Tuesday, December 13, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, so many press lies continue as well (CNN may take the prize today for their re-invention of how a government is formed in Iraq), however, NBC and NPR deserve praise, Iraq's Parliament -- per their Speaker -- is willing to go for "partial immunity," Nouri intends to ignore the UN (and the European Union's) call for more time on Camp Ashraf, another province wants to go semi-autonomous, and more.
Let's start in the US and with some veterans news. US Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and her office notes:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Murray Press Office
Tuesday, December 13, 2011 (202) 224-2834
Senator Murray's Statement on Drop in Veterans Homelessness
(Washington D.C.) -- Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, issued the following statement after the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced that their annual point-in-time survey of veterans homelessness showed an estimated 12% decrease in homeless veterans.
"This is welcome news. It means that the steps we have taken to invest in the HUD-VASH housing voucher program, prioritize veterans employment, and support rapid re-housing efforts are making an impact.
"No one who has made sacrifices to serve our nation should ever be homeless, and this problem should never be ignored. I've been proud to work with the Obama Administration to stem the tide of this national crisis and am pleased that we are moving toward the bold goals they've laid out. We have a long and difficult road ahead, but it's clear that with investments in proven solutions and cooperation between government agencies we are making progress."
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki continues his visit in the US. As Sheikh (Dar Addustour) reports that Nouri has several issues to address in the visit including the issue of trainers and immunity, bilateral relations, garnering US support at the UN for removing Iraq from Chapter VII, security, energy, education, and judicial partnerships and the F16 aircraft order. Sheikh notes the F-16s are in place of the F-18s Iraq wanted but the US wouldn't sign off on due to concerns that technology might be leaked to Iran. Al Rafidayn notes that US Nationcal Security Council spokesperson Tommy Vietor declared yesterday that the US had agreed to sell Iraq a second batch (18) of F-16s.
There's a development on the trainers front. In what Al Mada calls a remarkable development, Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi publicly declared yesterday that Parliament has agreed to grant foreign troops "partial immunity." US talks broke down over one legal reading-- no the official administration reading of the law - that US troops could not stay in Iraq without immunity granted by the Parliament. As negotiations continue, the Parliament is now ready to offer "partial immunity."
CONAN: Though the president cheers his accomplishment, you say not so fast.
KOPPEL: I do say not so fast, and I think he knows better. But he's right, he did make the campaign promise to get all the troops out, and all the troops will be out, save 157 who will be guarding the embassy, and a few hundred U.S. military trainers. But as you pointed out, 16 to 17 thousand others will be remaining behind, and the extraordinary thing, Neal, is we're hearing echoes now of what we heard nine years ago. You know, we can't have that smoking gun be a mushroom cloud. No one is actually using that particular formulation anymore, but the fear of nuclear weapons. The danger of a nation that is supporting terrorism. Oil, which was the great unspoken issue in 2002 and 2003, very much a part of this. The difference, of course, now is that the target is Iran, not Iraq. But the two are very close to one another, and the fact of the matter is that Iran is exercising an enormous influence throughout Iraq. And the oil fields, which have under the surface, they have something - I believe it's the second-largest reserves of any country in the world. That's all very close to Iran, and if Iran were to exercise significant political, let alone military, control in that region, together with their own oil and gas, they would have the capacity to wreak havoc on Western economies.
During the segment, they took calls from listeners and noted Ted's report on last night's Rock Center with Brian Williams(NBC). Here's an excerpt of Ted's report from Iraq and it's where they are discussing the US consulate in Basra.
Ted Koppel: If those Iranian backed militias were to launch a full scale attack on this consulate, would the US calvary ride to the rescue?
US Ambassador James Jeffrey: We depend upon the Iraqis and if we need security support, we will turn to them and we will tell them, "I've got a problem in Basra and you need to help us.
Ted Koppel: The question is will they?
US Ambassador James Jeffrey: I believe they will.
Ted Koppel: That's what an ambassador has to say about his hosts. This is the man who might actually have to deal with that nightmare, Lt Gen Robert Caslan. General, how are you going to get 1320 people out of there? I mean if you've 24 hours notice that something like this was going to happen, you're telling me the Iraqi government would evacuate immediately? Would get them all out of there?
Lt Gen Robert Caslan: I would argue that we do have, in theater, whether it's in Kuwait or elsewhere in theater, that we fall under the central command, Centcom, and I feel confident that Centcom has the necessary assets to take whatever measures they need to to counter that attack.
In addition to the reporting on Rock Center with Brian Williams(there are online features from last night's show including some that are online only, FYI) Brian Williams also spoke with Ted after the report. Excerpt of that.
Brian Williams: I wrote down the words "dangerously exposed?" while watching the piece. So many people speaking through clenched jaws. You can almost hear it in the voice of that Lieutenant Colonel from the 1st cavalry. Why aren't the remaining Americans to be considered dangerously exposed?
Ted Koppel: They are. They are dangerously exposed. And you have to remember, Brian, that the military command in Iraq did not want the US troops heading home. The commanding general asked for 27,000 troops to stay behind. The fact of the matter is, if the Iranians were to launch an attack against the consulate in Basra, you have to be willing to put your money on the Iraqi government. And if the Iraqi government doesn't do it, who else is going to do it? Well as you've heard there are a lot of American troops in that region and I would put my quota on saying, they're coming back and they'll be the ones to evacuate.
Ted is raising serious issues and, to their credit, NPR today and NBC last night (and anchor Brian Williams) were willing to go beyond the nonsense on Iraq that has cluttered up so many networks -- broadcast and cable, commercial and PBS (The NewsHour hasn't done anything like what NPR and NBC have done this week). With Nouri al-Maliki visiting the US right now, you would assume everyone would be trying to offer something deeper than a bumper sticker and platitudes. But that's all the airwaves have been interested in. Some might argue CNN deserves credit for Arwa Damon and Mohammed Tawfeeq's report which includes:
Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq told CNN that he was "shocked" to hear U.S. President Barack Obama greet al-Maliki at the White House on Monday as "the elected leader of a sovereign, self-reliant and democratic Iraq." He said Washington is leaving Iraq "with a dictator" who has ignored a power-sharing agreement, kept control of the country's security forces and rounded up hundreds of people in recent weeks.
"America left Iraq with almost no infrastructure. The political process is going in a very wrong direction, going toward a dictatorship," he said. "People are not going to accept that, and most likely they are going to ask for the division of the country. And this is going to be a disaster. Dividing the country isn't going to be smooth, because dividing the country is going to be a war before that and a war after that."
Any credit the above might get it outweighed by an attempt to distort reality -- either due to time, space or just not being honest. They also insist:
Al-Maliki won a second term as prime minister in 2010 after a months-long dispute among the leading parties in the country's parliamentary elections. Al-Mutlaq's largely secular Iraqiya movement won two more seats than al-Maliki's party, but a merger of the premier's Shiite Muslim slate with a smaller Shiite bloc put him first in line to form a government.
No, that is not what happened and that's grossly embarrassing for CNN. I'm embarrassed for them. The Constitution outlines what happens in the elections. Nouri didn't follow it. He also got an opinion from the court he controls in his favor. Per the Constitution, Ayad Allawi (leader of Iraqiya) had the first crack at forming a government. But Nouri refused to follow the Constitution. The United Nations actually was exploring a request from some Iraqi officials to put a caretaker government in place (during the political stalemate caused by Nouri refusing to step down) but the US government blocked that. I don't expect CNN to tell the truth about what the US government did; however, the Iraqi Constitution is a public document. And how the government is formed following an election is detailed precisely in the Constitution. There's no need to 'invent' or 'improve' upon reality. Just stick to the law. Nouri refused to and CNN refuses today to inform people of that fact.
Nouri's visit ends shortly. His return to Iraq should be very interesting. We're back to Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi's press conference yesterday. In it, Dar Addustour reports, he declared that he and/or members of Parliament -- not Nouri -- was the target of the assassination attempt, he also stated that 15,000 US employees for diplomatic reasons was illogical, and that Nouri will be appearing before Parliament to answer questions regarding the country's military readiness.
Reuters notes a Baghdad roadside bombing claimed the lives of 2 police officers and left five more people (three were police officers) injured, 2 Christians (husband and wife) were shot dead in Mosul, an Ishaqi sticky bombing claimed 2 lives and left three people injured, a Falluja gun and bomb attack in which 3 people died and five were injured (three of the five were judges), 1 police colonel was shot dead in Mosul and a Shirqat sticky bombing claimed the life of 1 police officer. Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) adds, "The judges were headed to Ramadi, where they work. One of them is the chief judge of the criminal court there."
Al Mada reports Diyala Province's provincial council voted Monday to become a semi-autonomous region. Iraq has 18 provinces. Three of them -- Sulaymaniyah, Dahuk and Erbil -- are semi-autonomous and form the Kurdistan Regional Government. Al Mada explains that, following the vote, members of the council held a press conference where they explained that the majority vote of the members meant they had now signed a formal request to move towards semi-autonomy. Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) quotes provincial council member Suhad al Hiyali stating, "There is nothing in the constitution that talks about the necessity of holding an official session for the council to sign the request. We tried every legal way with the central government to have administrational and financial authorities that enable the members to practice their role in helping the people who voted for us. But we failed and that is why we used our last legal right, announcing the region."
Thursday, October 27th, Salahuddin Province's council voted to go semi-autonomous. The next step would be a referendum (that Nouri al-Maliki's government out of Baghdad would have to pay for) and, were the popular vote to back up the council and were the rules followed (always a big if with Nouri as prime minister), Baghdad would control only 14 provinces (of the 18). Friday, October 28th, residents of Anbar Province took to the streets advocating for their province to follow Salahuddin's lead. When Nouri finally issued a public statement on Salahuddin's move, what did he do? Play the B-card. Ahmed Rasheed (Reuters) quoted a statement from Nouri declaring, "The Baath Party aims to use Salahuddin as a safe haven for Baathists and this will not happen thanks to the awareness of people in the province. Federalism is a constitutional issue and Salahuddin provincial council has no right to decide this issue." Yesterday Aswat al-Iraq reported, "Iraqi Parliament Speaker Usama Nujaifi today charged the Cabinet with violating the constitution by rejecting requests to refer Salahal-Din Province's request to declare itself a region to the Election Commission." How could Nouri be violating the Constitution? Back in October, Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) explained, "In actual fact, article 119 of the Iraqi constitution requires only that a referendum be held in a province following a request for regional status by one-third of the members of the provincial council, or one-tenth of the population." From the Iraqi Constitution:
Article 119: One or more governorates shall have the right to organize into a region based on a request to be voted on in a referendum submitted in one of the following two methods: First: A request by one-third of the council members of each governorate intending to form a region. Second: A request by one-tenth of the voters in each of the governorates intending to form a region.
Per the Constitution, Salahuddin Province has already met step one. And met it back in October. Nouri's refusal to follow the next step is what puts him in violation of the Constitution. Attacks on residents of Salahuddin Province may have influenced the decision to go semi-autonomous (some public figures in the province have said it did, some have said it did not). Regardless, it wasn't a smart move on Nouri's part to launch a crackdown on political enemies. Reporting on fears in Salahuddin Province, AP notes, "In Tikrit there's a perception -- right or wrong -- that the national government treats the Sunnis, and especially people from Salahuddin, differently from Shiites." Reporting on that crackdown and on what some have seen as a power grab by Nouri, Jack Healy, Tim Arango and Michael S. Schmidt (New York Times) offer this call on Nouri's claim that the crackdown was needed because of 'Ba'athists' who were out to destroy the government:
"It's highly unlikely to be much validity behind" the coup plot, said a Western official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, to avoid upsetting relations with the Iraqi government. "Baathism here is a symbol that Maliki uses as a bogyman. It gives them the leeway to go around arresting people. It's about a climate of fear."
The Tehran Times reports, "The Iraqi ambassador to Iran has said that according to the 'irreversible decision of Iraq's government all members of Mojahedin Khalq Organization should leave the country by end of 2011." Press TV adds, "In a recent visit to Baghdad, the UN special envoy to Iraq, Martin Kobler, urged Iraqi officials to extend the deadline for MKO presence in Iraq."
Background, Camp Ashraf houses a group of Iranian dissidents (approximately 3,500 people). Iranian dissidents were welcomed to Iraq by Saddam Hussein in 1986 and he gave them Camp Ashraf and six other parcels that they could utilize. In 2003, the US invaded Iraq.The US government had the US military lead negotiations with the residents of Camp Ashraf. The US government wanted the residents to disarm and the US promised protections to the point that US actions turned the residents of Camp Ashraf into protected person under the Geneva Conventions. As 2008 drew to a close, the Bush administration was given assurances from the Iraqi government that they would protect the residents. Yet Nouri al-Maliki ordered the camp attacked twice. July 28, 2009 Nouri launched an attack (while then-US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was on the ground in Iraq). In a report released this summer entitled "Iraqi government must respect and protect rights of Camp Ashraf residents," Amnesty International described this assault, "Barely a month later, on 28-29 July 2009, Iraqi security forces stormed into the camp; at least nine residents were killed and many more were injured. Thirty-six residents who were detained were allegedly tortured and beaten. They were eventually released on 7 October 2009; by then they were in poor health after going on hunger strike." April 8th of this year Nouri again ordered an assault on Camp Ashraf (then-US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was again on the ground in Iraq when the assault took place). Amnesty International described the assault this way, "Earlier this year, on 8 April, Iraqi troops took up positions within the camp using excessive, including lethal, force against residents who tried to resist them. Troops used live ammunition and by the end of the operation some 36 residents, including eight women, were dead and more than 300 others had been wounded. Following international and other protests, the Iraqi government announced that it had appointed a committee to investigate the attack and the killings; however, as on other occasions when the government has announced investigations into allegations of serious human rights violations by its forces, the authorities have yet to disclose the outcome, prompting questions whether any investigation was, in fact, carried out." Nouri al-Maliki is seen as close to the government in Tehran. They have made it clear that they want the dissidents out of Iraq and returned to Iran -- where they would face trial at best, torture most likely. Nouri has announced he will be closing Camp Ashraf at the end of this year. UK MP Brian Binley (Huffington Post) writes, "As things are evolving and if Maliki gets away with his plan to impose the deadline, just as the Christmas and New Year holidays are in full swing, the prospect is that the world will sit and watch while men and women are killed in cold blood or mutilated, crushed by US-supplied armoured personal carriers."
Martin Kobler is the UN Secretary-General's special envoy to Iraq. Attorney Geoffrey Robertson (Daily Beast) shared his opinion of Kobler last week, "The U.S. has abandoned them and UNAMI, the remaining U.N. mission, has been pathetic -- its 'ambassador,' a German diplomat, has refused to meet the residents and has allowed himself to be fobbed off for months by the government. He is not even objecting to Camp Ashraf's closure, but only asking for its residents to be relocated inside Iraq, which would make it easier for more of them to be killed." Kobler offered testimony to the UN Security Council last week and it included three steps that need to be taken.
SRSG Martin Kobler: The Secretary-General has spoken personally to Mr. Maliki to appeal for flexibility and for full support for the UN's efforts to faciliate this peaceful solution the government has assured that it seeks. He has asked me to attach the highest priority to this case. In trying to facilitate a solution, we are emphasizing a number of important points. First, that lives are at stake and must be protected. The government has a responsibility to ensure the safety, security and welfare of the residents. Any forced action that results in bloodshed or loss of lives would be both ill-advised and unacceptable. Second, we believe that any workable solution must be acceptable to both the government of Iraq and to the residents of Camp Ashraf. The solution must respect Iraqi soveriegnty on the one hand and applicable international humanitarian human rights and refugee law on the other hand. Third, a solution must also respect the principle of nonrefoulement. No resident of Camp Ashraf should be returned to his or her home country without consent. While some progess has been made in our latest discussions in Baghdad, many obstacles remain to arriving at a plan that would meet the concerns and requirements of all concerned. Subject to all conditions being met, UNHCR is ready to begin verification and interviews for the purpose of refugee status determination; however, the process will take time to complete and clearly the situation cannot be fully resolved before December 31st. I, therefore, appeal to the government of Iraq to extend this deadline in order to permit adequate time and space for a solution to be found. I also appeal to the leadership and residents of Camp Ashraf to engage constructively and with an open mind to this process. They should give serious consideration to the proposals under discussion. There should be no provocation or violence from their side nor a challenge to Iraqi sovereignty. Finally I appeal to the international community to do more to help. A lasting solution cannot be found and as governments step forward and offer to accept Camp Ashraf residents to resettle in their countries.
Marc Daou (AFP) quotes Brig Gen David Phillips stating, "Initially, when I arrived at Camp Ashraf, I was told simply that they're a foreign terrorist organisation. I tried very hard to get information as to why they are that type of organisation. I was never able to substantiate any of those allegations, [which was] very frustrating for my soldiers and I." Paul Courson (CNN) reports that a protest took place yesterday at the White House and that demonstrators included former US Senator Robert Torricelli and former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge. Torricelli is quoted stating, "When President Obama welcomes Mr. Maliki to the White House he may have noticed something. When he took his hand back, there was blood on it."
And we'll close with something a friend at the State Dept wanted noted. For several years now, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari have been meeting to discuss diplomatic issues and ties for the two countries. Now that the the US has militarized diplomacy, their partnership may be even more significant. The two met again yesterday and, afterwards, spoke briefly with the press (click here for video).
SECRETARY CLINTON: Good afternoon. It's my honor to welcome Iraqi Foreign Minister Zebari and his distinguished delegation here to the third meeting of our political and diplomatic Joint Coordination Committee. We have had a series of very constructive discussions, starting at dinner last night and going through the meetings at the White House with the President, and now here at the State Department. Together, we are opening a new chapter in the relationship between Iraq and the United States under our Strategic Framework Agreement. We believe these are truly historic days for both nations, and as we complete the withdrawal of American troops, we are defining our new partnership with a free and democratic Iraq. Our Strategic Framework Agreement commits our countries to work together on a wide range of issues, from governance and rule of law, to economics and education, to energy and the environment. And we are committed to following through. As Vice President Biden said in Baghdad two weeks ago, we intend to keep our promises. Now, our new beginning is founded in mutual understanding, shared interests, and mutual respect for each other as sovereign equals. We share the same goal, building a self-reliant Iraq with a government that is able to serve the needs of the Iraqi people. And we have made a lot of progress together. Iraq is in charge of its own security and it stands as an important example of democracy in a region experiencing historic transformation and democratic transition. We are very committed to doing everything we can to support this new Iraqi democracy. We are pleased by the steps being taken by the government to secure the country and to protect Iraq's minorities as well. And we are very committed to working with our friends in Iraq to create opportunities for minorities and women to participate in the life of this new country that Iraqis together are building. Likewise, we want to help Iraq increase its voice and engagement on the regional stage. It's one of the most important countries, certainly in the Arab world and in the region. The upcoming summit of the Arab League to be held in Baghdad represents a key step in reestablishing Iraq's status in the region and in the international community. We also want to continue working with Iraq to resolve Iraq's remaining UN Chapter 7 issues. The Joint Coordination Committee has been critical in helping meet several of the requirements, and the United States was proud to help pass three key resolutions at the UN Security Council last December that recognized Iraq's progress. We will continue working with Iraq to address the outstanding issues between Iraq and Kuwait through initiatives such as the Tripartite Commission for Gulf War Missing. We look forward to Iraq taking its rightful place and building strong, peaceful ties with its neighbors. So the Strategic Framework Agreement provides a strong roadmap for us to work together at the highest levels. And we know that there will be challenges ahead, but we will encounter them together as strategic partners and as friends. The United States, Minister, will continue to stand with Iraq and work with the Iraqi people and your government to build a nation that is stable, secure, and prosperous. Thank you very much.
FOREIGN MINISTER ZEBARI: Thank you. Thank you, Madam Secretary. On behalf of myself and my colleague in the delegations, we want to thank you for hosting us. Iraq is committed to an enduring partnership with the United States on the basis of the Strategic Framework Agreement, which is very comprehensive, and in fact, it provides both countries ways for mutual cooperation in the future in many fields in Iraq and the United States. Also, Madam Secretary, we think that the withdrawal of the United States forces in Iraq doesn't mean the withdrawal of U.S. presence and friendship and influence in Iraq. We believe that will continue but in different forms, not through the military means or security means, through the civilian and diplomatic means, which we will carry out. And we want to make sure that your Embassy, your missions will have a secure, healthy environment to work and operate to help us. Also, we appreciate your help and assistance to free Iraq from the sanction regime, from the many Security Council resolutions under Chapter 7. We look forward also to you to help us to finish the remaining Chapter 7 resolutions related to the situation between Iraq and Kuwait. And lastly, Madam Secretary, Iraq nowadays has a say in what's happening -- what goes on in the region. And rest assured that Iraq will be an ally to the United States and a friend, and also committed to enduring partnership.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you so much, Minister Zebari. Thank you very much.