intensity," Gen. Yasar Buyukanit, the land forces' commander, told CNN-Turk television in an interview aired Sunday. He was referring to the Kurdistan Workers' Party which has been battling for autonomy since 1984. Buyukanit stressed however, that there was nothing unusual in the troop deployment in the region. "There is nothing extraordinary, there is always some movement in the area," he said. "It is not different from previous years." Asked whether the military planned to cross into northern Iraq in pursuit of PKK rebels there, Buyukanit said: "I am not saying anything."
Quote of the day, "Let freedom reign" department: His Eminence, Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, the supreme religious authority for Shi'ite Msulims in Iraq and worldwide, decrees that gays and lesbians should be killed in the worst manner possible, according to this news article from a London-based gay rights group. A quick search through Sistani's official website turns up this page, translated as: Q: What is the judgement on sodomy and lesbianism? A: "Forbidden. Those involved in the act should be punished. In fact, sodomites should be killed in the worst manner possible." Thus says the Iranian cleric who was nominated by Iraqis for the 2005 Nobel Peace prize. Looking forward to the hate mail. --Iraqi blogger Zeyad Note: I posted fairly early today. I may update if major developments warrant.


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