Friday, December 23, 2011

3 men, 3 women

the war on social security
Isaiah's The World Today Just Nuts "The War on Social Security" above.  Great comic.

Today on The Diane Rehm Show, the first hour guests were Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Major Garrett and Karen Tumulty.   The second hour guests were Susan Glasser, David Sanger and Abderrahim Foukara.

And I'll highlight this section from the second hour:

REHM:  Here's an email from Jack in Birmingham, Ala. "Has the U.S. literally withdrawn all of its troops from Iraq or is there a remnant left for some purpose?"

FOUKARA: I mean, there are two things here, one is that a large contingent of U.S. troops -- I think, at some point, I heard about 40,000 will remain stationed in the Gulf region. Most of those numbers will be in Kuwait, so that's number one, to deal with any other threats by the way not just in Iraq also Iran or any other potential threats.  But the other thing is that the U.S. has the largest embassy than any country has anywhere... 

REHM:  That's got to have about 30,000 people. 

FOUKARA: That's right, that's not going anywhere so you know... 

REHM:  And lots of private contractors? 

FOUKARA:  ...and lots of private contractors. 

REHM:  Now what are those contractors supposed to be doing, Susan? 

GLASSER:  Securing our interests, I guess, but an enormous part of that footprint for the embassy is in the form of security. It is in the form of people with guns so if that's what the caller is asking about, the answer is yes, there are Americans, both uniformed military and contractors with guns in Iraq today.

I told C.I. I'd grab that if she didn't have room for it in the snapshot.  (There was a lot of Iraq talk in the second hour for a change.)

This is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

Friday, December 23, 2011.  Chaos and violence continue, Christmas gets cancelled in Iraq, the Baghdad meet-up gets the axe, Nouri continues to bluster as the political crisis gets deeper, and more.
Stealing from Mike to name an idiot of the week:  Uma Purushothaman. who writes (Daily Pionner), "One of the ways in which the US has left Iraq a better place is that it has nudged the country towards democracy.  The country has had elections and now has an inclusive, elected government." Sorry, Uma, stupidity does not pay (unless you anchor a US commercial, broadcast TV newscast).  Iraq held parliamentary elections March 7, 2010.  But it does not have an inclusive, elected government.  Nouri al-Maliki's slate came in second in those elections, he refused to surrender the post of prime minister, the US backed him in that and he retained the office despite the will of the people, the election results and the country's Constitution.  Sorry, Uma, stupidity isn't pretty.  And for those late to the party on that, we'll ape Mike and quote this from the Independent of London editorial: "The deal Washington did between the Shia, Sunni and Kurdish sections of the Iraqi population was always uneasy.  The danger of its fragmenting, now that the nine-year US and Shia have each been quick to blame the other.  Either way, it is clear that there are strong forces in the country who have been waiting for this moment to make their move to achieve supremacy."  Or you can refer to Ruth, "Because the White House screwed over Iraqiya before. That is who the reporters mean by 'Sunni Muslim minority,' by the way. And, no, Iraqiya is not 'Sunni.' It is a mixture of Sunni and Shia and others as well. They are a non-sectarian slate and are headed by (Shi'ite) Ayad Allawi. Iraqiya came in first in the March 2010 elections so Mr. Allawi should have been given first crack at forming a government as prime minister designate. If he had been successful at forming a government within 30 days, then he would have moved from prime minister designate to prime minister."  And your first hint that there's no democracy in Iraq, or foundation for it, people don't elect exiles, they elect their own.  But, as Marcia has pointed out, the US-created government in Iraq is one of exiles (including Nouri).
Yesterday, Baghdad was slammed with bombings. All week long, ABC, CBS and NBC have chosen to ignore Iraq in the nightly news casts. This despite the fact that Nouri al-Maliki, prime minister and thug, has sworn out an arrest warrant on Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi. This despite the fact that al-Hashemi went to the KRG to meet with officials there and now remains there for his own protection. This despite the fact that Nouri is also attempting to strip Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq of his office (and immunity). This despite both men are members of Iraqiya -- the political slate which won more votes than did Nouri's State of Law -- and both men are Sunni.  When they finally addressed Iraq last night, all three chose not to inform their viewers of anything that Nouri's done and focus on the bombings only.  What commercial broadcast TV wouldn't do, public radio did.  On the second hour of today's Diane Rehm Show (NPR), Diane and her guests Susan Glasser (Foreign Policy), Abderrahim Foukara (Al Jazeera) and David E. Sanger (New York Times) discussed Iraq.  Excerpt.
Susan Glasser: If you look at the political instability racking Iraq --
Diane Rehm: Exactly.
Susan Glasser: -- literally hours and days after the last American troop left and you can see what the scenario is going to look like potentially in Afghanistan, in a place where the threats could be even more directly to US interests.
Diane Rehm: Do we know who's responsible for the worst day of violence that Iraq has seen in more than a year?  Do we know who committed those acts.
Susan Glasser: Well you know you immediately, as in Syria, saw claims from the government that this was al Qaeda related.  And remember, this is in the context -- as David pointed out --  of the widening sort of sectarian violence that has been and will be the context for the political fight that's playing out over who controls Iraq.  Remember that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki who has now gone after Iraq's sitting vice president who is a Sunni, you have the rise of this Shi'ite majority in Iraq and I think that is the context of the political struggle taking place.
Diane Rehm: So how fragile is Iraq's government right now?
Abderrahim Foukara: It seems to me extremely fragile.  It seems to be a self-fulfilling prophecy that when the US was there, people were saying the-the situation currently is what it is because US presence -- because of US presence.  Now that you don't have that US presence, a lot of people are going back and saying US presence was actually the cement that was keeping superficially somewhat Iraq together.  Now that the US is out, it seems that you have to hark back to what happened the time of the surge when the Sunnis in Anbar Province -- who were actually by the way have been the most vocal in celebrating the departure of US troops.  You had the Arab "Awakenings" [Sahwa] there, you had the Arab tribes there, working with the  US government at that time to fight al Qaeda. And everybody at that time was saying, 'Okay, the surge has worked.  But it has also given various parties in Iraq time to actually reassemble their strength and once the US is out, you are going to see a surge of the violence including the sectarian violence. So right now, Iraq looks --
Diane Rehm and Abderrahim Foukara (together): -- very fragile.
Diane Rehm: And do you see that fragility really turning back into what could be described as civil war?
Susan Glasser: You know I think that has to be a real possibility.  As we're talking, I'm thinking about this conversation merging Iraq and Afghanistan, I can't help think of what happened in Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989 and what you had was first a political crisis and many thought that [Mohammed] Najibullah, who was the Soviet-installed ruler of Afghanistan, wouldn't last out the year.  He managed to but at the cost of literally a sort of  cycle of violence that the country has not gotten out of yet and of course ultimately with his body being dragged through the streets.  And you know, these scenarios are very real.
[. . .]
Abderrahim Foukara: Just wanting to go back to Iraq and the possibility of specter of civil war.  Yes, that's one possible scenario.  The other possible scenario -- and remember that when Saddam [Hussein, former president of Iraq] was in power, one of the main pieces of rationale that he gave for being the tough guy, dictator that he was is that Iraq could only work if it had a tough guy leading it. And I think the other scenario that we could be looking at now is Maliki turning into that tough guy to hold Iraq together which would be goodbye to any talk or any hope of a democratic Iraq even in -- even in the long future. And I think Maliki has so far shown all the signs that he wants to be another Saddam of a kind.  Whether he will actually be forced to go all the way there, we don't know.  But he's showing signs of that.
Susan Glasser: Well, you know, in fact, that's exactly what the political opposition to him is calling him already: The Shi'ite Saddam.  We had an interview this week with Vice President Hashemi who is now seeking refuge in Kurdistan in order not to be arrested by -- by supposedly his partner in the government and that's exactly what he said.  He said not only is Maliki turning into Saddam but he was making the case, and it shows you how inflammatory the rhetoric has become, he said, "Well actually Maliki's worse than Saddam," you know, in this interview with us because Saddam brought this stability.  But I have to say, take this with a grain of salt, right? This is what every tough guy says in order to justify his dictatorship.  Remember, I'm thinking about Russia and what is it that Vladmir Putin said a dozen years ago when he came to power? He said, 'Well, it's time for us to restore stability, we need to have a strong hand again to govern Russia. It's the only way to keep the state intact..'
Before we move further, a few things to note.  Twice this week, we quoted from Deborah Amos' "Confusion, Contradiction and Irony: The Iraqi Media in 2010," Harvard's Joan Shorenstein Center.  Deborah Amos is with NPR and the author of one of 2010's important books  Eclipse of the Sunnis: Power, Exile, and Upheaval in the Middle East which I wished we linked to.  (One day we did and there wasn't room.  Also a similar note was supposed to go in yesterday's snapshot but was cut for space.)  Second, Wednesday's snapshot included: "In other news, Arwa Damon and Wolf Blitzer (CNN) report that, yes, indeed, CIA Director David Petraeus was just in Iraq."  What rumors, a few e-mails asked?  Since it was in the first paragraph (after the introduction) of Tuesday's snapshot:
How bad are things in Iraq right now?  Reidar Visser (Iraq and Gulf Analysis) notes a rumor,  "The reported appearance of CIA director David Patraeus at a meeting of Iraqiyya yesterday seems somewhat extraordinary. If true, it could be indicative of how Washington sees the situation in Iraq after the withdrawal. Critics will claim that after two years dominated by Joe Biden diplomacy, it is perhaps somewhat late in the day to begin sending competent special envoys to Iraq."  The rumor may have truth to it, it may be completely false.  But its very existence, it merely being uttered goes to just how out of control things are in Iraq.
Reidar Visser had first reported the rumors that were confirmed the following day. On yesterday's bombing, Raheem Salman and Alexandra Zavis (Los Angeles Times) explain:
Sirens wailed, smoke billowed and blood pooled on the pavement.
The scenes of devastation were all too familiar after more than a dozen explosions ripped through the Iraqi capital Thursday, killing at least 60 people and injuring nearly 200, just days after the last U.S. troops left the country.
[. . .]
By nightfall, fear gripped the city and some residents were already talking about the need to arm themselves again.
CARBERRY: Ahmed Mahdi is a 22-year-old who's selling chickpeas from a cart outside the cafe. He says the explosions were the result of the political crisis that erupted last weekend just as the last American convoy was packing to leave. Word came out of an arrest warrant against the Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi. The government of Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has accused Hashemi of running assassination squads that have killed political and military officials.
MAHDI: (Foreign language spoken)
CARBERRY: Ahmed Mahdi believes that supporters of the embattled Sunni politicians carried out the bombings. Sectarianism has been on the rise and there's fear that things may be reaching critical mass.
Aswat al-Iraq reports, "Civil Society Forum (CSF) shouldered Iraqi politicians and the three presidencies the responsibility of the bloody explosion which hit Baghdad yesterday.  CFS regarded these explosions as a reflection of the failure of Iraqi politicans, following US forces withdrawal."
Hashemi has vehemently denied the charges against him, arguing that they are politically motivated and yet another effort by Maliki to consolidate power. When asked if Maliki has become a Saddam-like figure since assuming power in 2006, as fellow Iraqiya leaders Saleh al-Mutlak and Iyad Allawi have suggested, Hashemi noted that "many of Saddam's behaviors are now being exercised by Maliki unfortunately." But he added that Saddam rebuilt Iraq in six months after the invasion of Kuwait and the Gulf War in the early 1990s. In contrast, under Maliki's leadership, Hashemi pointed out, the consulting firm Mercer ranked Baghdad the worst city in the world in terms of quality of life.
That isn't saying Nouri is worse than Saddam.  There is nothing in the interview that meets that claim and Susan Glasser must have been confused.  However, those saying he is worse have many reasons to say so.  Though Diane Rehm laughed at the thought of Nouri as worse than Hussein, it's not off-base.  When Saddam Hussein had US support (as Nouri does),  Saddam wasn't repeatedly exposed as a torturer publicly.  What Saddam early on had to do in secret, Nouri's done as the world watches.  That's only one way that Nouri is worse than Saddam.  Many groups can claim a better life under Saddam (and have, check the public record) than under Nouri.  Those include Iraqi Jews which can now be counted on only two hands, Palestinians in Iraq, women in Iraq, and many more groups.  Back to the interview of Tareq al-Hashemi:
"Now everything is in his hands: the ministry of defense, the ministry of the interior, intelligence, national security," Hashemi claimed. He wants his case transferred to Kurdistan because he doesn't think Iraq's judicial system is independent. Instead of judiciary authorities responding to his appeal, the vice president notes, Maliki himself shot down the request during his press conference yesterday, calling instead for Kurdish officials to hand over Hashemi. "The judicial system is really in his pocket," Hashemi argued.
When asked if Maliki is also in Iran's pocket, Hashemi responded that the prime minister "is very close to Iran" and that Iraqiya's Allawi -- not Maliki -- would be prime minister now if not for the "interference of Iran." When Iraqi leaders agreed to a power-sharing deal last year, Hashemi said, "Iran actively supported Maliki, and we discovered in due course that the United States also supported Maliki. Whether this was a coincidence or deliberate or behind-the-scenes coordination I don't know. But this is what happened."
Hashemi says he had a brief telephone conversation with U.S. ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey when the American diplomat cut short his holiday vacation and rushed back to Baghdad to help resolve the current standoff. "I asked him to do his best and try to reach some sort of compromises and try to accommodate this crisis," Hashemi explained. "He promised me to do his utmost and talk to Maliki." Hashemi says Ambassador Jeffrey also suggested that he would come and meet with the vice president in person, though this has yet to happen.
So that's Jeffrey, US Vice President Joe Biden, CIA Director David Petraeus and General Ray Odierno that have all been attempting to aid in solving the crisis.  Geoff Dyer and Borou Daragahi (Financial Times of London) note that while these people are attempting contact, it is the huge number of employees of the US State Dept's Iraq branch (militarized) that the White House is pinning their hopes on.  Aswat al-Iraq reports, "Ahrar bloc MP described the statements of US vice-president Joe Biden on Hashimi's case as 'an avowed intervention in Iraqi internal affairs'."  The Wheeling Intelligencer editorializes that the US government better have a plan for Americans who will remain in Iraq, "But as we have pointed out, many Americans remain in harm's way there. About 16,000 diplomats, contractors and security personnel remain in Iraq. At some point, anti-American terrorists probably will target them."
Rebecca Santana (AP) interviews al-Hashemi today and quotes him stating, "Definitely, he [Nouri] is going to concentrate on the Sunni community because they are the society, the community of Tariq al-Hashemi so they are going to suffer. He is trying to escalate the tension, making life very, very difficult for our provinces, to our people.  [. . .] He doesn't believe in compromises. He doesn't believe in peaceful solutions to the problems. He's going to use the Iraqi army and the security for more repression."
Ghazwan Hassan (Reuters) reports that protests took place in Baiji, Ramadi, Samarra and Qaim today against Nouri al-Maliki and his targeting of Sunnis while Aswat al-Iraq notes 500 people gathered in Baghdad's Tahir Square "calling to hadn over vice-president Tarqi al-Hashimi to justice." No reports of attacks, of course, because when Nouri sends his employees to Tahrir Square, they aren't treated the way real protesters are.  Real protesters are beaten up by the police, kidnapped, tortured.  Nouri's employees are encouraged to protest and are rewarded for it.   Meanwhile Alsumaria TV reports Nouri is calling for the US to turn over tools of destruction to him quickly citing yesterday's bmbings as one reason.  Another reason would be his ability to target enemies more quickly and deadly with such tools.
While Nouri's paid employees demand Tareq al-Hashemi be returned to Baghdad, Al Mada reports that Parliament is stating that the law is not clear on this issue.  Nouri has stated, "Kurdistan has to hand over the wanted. The abstention of handing Hashemi or allowing him to escape will only cause problems," Maliki stressed adding that Kurdistan should not contribute to the escape of wanted."  Last night, Trina shared her opinion that Tareq al-Hashemi could not get a fair trial in Baghdad.  Stan's also expressed his doubt on that this week when he noted "Dan Morse ('Washington Post') reports, 'Tariq al-Hashimi said he was ready to stand trial, but only in the semiautonomous region of Kurdistan, the area to which he has fled. His statement raised the possibility of the Kurds being dragged into the political battle that has broken out between Shiite and Sunni factions of the country's central government'.''  Again, Iraqi lawmakers say the law is unclear on that point.  As Ann noted last night, the Kurds are less covered in this political crisis and she noted this from Sam Dagher (Wall St. Journal):

The Kurds, mostly Sunni Muslims who are ethnically distinct from the Arabs who dominate the rest of Iraq, find themselves once more in the position of exploiting sectarian divisions among Arabs.
The Kurds also have a stake in the political conflict. They seek to maintain, and expand, their virtual state-within-a-state in northern Iraq, which they have built largely beyond the central government's control. Both sides have long been at loggerheads over a law that would govern how oil revenues are to be shared in the country.
U.S. officials have pressed Iraqi leaders to overcome their differences. On Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden called Iraqi President Jalal Talabani to offer support for his efforts to foster dialogue, the White House said.
Al Rafidayn reports that the scheduled meet-up of the political blocs in Baghdad today to address these issues was cancelled.
In other news, Alsumaria TV reports, "Iraqi Archbishop of Chaldeans in Kirkuk and Sulaymaniah Louis Sako announced, on Wednesday, that Christians in Kirkuk decided to mark the season of Christmas in church masses and cancel Christmas celebrations due to Iraq's crisis and the continuous targeting of Christians." Peter Wilson (The Australian) reports:

Human Rights Watch estimates that more than 70 per cent of Iraq's Christians have fled their homes since the 2003 invasion.
Statistics are unreliable but the Christian population is believed to have crashed from about 1.4 million to less than 500,000, with many of those who are still in the country having sought refuge in Christian-heavy parts of Kurdistan in northern Iraq.
Mr [Ra'ad] Emmanuel [head of the Iraqi Christian Endowment] said the southern city of Basra had been virtually abandoned by Christians and there had been repeated church bombings, kidnaps and assassinations in Baghdad.
Early this week, several Christian teenagers wandered quietly inside the gutted church of Our Lady of Salvation in central Baghdad, shaking their heads at the hundreds of bullet holes left by a massacre in November last year.

Aid to the Church in Need quotes the Archbishop of Kirkuk, Louis Sako, stating, "Midnight Christmas Mass has been cancelled in Baghdad, Mosul and Kirkuk as a consequence of the never-ending assassinations of Christians and the attack against Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cathedral on 31st October, which killed 57 people." Yesterday's Baghdad bombings are also impacting the way people feel in terms of safety. Marwan Ibrahim (AFP) notes the claims that Iraq could take care of its internal security now ring hollow to some Iraqi Christians and quotes Slvan Youhanna Matti -- whose sons have already sought shelter in Belgium, Lebanon and Sweden -- stating, "I am only staying in Kirkuk temporarily -- I am waiting to leave at any second. Christians who are leaving Baghdad for Kirkuk or Kurdistan consider those places just temporary stops before they leave for good. The future is unknown, and sectarian and religious conflict hurts our confidence in the situation, especially after the US departure."

Barack declared 'progress' and praised thug Nouri. This is progress?

Someone needs to ask Barack Obama exactly how Iraqi Christians not being able to publicly observe their faith's holiest day qualifies as progress?

While the evening newscasts on broadcast, commercial TV ignored the political crisis in Iraq, PBS' The NewsHour covered Iraq with two segments on Tuesday (here and here), in the news wrap on Wednesday,  an ITN report by Inigo Gilmore Thursday covering the bombings and  Jeffrey Brown moderated a discussion of whether or not the US should have remained in Iraq. Former NSC-er Meghan O'Sullivan supported a longer stay while former Air Force officer John Mearsheimer didn't.  (All NewsHour segments are text, audio and video.)  Isaiah's The World Today Just Nuts "The War on Social Security" went up today and we'll close with this from Helen Thomas' "Iraq War Ends, But Questions Remain" (Falls Church News-Press):

Obama, who followed Bush in the White House, had one chance to pull out of Iraq the day after he took over the presidency. At that time, he was very popular and he could have moved boldly to end the wars. Instead, he chose a losing policy.
The war toll for American servicemembers includes 4,700 dead and tens of thousands wounded. The American people have been passive to fact that thousands of men and women who have gone half way around the world to fight Iraqis - none of whom were involved in the 9-11 attacks.
Hussein was anathema to the United States and Israel, who targeted him as public enemy number one. Following Israel's footsteps, we have now turned our attention to Iran and its plans to become a nuclear power.
The financial cost of the war is estimated to be somewhere between $800 billion and $1 trillion.
We are leaving Iraq not with a bang but a whimper.

3 men, 2 women

The first hour of today's Diane Rehm Show (NPR), the guests were Anthony Fauci, Ruth Faden, Michael Osterholm and Bruce Alberts.  The second hour was Simon Dinnerstein.

As Iraq continues to be in a political crisis, I found a section on the Kurds in this report by Sam Dagher:

The Kurds, mostly Sunni Muslims who are ethnically distinct from the Arabs who dominate the rest of Iraq, find themselves once more in the position of exploiting sectarian divisions among Arabs.
The Kurds also have a stake in the political conflict. They seek to maintain, and expand, their virtual state-within-a-state in northern Iraq, which they have built largely beyond the central government's control. Both sides have long been at loggerheads over a law that would govern how oil revenues are to be shared in the country.
U.S. officials have pressed Iraqi leaders to overcome their differences. On Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden called Iraqi President Jalal Talabani to offer support for his efforts to foster dialogue, the White House said.

This is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

Thursday, December 22, 2011.  Chaos and violence continue, Baghdad is slammed with bombings, the White House talks Iraq 'progress,' and more.
Bagdad is slammed with bombings and Jay Carney has achieved a rare feat -- making people miss the White House spokesperson stylings of Robert Gibbs.  "Attempts such as this," Carney said at the White House today of the bombings, "to derail Iraq's continued progress will fail."
Earlier this month, December 6th, the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative for Iraq Martin Kobler appeared before the UN Security Council discussed the situation in Iraq (link is streaming).  Among his remarks?
SRSG Martin Kobler: Iraqi leaders should overcome the current standstill in the appointment of the security ministries and resolve other issues involving the government formation process.  Some of the pressing details of yesterday remain the same today.  They are covered in greater detail in the report of the Secretary-General and include wealth distribution and power sharing, delivery and access to basic services, strained relations between communities that have lived together in Iraq for centuries as well as unresolved issues between Iraq and Kuwait.
Someone needs to ask Jay Carney: What progress?
AFP explores women's status in Iraq and notes how it has fallen from a high for the region to a nightmare (my term) today.  Excerpt:
Safia al-Souhail, an MP who ran in March 2010 elections on Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's State of Law slate but has since defected and is now an independent, said US forces made some progress, but did not do enough in the immediate aftermath of the invasion.
"They were always giving excuses that our society would not accept it," she said. "Our society is still wondering why the Americans did not support women leaders who were recognised by the Iraqi people."
She lamented that Maliki had completed a recent official visit to Washington without a single woman in his delegation, describing it as a "shame on Iraq". Indeed, only one woman sits in Maliki's national unity cabinet, Ibtihal al-Zaidi, the minister of state for women's affairs.

But no one in the press wanted to note that, did they?  No one in the US press, all giddy like school girls in the audience of The Ed Sullivan Show as the Beatles take the stage, wanted to point out that reality or how it signified the decling status of women in Iraq.  With very few exceptions, they wanted to treat thug Nouri as if he were Nelson Mandela instead of Augusto Pinochet reborn.
Want a big laugh? Appearing at the November 30th hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, the State Dept's Brooke Darby insisted that the State Dept needs billions of dollars -- and maybe for 8 years or more (she refused to answer US House Rep Gary Ackerman's question) -- because training the police was important . . . to women's rights.
That's laughable.  It's especially laughable that the State Dept finally wants to weigh in on women's rights nearly nine years after the Iraq War started.  And the key to women's rights, the State Dept appears to believe, is in how the Iraqi police are trained.  Couldn't care about women's rights when the Iraqi Constitution was being written or when Iraqi women were in the streets protesting the attempts to strip them of their legal rights.  But now, when they want to spend billions and billions of US tax payer dollars for years and years to train the Iraqi police, the US State Dept insists that this program is needed and it's needed to advance the rights of women.
Christians around the world prepare to celebrate one of their holy days but in Iraq, Catholic News Service reports, "Chaldean Catholic officials have canceled traditional Christmas Eve midnight Masses because of security risks.  Chaldean Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk in northern Iraq told the agency Aid to the Church in Need that Christians will spend Christmas in 'great fear' because of the risk of new attacks."
What progress?
Robert Koehler (Newsday) observes, "The war is over, sort of, but the Big Lie marches on: that democracy is flowering in Iraq, that America is stronger and more secure than ever, that doing what's right is the prime motivator of all our military action."
Baghdad is slammed with bombings today leaving many dead and injured?
What progress?
Early today Ziad Tarek, spokesperson for the Ministry of Health, was telling Alsumaria TV, "Baghdad hospitals received this morning bodies of 49 dead and 167 wounded, following explosions that occurred in different regions of Baghdad."  Prashant Rao (AFP)explains in this France 24 video, "All over the city, both majority Sunni and majority Shia areas have been targeted in mostly bomb attacks [. . .] basically all over Baghdad, we've seen multiple attacks."  Charlie D'Agata (The Early Show, CBS News) reports, "The first explosion rang out just after dawn. Then came another. And another. Iraqi officials counted at least 14 blasts throughout Baghdad during the morning rush hour. The targets were indiscriminate. Roadside bombs and car bombs struck everything from neighborhood markets to police stations. A suicide bomber in an ambulance killed 18 people alone."
Richard Spencer (Telegraph of London) notes, "The worst single incident this morning was a suicide attack near a government office in which a stolen ambulance packed with explosives was detonated by its driver, sending debris into the air and into the grounds of a nearby kindergarten. Police said at least 18 people were killed in that bombing alone." Al Rafidayn reports that one Ali Abu Nailah, Iraqi Central Bank Consultant, is thought to have been targeted with a bombing on his convoy just outside of Baghdad (Nailah survived without injury but one of his bodyguards was injured). Sam Dagher and Ali Nabhan (Wall St. Journal) note, "The latest spasm of violence came one day after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki warned his coalition partners that any moves to bring down the government would unravel the political system and lead to a situation where the majority Shiites decide the shape of the government on their own." Qassim Abdul-Zahra (AP) offers, "The bombings may be linked more to the U.S. withdrawal than the political crisis, but all together the developments heighten fears of a new round of sectarian bloodshed like the one a few years ago that pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war." Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports, "The explosions occurred in a variety of locations around the Iraqi capital, some Shiite and others Sunni, giving no clear indication who was behind it. The casualties were believed to be almost entirely civilians."  Dan Morse and Aziz Alwan (Washington Post) count 17 bombings, 65 dead and 207 injured while Kareem Raheem (Reuters) notes the death toll has risen to 72.
In other violence, Reuters notes 1 bodyguard shot dead in Baquba, 1 corpse discovered in Mosul, a Mosul sticky bombing injured one police officer, a Mosul roadside bombing injured one woman, an attack on a Mosul checkpoint left a police officer injured, a Baquba home invasion resulted in 5 deaths (parents and three children), 1 corpse discovered in Kirkuk, a Jurf al-Sakhar roadside bombing left three people injured and an attack on a Mussayab checkpoint left two Sahwa dead.
The dead in Baghdad were still being counted when Nouri al-Maliki attempted to make political hay out of the tragedy. Xiong Tong (Xinhua) reports, "Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said that Thursday's series of bomb attacks in Baghdad were politically motivated, pledging that the attacks will not pass without punishment." US Senator John McCain was already booked on The Early Show (CBS News) to talk about the payroll tax and the GOP's presidential nominee race. We'll note this from the opening of the segment.

Senator John McCain: Thank you, good to be with you and before we go on we are paying a very heavy price in Baghdad because of our failure to have a residual force there. It's unraveling. I'm deeply disturbed about events but not surprised.

Chris Wragge: Well that's what I wanted to ask you about -- we'll talk about the payroll tax in just a second but that was the first question I was going to pose to you this morning. When you heard about these cooridnated attacks in and around Baghdad was this a kind of I-told-you-so moment, did you feel in your estimation?

Senator John McCain: I'm afraid so. I'd hoped not. But it was pretty obvious that if we did not have a residual force there that things could unravel very quickly. All of us knew that. The president campaigned saying he would bring around the end of the war. They've already got propaganda out there called "Promises Kept." And he made some very interesting comments about we're leaving behind a stable Iraq which we know is obviously not true. We needed the residual force there. It's not there. Now things are unraveling tragically.

Chris Wragge: How big a mistake do you see this for the president?

Senator John McCain: Well I don't know about the president but I know the Iraqi people may be subject to the news reports that you just quoted this morning and it's tragic for them. And of course, as you mentioned on the lead-in, we did 4,474 young Americans died there. It's really sad the way that they have -- As General [John] Keane said, "We won the war and we're losing the peace."

I know McCain and I know and like Senator Lindsey Graham.  The two of them issued a joint-statement on Iraq yesterday:

We are alarmed by recent developments in Iraq, most recently the warrant issued today by the Maliki government for the arrest of Sunni Vice President Tariq al Hashimi. This is a clear sign that the fragile political accommodation made possible by the surge of 2007, which ended large-scale sectarian violence in Iraq, is now unraveling. This crisis has been precipitated in large measure by the failure and unwillingness of the Obama Administration to reach an agreement with the Iraqi government for a residual presence of U.S. forces in Iraq, thereby depriving Iraq of the stabilizing influence of the U.S. military and diminishing the ability of the United States to support Iraq.
If Iraq slides back into sectarian violence, the consequences will be catastrophic for the Iraqi people and U.S. interests in the Middle East, and a clear victory for al Qaeda and Iran.  A deterioration of the kind we are now witnessing in Iraq was not unforseen, and now the U.S. government must do whatever it can to help Iraq stabilize the situation. We call upon the Obama Administration and the Iraqi government to reopen negotiations with the goal of maintaining an effective residual U.S. military presence in Iraq before the situation deteriorates further.
I was asked if we could include that and I said yes because I had no idea the two had issued a statement and issued it yesterday.  I would have thought it would have received some serious press attention.  It didn't and I'm comfortable including it here.  That is not my opinion, it is not this community's opinion.  We believe the illegal war was wrong from the start and nothing good was ever going to come from it.  And we've backed that up repeatedly over the years so it's not a threat to us to include a differening opinion.  I do agree with Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham that the administration blew it.
I say they blew it by refusing to immediately end the Iraq War.  Had they done that, it wouldn't be Barack's war.  He could say, "I campaigned on ending the war and I was elected so that's what the American people wanted.  As a result, as I promised on the campaign trail, all US troops will be out of Iraq within ten months."  He could and should have said that after he was sworn in.  (And the withdrawal could have been done in less than 10 months but 10 months was the least amount of time he gave on the campaign trail.)  Had he done that, it was Bush's war. 
But he didn't do that.  He continued the war.  (And unlike McCain and Graham, I believe the Iraq War continues.)  And he made promises. To Nouri al-Maliki.  He made sure Nouri got what he wanted.  Iraq's LGBT community was being targeted, tortured and murdered and the White House never said a word.  Iraqi Christians and other religious minorities were forgotten by the White House.  Resolving the Kirkuk issue was forgotten by the White House.  When Nouri al-Maliki wanted something, he got it and that continues to this day.  Let's again  note  Trudy Rubin (Philadelphia Inquirer via San Jose Mercury News) on the multitude of mistakes by the Bush and Barack administrations in her latest column but we'll zoom in on her commentary about 2010:
The White House followed a hands-off policy on Iraqi politics, allowing Maliki to slip back into sectarianism and the eager embrace of Iran's ayatollahs.
When Maliki cracked down on Sunni candidates before March 2010 elections, a visiting Vice President Joe Biden gave him a pass. When a Sunni coalition called Iraqiya edged out Maliki's party and he used Iraq's politicized courts to nullify some Sunni seats, U.S. officials didn't push back.
When Maliki failed to honor a power-sharing deal the United States had brokered between his party and Iraqiya, we failed to press him.
That was a huge mistake.  There was never a reason to back Nouri.  The White House disgraced the country by backing Nouri whom they knew ran secret prisons, whom they knew used torture.
McCain and Graham may be right and I may be wrong.  It wouldn't be the first time.  But I have thought out my position (as they have their position) and I can defend what I'm saying (as they can defend what they're saying).  I'm comfortable including their take on this and I'm bothered that their take wasn't included by the press yesterday.  I'm bothered that the same servile press that bowed to the will of one White House occupant (Bush) now goes out of their way to scrape and bow and carry water for President Barack Obama.  (If you're late to the party, that's worded that way because I don't use the P-word with Bush.  A direct quote from someone else? We don't alter it.  But I made it through eight years never calling the Supreme Court appointed Bush the p-word and intend to make it to my grave.  He was an occupant of the White House nothing more.)
I see a press that refuses to explore what's taking place in Iraq and who benefits?
An Oval Office occupant (President Obama, in this case) just like an Oval Office occupant (Bully Boy Bush) did at an earlier time. But not the public in the US or in Iraq.
As somone against the Iraq War before it started, I did not appreciate the press shutting out voices raising objections because they only cared about toeing the White House line.  I don't have the need to shut anyone else out of the public debate.  My position is the popular one now and that's because of a number of things including time has provided the evidence needed to call the war a disaster.  But nothing's going to change public opinion more (turn back towards support for the war) than shutting out opposition views.  John McCain and Lindsey Graham know what they're talking about.
They come to different conclusions than I do (and, again, they may be right and I may be wrong).  And as long as these issues can be publicly debated, the American people can have a strong sense of where they stand.  But when one side gets shut out of the conversation, you're creating a future backlash. 
Now maybe that's what the press (owners) want because what's the United States without perpetual war?  But it's not what I want (more wars is not what I want)  and I also don't want to think of John McCain as a stronger supporter of free speech than those of us on the left.  Meaning? He is pro-war and pro-Iraq War but he still called out Clear Channel's decision to ban the Dixie Chicks over statements against the war and he wondered where you draw the line the next time you decide to censor?  Today, it appears you draw the line to prevent those with views different than the White House from being heard.  Again, it feels lot like 2003 press wise and that is not a good thing.
Again, Nouri al-Maliki, prime minister and thug of the continued occupation, took to the TV airwaves to proclaim the bombings political and to promise punishment. Little Saddam never misses a photo op in which he can expose his iron fist. Dar Addustour notes that Parliament's Finance Committee states the political crisis is negatively impacting the exchange rate of Iraq's currency. Apparently that doesn't worry Nouri even though Iraq's seen record inflation.  For recap we'll note this from yesterday's NewsHour (PBS -- link is video, text and audio) so we're all on the same page (and to note that one network newscast is covering the crisis):

HARI SREENIVASAN: Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki demanded that Kurdish authorities hand over Iraq's vice president today. Tariq al-Hashemi is the highest-ranking Sunni figure in Iraq. He fled to the Kurdish north this week to escape an arrest warrant. The Shiite-dominated government charges he ran terror squads that targeted government officials. At a news conference in Baghdad today, Maliki rejected Hashemi's claim that the charges are politically motivated.

NOURI AL-MALIKI, Iraqi prime minister (through translator): I will not permit myself, others, or the relatives of martyrs to politicize this issue. There is only one path that will lead to the objective, and that is the path of the judiciary, nothing else. He should appear before court, either to be exonerated or to be convicted. The cause of al-Hashemi should not enter into political bargaining.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Later, a spokesman for the president of the Kurdish region rejected the demand. The political fight came as U.S. troops have finished their withdrawal from Iraq. Last night, Vice President Biden called Maliki and urged him to resolve the crisis.

Tony Karon (Time magazin) adds, "Vice President Joe Biden has been on the phone to Baghdad and Erbil this week, frantically trying to coax Iraq's main political players back from the brink of a new sectarian confrontation less than a week after the last U.S. troops departed. But Iraq's political leaders paid little heed to Washington's advice and entreaties when the U.S. had 140,000 troops there; they're even less likely to comply now. Biden reportedly sought to persuade Maliki to back away from a warrant issued by his government for the arrest of Iraq's most senior Sunni politician, Vice President Tareq al-Hashimi, on allegations that he was involved in a bomb plot for which members of his security detail have been detained. But Iraq's Sunni leadership sees the warrant as part of Maliki's authoritarian crackdown against his opponents, with senior Sunni leaders systematically targeted for arrest by the Shi'ite-led government in recent months." Al Rafidayn quotes State of Law MP Omaima Younis stating that they welcome all input, including the US input, as long as it does not have to do with the charges Nouri has brought because that will be seen as an attempt to interfere with Iraq's judiciary.
It's not just Joe Biden that's been engaging in dialogue on behalf of the US.  CIA Director David Petraeus has already made a trip to Iraq this week and now it's the man who followed Petraeus as top US commander in Iraq.  AFP's Prashant Rao Tweets:
Prashant Rao
prashantrao Prashant Rao

#Iraq PM's statement on meeting with #US Gen. Odierno: (Ar)
Prashant Rao
prashantrao Prashant Rao

#US Gen. Odierno's meeting with #Iraq PM comes shortly after CIA Director Petraeus visit to Baghdad
Prashant Rao
prashantrao Prashant Rao

#Iraq PM's office says Maliki met with #US army chief of staff Gen. Ray Odierno today
State of Law is Nouri's political slate. It came in second in the March 7, 2010 parliamentary elections, Iraqiya came in first and is headed by Ayad Allawi. Al Mada reports that Allawi declares that they are not Nouri's employees and that just because Nouri calls a meeting does not mean they have to attend. (Just as Moqtada al-Sadr calling in November for Nouri to appear before Parliament and answer questions about US forces has not meant that Nouri has appeared.) Allawi states that several polical bloc leaders -- including Allawi -- attended a meeting called by KRG President Massoud Barzani. In that meeting, it was called for the Erbil Agreement to be implemented and for the government go be the partnership it is supposed to be. But Nouri cannot call Parliament for this meeting or that because MPs are not employees of the authoritarian Nouri al-Maliki.

The bombings and the political situation were raised in today's US State Dept press briefing.  Mark Toner took questions.
QUESTION: The Iraq bombing?
MR. TONER: Iraq bombing. Sorry. Well, we did see the -- as you saw, the attacks across Baghdad this morning -- desperate attempts by terrorist groups to undermine Iraq at this vulnerable juncture in the Iraqi political process. And these events, we believe, highlight just how critical it is that Iraq's leaders act quickly to resolve their differences and move forward as a united and inclusive government in accordance with the Iraqi constitutions and laws. So --
QUESTION: Do you regard this violence as linked in any way to the sectarian strife, or at least political discord that has erupted since the government issued the arrest warrant for Mr. Hashimi?
MR. TONER: I think we see it as linked clearly to this vulnerable period after U.S. forces have withdrawn, and the government is finding its feet and moving forward.
It's impossible to say in terms of coordination and planning -- and this appeared to have been a coordinated attack -- how many weeks or months this may have been planned in advance. But clearly it was timed for this point in time.
QUESTION: What I'm trying to get at --
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- and forgive me if I wasn't clear, but I think that what is interesting is to try to understand if you think that some faction within the Iraqi polity is trying to use violence now because they are angry at what has happened in the last week, particularly the targeting of Mr. Hashimi.
MR. TONER: Right. And I don't -- again, just -- forgive me if I wasn't being clear. The coordinated nature of this attack appears, to us at least at first blush, to have been something that was coordinated over a period of time and not necessarily tied to the events of the past week.
QUESTION: This week. Got it.
MR. TONER: That said, this is a vulnerable point or juncture in Iraq's history, so there's going to be groups that are trying to take advantage of it. But we don't know; there's been no claim of responsibility that I'm aware of, so we don't know at this point.
QUESTION: Vice President Hashimi, today, told Washington Times, that, quote, Iran definitely involved in move to arrest him. Do you have any evidence to support that?
MR. TONER: We do not. We continue to call on any legal or judicial process that goes forward with respects to Vice President Hashimi to be done in full accordance with the rule of law and full transparency. And we do note that Prime Minister Maliki did speak about the need to observe rule of law in judicial proceedings, and also that he's called for a meeting of the various political blocs. That's exactly what we want to see happen. We want to see all of the political blocs get together in an effort to -- through dialogue to resolve their difference.
 And we'll close with this from the Washington Times interview (Ben Birnbaum is the reporter of the piece) referred to in the State Dept briefing:
Mr. al-Hashemi, who is staying in the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, has vehemently denied the charges, but he told The Times that he believes he could never receive a fair trial from the Iraqi judiciary.
"All Iraqis are very much aware about the nature of our judicial system," he said. "It is not transparent, it is not neutral, it is not independent. It's become a puppet of the government and certainly al-Maliki."
Mr. al-Hashemi said he is willing to face trial before "a neutral and more transparent and more professional, independent court, which I think is available here" in the Kurdish region.
The charges against him have threatened the fragile unity government that Mr. al-Maliki formed after the 2009 elections, which gave his State of Law bloc two fewer seats than the Sunni-dominated Iraqiya bloc to which Mr. al-Hashemi belongs.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

3 men, 2 women

Today on the first hour of The Diane Rehm Show (NPR), Diane's guests were Robert L. Walker, Brody Mullins, Donna Nagy and Peter Schweizer.  The second hour was Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde.

Please read Marcia's "Iraq and Hedy Lamar" where she talks about an interview she enjoyed on Diane Rehm's show yesterday and also please read Elaine's "F Ani DiFranco" which I love and support 100%.  Screw Ani DiFranco.  I'm so sick of that fraud.  And on that note, credit to Matt Damon for seeing what a disaster Barack is.  This is from Maggie Bullock's (Elle) interview with Damon:

I've talked to a lot of people who worked for Obama at the grassroots level. One of them said to me, "Never again. I will never be fooled again by a politician."  You know, a one-term president with some balls who actually got stuff done would have been, in the long run of the country, much better.

Barack is a War Hawk who should have been impeached for the Libyan War.  And all he's done is attack our civil liberties and get in bed with Wall St.  Good for Damon.

This is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

Wednesday, December 21, 2011.  Chaos and violence continue, Nouri continues targeting political rivals, Nouri says 700 more US 'trainers,' the White House and the State Dept continue to be asked about what's taking place in Iraq, and more.
Nouri al-Malik held a press conference today.  Aswat al-Iraq reports, "Iraqi Premier Nouri al-Maliki said that 700 US trianers will work to train Iraqi forces, adding that the number of US embassy in Baghdad will not exceed 2000."  Meanwhile Dar Addustour reports that Nouri's also agreed to allow US troops ('trainers') in the Kurdistan Regional Government.  Li Hongmei (Xinhua) offered an analysis yesterday which included " Iraq, however, remains dependent on Washington, as it has no frontier force, navy or airforce. Neither police nor army, now 800,000 strong, can ensure security or provide protection from external attack or meddling.  Meanwhile, there are Iraqi people who are, on the one hand, celebrating the U.S. pull-out, and on the other, believe the U.S. exit is not a withdrawal, but an act on a stage, in that the U.S. military presence and clout would never recede with the withdrawal of its troops."
In other news, Arwa Damon and Wolf Blitzer (CNN) report that, yes, indeed, CIA Director David Petraeus was just in Iraq.  While there he spoke to not only Nouri al-Maliki (prime minister and thugh) but also to Iraqiya members Osama al-Nujaifi (Speaker of Parliament) and Rafie al-Issawi (Minister of Finance).  For the Tehran Times, Nosratollah Tajik offers an exploration of whether or not the US is really leaving Iraq:
At a meeting with Obama  at the White House on December 12, al-Maliki was assured a second batch of 18 sophisticated F-16 fighter planes to help rebuild the country's dilapidated air force, whose helicopters and missiles the U.S. destroyed during the war which began in March 2003. The Iraqis have already indicated that their military needs will include a total of 96 F-16 fighter jets in four separate orders. He told the Obama administration that his country will depend on the U.S. not only for new weapons systems but also for training under the U.S. International Military Education and Training (IMET) Program.
There's going to be something called the Office of Security Cooperation in Iraq after the pullout of troops. It's going to be under the auspices of the U.S. embassy, so there's not going to be a military command in Iraq. It's going to be a pretty small, 150-person office that will do training --  things like helping the Iraqi air force how to operate the F-16s that the U.S. will sell them. That's a pretty typical relationship for countries who have bought American military hardware. So, now it is clear why the U.S. plans to have the largest embassy in the world in Iraq. 18,000 people are going to work for the embassy and very few of those will be diplomats. Others will be American civil service workers and mercenaries of private security contractors: around 3,500 to 5,500.
I'm going to disagree with him on the issue of the Office of Security Cooperation in Iraq.

Senator Kay Hagan: Well with the drawdown taking place in less than two months, what is your outlook for the ability to continue this training process to enable them to continue to do this on their own?

General Martin Dempsey: Well they will be limited. They don't have the airlift to deliver them to the target that we might have been able to provide. They don't have the ISR target to keep persistent surveillance over the top of the target. So they'll be limited to ground movement and they'll be limited to human intelligence and we'll keep -- But part of the Office of Security Cooperation provides the trainers to keep the training to develop those other areas, but we're some time off in reaching that point.

Senator Kay Hagan: We'll, as we continue this drawdown of our military personnel from Iraq, I really remain concerned about their force protection -- the individuals that will be remaining in Iraq. So what are the remaining challenges for our military personnel in Iraq in terms of managing their vulnerabilities, managing their exposures during the drawdown?

General Martin Dempsey: Senator, are you talking about getting from 24,000, the existing force now and having it retrograde through Kuwait?
Senator Kay Hagan: The ones that will remain over there.

General Martin Dempsey: The ones that will remain --

Senator Kay Hagan: Their protection.

General Martin Dempsey: Yes, Senator. Well, they will have -- First and foremost, we've got ten Offices of Security Cooperation in Iraq bases. And their activities will largely be conducted on these bases because their activities are fundamentally oriented on delivering the foreign military sales. So F-16s get delivered, there's a team there to help new equipment training and-and helping Iraq understand how to use them to establish air sovereignty. Or there's a 141 M1 Tanks right now, generally located at a tank gunnery range in Besmaya, east of Baghdad and the team supporting that training stays on Besmaya so this isn't about us moving around the country very much at all. This is about our exposure being limited to 10 enduring, if you will, Offices of Security Cooperation base camps. And doing the job of educating and training and equipping on those ten bases. Host nation is always responsible for the outer parameter. We'll have contracted security on the inner parameter. And these young men and women will always have responsibility for their own self-defense.

Senator Kay Hagan: So we'll have contracted security on the inner-paramenter?

General Martin Dempsey: That's right.
That's from the November 15th Senate Armed Services Committee -- covered in the November 15th "Iraq snapshot," November 16th "Iraq snapshot," November 17th "Iraq snapshot," Ava's "Scott Brown questions Panetta and Dempsey (Ava)," Wally's "The costs (Wally)," Kat's "Who wanted what?" and Third's "Gen Dempsey talks '10 enduring' US bases in Iraq."  General Martin Dempsey is the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  A military position.  Generally speaking, the Congress doesn't ask people for testimony unless they're over something.  So someone, for example, from Health and Human Services would never be asked about loans to small farmers.  Dempsey was asked by a knowledgable senator (Hagan) about a program he should be over and one he spoke of as though he was over. 

On to an anniversary . . .
It was 365 days ago today
Thug Nouri got his way
Today's vote in the Council of Representatives is a significant moment in Iraq's history and a major step forward in advancing national unity.  I congratulate Iraq's political leaders, the members of the Council of Representatives, and the Iraqi people on the formation of a new government of national partnership.
Yet again, the Iraqi people and their elected representatives have demonstrated their commitment to working through a democratic process to resolve their differences and shape Iraq's future.  Their decision to form an inclusive partnership government is a clear rejection of the efforts by extremists to spur sectarian division.
Iraq faces important challenges, but the Iraqi people can also seize a future of opportunity.  The United States will continue to strengthen our long-term partnership with Iraq's people and leaders as they build a prosperous and peaceful nation that is fully integrated into the region and international community. 
There was nothing there to praise.  Not only had the process been corrupted -- by the US government -- but the results did not indicate a bright future for Iraq.  First of all, not one of the cabinets had a female head. While the White House was preparing their statement,  Shashank Bengali and Mohammed al-Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) were reporting not one of the ministers approved was a woman.  Did that bother the White House, this step backward?  Not a bit, not a bit.   In 2006, Nouri had been able to name women. In 2006, there were 31 Cabinet ministers.  In order to keep his promises (bribes) he had to expand the Cabinet to 42 in 2010 and yet women disappeared.   Again, the White House was not worried. On that same day,  Liz Sly and Aaron C. Davis (Washington Post) reported, "Maliki appointed himself acting minister of interior, defense and national security and said the three powerful positions would be filled with permanent appointees once suitable candidates have been agreed on." Did that bother the White House?  Not a bit, not a bit.
And all this time later, there is still no Minister of Interior, Minister of Defense or Minister of National Security.  Not because Parliament wouldn't approve the nominees but because Nouri al-Maliki never nominated anyone lending credence to those who charged in real time that thug Nouri was making a power grab.
In many, many ways, the White House violated the Iraqi Constitution and the will of the Iraqi people when they backed Nouri (2010) for a second term.  (In 2006, the Bush administration backed Nouri and nixed the choice of the Parliament.)  Trudy Rubin (Philadelphia Inquirer via San Jose Mercury News) points to the multitude of mistakes by the Bush and Barack administrations in her latest column but we'll zoom in on her commentary about 2010:
The White House followed a hands-off policy on Iraqi politics, allowing Maliki to slip back into sectarianism and the eager embrace of Iran's ayatollahs.
When Maliki cracked down on Sunni candidates before March 2010 elections, a visiting Vice President Joe Biden gave him a pass. When a Sunni coalition called Iraqiya edged out Maliki's party and he used Iraq's politicized courts to nullify some Sunni seats, U.S. officials didn't push back.
When Maliki failed to honor a power-sharing deal the United States had brokered between his party and Iraqiya, we failed to press him.
Last week, Iraq's former Deputy Ambassador to the UN Feisal Istrabadi, discussed Iraq with host Warren Oleny on KCRW's To the Point and Oleny asked what was the biggest mistake the Obama administration had made?

Ambassador Feisal Istrabadi The critical mistake the Obama administration made occurred last year when it threw its entire diplomatic weight behind supporting Nouri al-Maliki notwithstanding these very worrisome signs which were already in place in 2009 and 2010. The administration lobbied hard both internally in Iraq and throughout the region to have Nouri al-Maliki get a second term -- which he has done.
Istrabdi was a guest on The NewsHour (PBS) last night as the program devoted two segments to the political crisis in the country. In the first segment, Judy Woodruff went over the basics of what's been taking place since Friday.   Judy Woodruff noted (link is text, audio and video), "An arrest warrant was issued for Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi on charges that he had run death squads during the sectarian bloodbath of 2006 and 2007. As proof, the purported confession of a man named Ahmed was broadcast. He said Hashemi spoke to him through an intermediary." The second segment on this story (again, text, audio and video) found Judy exploring the events with former Ambassador Feisal Istrabadi and Abbas Kadhim. Excerpt:

FEISAL ISTRABADI: Well, let me start with the proposition that what Iraq needs is a strong leader. With all respect to my very good friend, I think that what we need are rulers in Iraq who are dedicated to the principles of constitutional democracy. Their strength lies not in the elimination or in the harassment of political adversaries, but, on the contrary, in encouraging constitutional discourse. What has been happening in Iraq in the last 24 hours cannot be seen in isolation. For the past 12 months, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has refused to appoint a permanent minister of defense. That was supposed to be one of the portfolios that went to the Iraqiya coalition. They have nominated six people for that position. Each one of them has been rejected. He has appointed a member of his own coalition, the prime minister's own coalition, as acting minister of defense. He is acting as minister of the interior. And one of his cronies is acting minister of state for national security. He has cashiered career officers and appointed cronies to senior officer positions in the armed and security forces in Iraq. In other words, the prime minister has under his control as we speak all the instrumentalities of state security in Iraq. I'll remind your viewers that, in the early 1970s, this is precisely how Saddam Hussein came to power at the time. What we -- I think Iraqis, with our history, we have to be overly cautious when we see similar actions occur as have occurred in our relatively recent past. Strength in the new Iraq must be through constitutional democracy, and not through harassment and intimidation.
The story was ignored by the other three networks as noted this morning.  Also see Rebecca's "smelly scott pelley and the sucky cbs evening news."

Jim Muir (BBC News) explains, "Iraq's most senior Sunni Arab politician, Tariq al-Hashemi, is effectively a fugitive. While he hides out under Kurdish protection in the north, the entire al-Iraqiyya political bloc to which he belongs has pulled out of both parliament and the cabinet." (Jim Muir offers a detailed analysis here.) Al Rafidayn reports that Nouri al-Maliki, prime minister and chief thug of Iraq, has held a press conference in Baghdad today insisting that Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi leave the KRG and come to Baghdad to stand trial for charges (brought by Nouri) of terrorism. Nouri says that Tareq al-Hashemi must not leave the country and that he should not fear a trial because Saddam Hussein was given a trial. It was fair, Nouri insists. Fair? That's in dispute. The outcome is not. Saddam Hussein was put to death. As noted in yesterday's snapshot, the sentence for the charges (Article IV terrorism) if found guilty are either life in prison or execution. As Anne Barker (AM, Australia's ABC, link is text and audio) explains, "The charges were made by Iraq's Interior ministry, which comes under the control of the Shiite prime minister and al Hashemi's long-time rival Nouri al-Maliki." The charges were made by the ministry -- not the minister because there is no Minister of Interior. Nouri refused to nominate someone to Parliament. So Nouri retains (illegal) control over the ministry.
Yesterday, the White House released the following statement:

The White House
Office of the Vice President

For Immediate Release December 20, 2011 Readout of Vice President Biden's Calls to Iraqi Leaders
The Vice President today spoke on the phone with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and separately with Iraqi Council of Representatives Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi to discuss the current political climate in Baghdad. The Vice President told both leaders that the United States is monitoring events in Iraq closely. He emphasized the United States' commitment to a long-term strategic partnership with Iraq, our support for an inclusive partnership government and the importance of acting in a manner consistent with the rule of law and Iraq's constitution. The Vice President also stressed the urgent need for the Prime Minister and the leaders of the other major blocs to meet and work through their differences together.

At the White House today, Nouri's attacks again resulted in questioning during the press briefing by White House spokesperson Jay Carney.
Q    On Iraq, the Vice President made a couple of phone calls yesterday, and I guess I'm just wondering, is the President -- has the President or has Vice President Biden spoken with the Vice President of Iraq?  What is -- what was the point of those calls?  How does President Obama feel about the arrest and the charges against this Vice President?  And what, if anything, at this point can the U.S. do about it?  Are you considering pulling aid?  If you're not -- if we're not --

MR. CARNEY:  Well, Margaret, let me stop you there.  First of all, I think we read out some of the calls that the Vice President made.  Separately, this kind of political turmoil has been occurring in Iraq periodically, as they have taken steps forward and, occasionally, steps backward, but generally made progress towards political  reconciliation, towards democracy, and away from the use of violence in pursuit of political ends.  That has been progress, but it has often been hard won. That will continue.  We certainly expect that there will be difficult days ahead in Iraq.  But the progress has been substantial.  What is utterly nonsensical is the suggestion that somehow we should have left troops in there, and that would have had any impact on the political disputes.  Because maybe folks weren't paying attention, but political disputes have been happening while there were 40,000 troops, 80,000 troops, 150,000 troops.  The key metric here is that those political disputes have increasingly been resolved through negotiation, not through violence, and elections were held, a government was established -- these are all signs of important progress -- all while violence declined significantly.
Jay Carney's head has apparently gotten as fat as his ass (keep stress eating, Jay, you look awful).  This is not about US troops staying or going.  This is about the White House backing Nouri al-Maliki for a second term.  Take accountability for that.  Yes, Senator John McCain is calling out the White House.  And calling them out for taking out the bulk of US troops (not all troops).  That's not the only criticism but focusing on that criticism does allow you to ignore the critical failure of the Barack Obama administration with regards to Iraq.  And the elections were a joke and became that when the US government refused to respect the results of the elections -- that's under Barack Obama.  Jay's a disgrace. 

Jay Carney: We will continue to have a robust and important relationship with Iraq.  We will continue to have frequent, I'm sure, discussions with Iraqi leaders.  And we will continue to weigh in and encourage Iraqi leaders to make smart decisions as they continue to move forward with the development of their democracy. I wanted to -- as long as we're on foreign policy, I just want to be clear on a question that Kristen had about Afghanistan.  I just want to say, on 2014, the President will make his decisions on the size and shape of our post-September 2012 presence, after the reduction of the surge forces, at the appropriate time in consultation with our Afghan and NATO partners.  Any post-2014 presence would of course be at the invitation of the Afghan government, and would ensure that we will be able to target terrorists and support a sovereign Afghan government so that our enemies cannot outlast us.  I just want to be clear about that.  But the framework that I discussed at the top was laid out at Lisbon. I think I owe you -- yes, Lesley.

Q    Can I ask a quick question, following on Margaret's question?  Do you have any reaction to the Prime Minister's sort of suggestions today that he wants to shed some of the members of the coalition government that he might not sort of get along with?

MR. CARNEY:  Look, we have -- I would refer you -- I don't have it in front of me -- to -- we did a readout of the Vice President's calls, yes -- to that statement.  And we have worked, the Vice President has and other members of the President's team have, with Iraq on the political process.  It is very important, and has been, and will continue to be, that Iraqi leaders pursue a representative government so that everyone's interests are properly represented.  And beyond that, I would just refer you to the statement we put out.

Q    He also said that the U.S. has asked him to free some of the Hashimi guards that he had jailed.

MR. CARNEY:  Who did?

Q    He said that the U.S. government had asked him to free some --

MR. CARNEY:  Maliki did?  I don't -- I just don't have anything more on that for you today.
Looking at the war,  George S. Hishmeh (Gulf News) notes a number of details and we'll include this regarding Anthony Cordesman's analysis:
Cordesman believes that the US has mistakenly "tied itself to exiles whose claims and ambitions were not in line with the hopes and needs of the Iraqi people, and were often linked to Iran".
He also points out that the Obama administration has not provided "any picture of the strategy it now intends to adopt in the Gulf region as a whole, or how it will deal with any aspect of the threat posed by Iran".

HDS Greenway (GlobalPost) argues the current events can be seen through the prism of the war itself, "What the invasion of Iraq did do was unleash all the pent-up rivalries that had been suppressed, Sunni versus Shia, and Kurds against the rest. And despite almost a decade of occupation, none of these issues have been resolved. Sunnis still long for their lost ascendency. Shiites want to consolidate their new-found power, and the Kurds still want to be masters of their own region without interference from Baghdad. The current accusations against Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi are a case in point. Either he did organize death squads, as charged, or the case against him is trumped up to intimidate Sunnis. Either way Iraq's fragile power-sharing arrangements suffer."

Iran's Fars News Agency notes, "Commander of Baghdad Police Operations Brigadier General Qassem Ata called on the security officials of the Iraqi Kurdistan region to extradite the country's Vice-President, Tariq al-Hashimi, to Baghdad to be tried for accusations of masterminding the recent bomb attacks on a number of parliamentarians."  Aswat al-Iraq adds, "Kurdish Alliance MP [Shwan Mohammed] described the charge against Vice-President Tariq al-Hashimi as 'political, not criminal'."

Al Mada notes that the Parliament is calling for a meeting with Nouri's Cabinet. In addition to going after Tareq al-Hashemi, Nouri is also targeting Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq. Both al-Hashemi and al-Mutlaq are Sunnis and members of the Iraqiya political slate. The Telegraph of London notes, "Legislators are also due to consider a call from Maliki to sack Sunni Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlak, who has decried the Shiite-led national unity government as a 'dictatorship'." Al Mada reports that Parliament decided Monday that they would not consider Nouri's motion to dismiss al-Mutlaq until after the next year. Al Mada quotes Iraqiya head Ayad Allawi pointing out the al-Mutlaq's position was part of the power sharing agreement and that attempts to remove him besmirch the agreement. Dar Addustour reports there is now a move to request that confidence be withdrawn from Nouri.

Like Marcia, we'll note Roy Gutman, Lesley Clark, Sahar Issa and Laith Hammoudi's McClatchy Newspapers report the latest on the Iraq crisis that finds Nouri targeting political enemies:

However, U.S. officials were aware of at least one previous attempt by Iraqi security forces to coerce confessions that implicated Hashimi, a longtime Maliki critic. A November 2006 diplomatic cable obtained by WikiLeaks reported a meeting between U.S. officials in Iraq and a former Iraqi prisoner named Ahmed Mohammed Sami, who said he'd been tortured with electric shocks and other methods while in Iraqi army custody in Diyala province.
"In total he counted seven times that he lost consciousness during episodes of torture in which he was told to agree to statements implicating Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi ... and Deputy Governor of Diyala Auwf Rahoumi al-Rabai ... in terrorist activities," the cable reports. The cable didn't specify U.S. officials' reaction to the comments.

If the White House -- under either administration -- had given a damn about Iraqis, they wouldn't have backed Nouri for a second term. Especially after knowing he was repeatedly torturing and running secret prisons. The article also notes that Nouri elected to air the 'confessions' on Iraqiya TV -- that's not related to the Iraqiya political slate -- it's Nouri's own personal channel, as it demonstrated in the 2010 parliamentary campaigns.  From Deborah Amos' "Confusion, Contradiction and Irony: The Iraqi Media in 2010," Harvard's Joan Shorenstein Center:
[Immediately after the March 2010 elections] Prime Minister Maliki charged widespread fraud and demanded a recount to prevent "a return to violence." He pointedly noted that he remained the commander in chief of the armed force. 
Was Maliki threatening violence? Was he using the platrform of state-run media to suggest that his Shiite-dominated government would not relinquish power to a Sunni coalition despite the election results?  His meaning was ambiguous, but his choice of media was widely understood to be part of the message.  Iraq's state-run news channel, Iraqiya, is seen as a megaphone for Shiite power in Iraq, which is why Maliki's assertion of his right to retain power raised international concerns.

The issue of Iraq was also raised in today's US State Dept press briefing by spokesperson Victoria Nuland:
QUESTION: (Inaudible) about Iraq?
QUESTION: Prime Minister Maliki's news conference today? In talking about the Vice President, he said if Kurdish authorities don't release him or if he were to manage to flee the country that there may be problems, I think is how he put it. Is that not sort of a threatening tone? What was the readout here on that? 
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, the [US] Vice President [Joe Biden] did have good conversations yesterday. I think the White House reported on those yesterday. We do note what the prime minister said in his press conference, and I would say that he also spoke about the need for the parties to get together. I think he called it a summit of political leaders that he wanted to have to discuss the political process and discuss power sharing, and we continue to urge all the sides in Iraq to work through their differences peacefully and within international standards of the rule of law. That's the message that we've given to the prime minister; it's the message that we're giving to all of the political actors in Iraq.
QUESTION: Does the Ambassador continue to make phone calls and meet with the various parties?
MS. NULAND: He does.
QUESTION: Do you know when the last meetings or talks were and who they were with?
MS. NULAND: He had more talks today. I don't have a list here with me, but as the White House reported, the Vice President spoke to Prime Minister Maliki and Speaker al-Najafi yesterday. I think that Jim Jeffrey -- Ambassador Jeffrey -- over the last couple of days has seen the -- seen or spoken to the leaders of every major group in Iraq.
QUESTION: Do you have any position on the prime minister's demand that the Kurds essentially return the vice president? Do you think that's the right way to go?
MS. NULAND: They need to work this out within the rule of law. They need to respect the Iraqi constitution on all sides. If there are charges, they need to be processed appropriately within the Iraqi judicial system, as we said yesterday, and all sides need to cooperate in that.
QUESTION: But would releasing the Vice President be -- as the prime minister has requested, be essentially doing that, working within the Iraqi legal framework?
MS. NULAND: I think there are conversations going on inside Iraq that we're not going to get into the middle of about how this process ought to move forward. It's  --– release implies that he's being held or prevented from fulfilling the demands of the court, and I don't think that's the stage we're at right now.
QUESTION: And just a final one: Also, apparently the prime minister has extended the Camp Ashraf deadline by six months.
QUESTION: Did they let you know about this formally, and what's your -- do you think that's a good thing?
MS. NULAND: We do think it's a good thing. We do think it's a good thing that the Iraqi Government is engaged. We're encouraging those living in Ashraf to also be engaged. The UN, as you know, is in the process of trying to broker an agreement where the residents of Ashraf could be moved safely and securely to another location and where they could take advantage of some of the international offers for resettlement. And so, obviously, that process is going to take a little bit more time. So we're gratified to see that the Iraqi Government's going to give it a little bit more time, and that they are particularly cooperating well with the UN process.
QUESTION: And are you confident that the six months would be a sufficient time to get that agreement done?
MS. NULAND: Well, we would certainly hope so, and we are encouraging all sides to keep working on it.
QUESTION: Well, what's your understanding of that extension? When did it take effect? Because he seemed to suggest that he had actually done this in November.
MS. NULAND: Well, as of two days ago, we were still understanding that we had a December 31st --
QUESTION: So you guys didn't know anything about it until today? Or maybe not when he spoke, but today was the first time you knew of an extension.
MS. NULAND: Well, it was one of the options that we had been discussing, was to extend the deadline that the UN had also been discussing to buy more time for this. In terms of an actual decision of the Iraqi Government and a public announcement of it, I think we became aware shortly before the public announcement.
QUESTION: So your understanding is that this six months expires six months from now and not six months from November, when he said that --
MS. NULAND: Yeah. I don't have a sense of the final calendar time. But again, the UN is working assiduously to try to come up with a roadmap for the residents of Ashraf. In the best case scenario, it won't take six months, and we'll be able to get them settled in before.
QUESTION: Right. And then the other thing, you said that there were outstanding offers for resettlement for these residents? Are you -- can you -- are you aware of any specific -- can you provide names of countries that have offered to take in -- other than Iran, which would like to see some of them back, I'm sure?
MS. NULAND: The UN is working on this issue with a number of countries in Europe. I think there is an issue of whether some of the residents of Camp Ashraf would be willing to take up those offers, particularly some of them who have relatives abroad.
QUESTION: Victoria?
QUESTION: As a matter of fact, European countries, many of them refuse to repatriate -- many of these people are their citizens and, in fact, they failed time and again a UN suggestion that they should return to their countries in the Netherlands and Germany and other places. Are you urging the European countries to take at least their own citizens that are in Camp Ashraf?
MS. NULAND: Again, the UN has the lead on this. They are working both with – they are working with the Iraqis, they are working with the residents of Ashraf, they are also working with some of these other countries of citizenship. So we are obviously looking for a settlement that gives these folks a better quality of life and security while maintaining international peace and security.  Please.
QUESTION: On Vice President al-Hashimi, are you concerned about his safety? Or has he contacted either Ambassador Jeffrey or any other U.S. official expressing concern about his own safety considering that the immediate members of his family were actually assassinated three or four years ago?
MS. NULAND: I'm not aware of conversations of that kind of concern. There is a question about how and whether these Iraqi judicial processes will be carried out.
QUESTION: Has there been any discussion with President Talabani of Iraq and President Barzani of Kurdistan as to the safety or maintaining safety and security for Vice President Hashimi?
MS. NULAND: Well, the Ambassador has been in touch with both of those leaders in the -- in recent days. I'm not going to speak to the details of those conversations.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up on Vice President Hashimi: You just said that it should be solved through Iraq judicial system and rule of law. So does it mean you have confidence in the rule of law if he were to go back, and do you think that there''s going to be a fair trial? You have that confidence?
MS. NULAND: We went through this conversation exhaustively yesterday. I don't think we need to go through it today.
QUESTION: It was (inaudible).
MS. NULAND: It was pretty exhaustive, so -- all right.
Turning to reported violence, Reuters notes a Baghdad sticky bombing claimed the life of 1 Sahwa leader, an attack on a Baquba mayor left him injured, 2 Kirkuk sticky bombings claimed the life 1 judge and left the judge's son injured and, dropping back to last night, an attack on a Samarra police checkpoint left two police officers injured.  Aswat al-Iraq notes 1 man was shot dead in Mosul.