Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki speaks during an interview with Reuters, Baghdad, Jan. 12, 2014. (photo by REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani)
Iraqi politicians split on third term for Maliki
The State of Law Coalition, led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, has not put forward a new candidate for the premiership. The coalition instead hopes to see Maliki in the post for a renewed third term, but this scenario is rejected by the majority of the political coalitions planning to participate in parliamentary elections scheduled for April 30.
Members of the State of Law Coalition believe that Maliki, prime minister since 2006, has proven himself to be competent, arguing that he is the best and most-experienced candidate for the position. Maliki's rivals, however, contend that presenting him again as a candidate threatens the democratic process.
One State of Law Coalition member told Al-Monitor, “Nominating Maliki for a third term is undisputed. Maliki is gearing up to remain in office, and many members [of the coalition] are encouraging him to hold on to a third mandate.” Speaking on condition of anonymity, he reiterated, “The coalition did not discuss a replacement for Maliki. This issue was never even brought up.”
In January 2013, the parliament had voted in favor of a draft law to limit the prime minister, president and parliamentary speaker to a maximum of two terms. The Federal Supreme Court, however, overturned the law days after its passage.
Shwan Mohammad Taha, a parliamentarian for the Kurdistan Alliance, argued, “During Maliki’s two terms, and especially recently, Iraq has witnessed a setback in the democratic system.” He declared to Al-Monitor, “Maliki has tightened his grip on independent bodies in Iraq, and he is targeting all the political forces.”
Taha, who seemed dissatisfied with Iraq's governance under Maliki, prefers to leave the issue of renewing the current prime minister's mandate to the National Iraqi Alliance (NIA), which consists of the most prominent Shiite parties. He noted, “The Kurdistan Alliance is waiting for the NIA to name a candidate for the premiership following the elections, and it better choose well.”
Since Maliki began his second term in 2010, the government has faced ongoing crises, and the Ministries of Interior and Defense have been without ministers to lead them. Maliki has consistently rejected the candidates nominated by other political forces. In addition, the relationship between the federal government and the Kurdistan Regional Government continues to be contentious, and Iraqis are still being subjected to upsurges in violence.
According to Mathhar al-Janabi, a parliamentarian for the Iraqiya List, “Disputes within the NIA make it unlikely that Maliki will be named for a third term.” He added, however, “No one knows what will happen after the elections.”
Janabi pointed out to Al-Monitor, “Maliki remaining in his post for a third term is legal, after the Federal Supreme Court overturned the draft law limiting the terms of the prime minister, president and parliament speaker.” He concluded, “It is for the NIA alone to decide. Other political forces have no say whatsoever in this issue.”
A Sunni Muslim fighter looks at a burning police vehicle during clashes in Ramadi, Jan. 2, 2014. (photo by REUTERS/Ali al-Mashhadani)
More than 40 days since the start of the Anbar battles in western Iraq, the financial and human losses thus far are yet unknown. What has been revealed, however, is that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki agreed to discuss a “peaceful” political solution to the crisis.
The question that ought to be raised today concerns the erroneous analyses that preceded and caused the crisis.
First, it should be emphasized that the Anbar crisis was never a purely military crisis. This is because the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) has been in the province for years, as well as in Baghdad, Mosul, Basra and even Najaf.
At the end of the day, when talking about an incredibly complex terrorist organization such as al-Qaeda and its derivatives, one cannot deal with it as a regular army that can be fought by conventional means. Such organizations appear and disappear without even leaving a trace. When conditions make it difficult for them to appear in public, these organizations disperse within different social environments and return to their origins as secret groups.
It is from this particular point that one can say that the political decision taken late last year to attack the Sunni sit-in camp in Anbar and disperse it by force, under the pretext of the existence of al-Qaeda, was a decision of multiple dimensions and political calculations worth reconsidering.
Throughout the months leading up to the crisis, Maliki repeatedly accused the sit-in camp of harboring terrorists. He then promoted other information, according to which car-bombing operations throughout Iraq were being organized from within the sit-in squares.
Last month, however, a completely different hypothesis was proven. The Iraqi government seemed to be in dire need of support from figures within the Sunni sit-in movements to disperse battles and impose the prestige of the state, which had disappeared from the cities of Anbar in various forms. They also needed these figures to expel ISIS, which had gained unexpected strength in Anbar.
Since the first day of the crisis, the government resorted to elders and figures participating in the sit-ins to settle the crisis. Chief among these was Ahmed al-Dulaimi, the governor of Anbar and one of the former leaders of the sit-ins; Ahmed Abu Risha, a Sahwa forces commander of Sahwa who was isolated months ago; and Albu Fahd Rafi Abd al-Karim, a tribal leader. Many of these names and leaders of other clans have declared their willingness to fight for the liberation of Anbar from ISIS, and they formed new Sahwa forces for this purpose. However, they failed to put an end to the crisis. The truth of the matter is that the many tribal leaders in Fallujah, including the tribe of al-Dalim Ali Hatem, among other well-known leaders supported by a wide population, have come to realize after weeks of fighting that the Sahwa will not succeed this time, as was the case in 2006, when the forces were recruited by the US forces under the command of Gen. David Petraeus.
Back then, the objective conditions were different from today, even the form of the crisis is now quite different. Demonstrations were back then an indication of an unsettled political conflict.
On the other hand, today’s conflicting parties in Anbar consist of tribal leaders, clerics and political forces in the city that are taking advantage of the demonstrations and military confrontations to establish their political presence and interests for the elections.
The demonstrations spawned a political map in Anbar that is in line with the inclinations in the sit-in squares. Following the April 2013 elections, the government was formed by members from within the sit-in tents. Things would have been similar this time around, had the protests dragged on until the general elections in April 2014.
All parties in Anbar have ignored the political implications of the crisis and assumed the only solution lies in the military solution. At the beginning of 2014, the government intensified its military presence in Anbar, announcing that the crisis would be settled through the army and security services, and calling for further reinforcement.
On the other hand, some tribes, clerics and forces opposing Maliki stepped up military confrontation and opened the door to different armed groups, including ISIS. They believed that this would pave the way for a different political reality, only to realize after weeks of fighting that the political solution is the only way to end this crisis.
It is good and promising news that the government and the opposition are opting once again for the political solution, especially since there have been exerted efforts and initiatives to put an end to the crisis before the Iraqi parliamentary elections. However, the political solution ought not to be an opportunity to turn a blind eye to the victims of the clashes, be they civilians or security forces. Have those paid the price of a political crisis, whose conflicting parties thought they can solve militarily?
Iraqi media characterized by political, sectarian bias
Newspapers are on sale at a kiosk in Baghdad, Feb. 23, 2009. (photo by REUTERS/Mohammed Ameen)
Media outlets in Iraq have undoubtedly turned into platforms for marketing and propaganda, despite their claims of objectivity. The political authorities have been using the media widely, sometimes transforming it from a “fourth estate” into a medium for state propaganda. This is common in countries that do not have serious laws to protect the freedom of access to information. As a result, independent media outlets are either not allowed to give objective media coverage, or they become rumor mongers, as there is no way for them to get accurate information.
The big picture in Iraq is complex in this regard. Articles on Iraq speak of high rates of killing and persecution of journalists, a weak and useless law protecting journalists, a lack of access to information and an intensive propaganda war.
The latest and worst yet example of the threat to media freedom occurred when the editor-in-chief of the Iraqi newspaper Al Sabah Al Jadid apologized to the Iranian ambassador to Iraq for publishing a portrait of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Despite the apology, radical Shiite militias threatened the newspaper, and then a bomb was detonated at its headquarters, leading to its temporary shutdown. Al Sabah Al Jadid had published portraits of other Iraqi clerics in the past such as Sayed Abdel Aziz Hakim, Sayed Hussein al-Sadr and Sayed Mohammad Bahr al-Ulloum without causing any hubbub. Iraqi civil society supporters were infuriated, and considered it the end of the minimal freedom and independence enjoyed by Iraq.
As far as media blackouts go, the Anbar operations persist in vague and unknown circumstances. Both sides of the conflict have been spreading conflicting news in which they appear victorious over their criminal adversaries.
Conflicting news reports have at times even appeared on a single media outlet affiliated with one party. One prominent example is the news of the death of Shaker Wahib al-Fahdawi, a prominent leader in the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham. The Iraqi media reported the news of his death twice, at different times. The news was supported with photos and documents that were later proven to be fabricated, both times. Then, photos proving that Fahdawi was still alive and that he was conducting terrorist operations in the official uniform of the Iraqi forces were published. Under such conditions, independent journalists had one solution left: to use primitive methods that are very difficult and risky. Al-Monitor correspondents sometimes have to go to the region of conflict, despite the heated battles, to get verifiable information. They make calls with their colleagues who are not affiliated with the parties participating in the war to get the unreported side of the story. Usually, there is a need to call a large number of people to verify the news and eliminate rumors.
Professional journalists who provide live coverage from the battlefield face a tough task, as they are threatened by all parties who want them to be on their side in the media battle. They have to use less official channels like social media or interact with their colleagues over large distances.
The situation for analysts and journalists outside Iraq is much harder. Hadeel Sayagh, a prominent reporter for the Emirati daily The National, told Al-Monitor about her experience in getting information about the Iraqi incidents. Sayagh said, “The truth is that you never really know what is going on behind the scenes. Each media outlet in Iraq is directed by its political affiliations. The real story can be found only after real analysis of dozens of news outlets, copious interviews, and even then you can't guarantee that you're 100% on the pulse.”
In addition to the problem of getting information, the media is also manipulated at higher levels. This includes fragmenting the news to present only the part that is in line with the policies of each channel or newspaper, editing news clips and manipulating copy, stirring emotions in line with the channel’s orientation.
In light of the above, when one follows the main Iraqi news outlets, one sees an often monotonous picture of either governmental accomplishment vs. arbitrary aggression against the government by its adversaries who represent the enemies of the Iraqi nation, or a failed Iraqi political project since 2003 vs. alternative revolutionary projects.
This is how ideological and cultural biases are taking over the Iraqi media, turning the Iraqi people into tools to implement the ideological agendas of the owners of the outlets, as part of the ongoing battles between the country’s political and sectarian components. Regular people are not the only victims of biased media. Decision-making elites are also falling into the trap of media propaganda, exacerbating the serious sectarian and political divisions in Iraqi society.
Kurdistan Parties Concerned About Fraud With New Voting System
By RUDAW 23 hours ago
He complained that the Iraqi Higher Electoral Commission (IHEC) was not serious about addressing the issues. Photo: Rudaw
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Political parties in the autonomous Kurdistan Region are concerned that new electronic cards that voters will use in Iraq’s parliamentary elections in April can encourage irregularities, because the system is not fully computerized.
Kurdish officials worry that the new cards contain several flaws. They note that because polling stations are not connected by computer, any card holder can vote more than once at different election booths.
Another concern has been that cards are issued on the basis of old voter lists, containing names of people who are long dead, or common names appearing more than once as different individuals.
“The fear is what happens to the additional cards that are not received by people; how about the duplicate cards and the dead people?” wondered Aram Sheikh Muhammad, an elections official of the Change Movement (Gorran).
“These are a number of issues that we need to have serious reservations about,” said Muhammad, attending a conference in Erbil to discuss the new system.
He complained that the Iraqi Higher Electoral Commission (IHEC) was not serious about addressing the issues.
Khasraw Goran, head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party’s (KDP) election department, echoed the same concerns about repeated names and deceased voters, saying that the only merit of the cards was that they applied some new technology.
"When it comes to the names, numbers and the names of the voters, nothing is new in this (smart card),” he said. “Others can vote for the dead people, too,” he added.
Because it is incomplete, the system “is defective and paves the way for fraud," said Goran Azad, an MP of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). “But it’s important for the citizens to go and get their cards,” he advised.
Previously, the IHEC had explained that the new cards will be used only for elections this year, and that new ones with photos and biometrics would be issued later, to sort out issues of fraud and remove names of the deceased from voter rolls.
According to Shams, an NGO that has supervised previous elections, the new cards cost 132 million euros, and with the exception of placing the names of voters on the cards they do not add in any way to lessening fraud.
The Kurdish Awene newspaper, meanwhile, reported that a ruling party in the Garmyan area of the Kurdistan Region had offered to purchase the cards from people for $200 each.
And Radio Dengi Xelk in Kalar reported that, “a person has been arrested by security forces for buying the voter's electronic cards, but later was released on bail.”
Hemin Salih, director of the Gayandin (Connecting) organization, which held a news conference to discuss the new cards, told the Xendawn news website: "Most of the participants at the conference agreed that the smart cards should not be used for this election, or that if they are used the voter-names must be computerized.”
According to Salih, most participants agreed that, without the cards being computerized, the system not only will fail to prevent fraud, but would instead add to possible irregularities.
Parliament to start endorsing 2014 State Budget on next Sunday
Baghdad (AIN) – The Parliament decided to start in endorsing the 2014 State Budge on 16 / February. A parliamentary source reported to AIN ''The Presidency of the Parliament decided to start endorsing the 2014 State Budge as of 16/ February where the Parliamentary Committees will keep working till completing the endorsement of the 2014 State Budget.''
The representatives of the Federal Government demanded the Parliament to grant them till next week to hold a meeting with Kurdistan Regional Government in order to settle the dispute related to oil exporting and the share of KR within 2014 State Budget. ARTICLE LINK
Baghdad (AIN) – The administration of Baghdad International Airport received several arrest warrants and travel ban issued against several members of the Iraqi Parliament.
A source of Baghdad International Airport reported to All Iraq News Agency (AIN) ''The list of MPs included Hayder al-Mullah, Salim al-Jabouri, Ashor Haky, Raad al-Dahlaki, Qayis Shather, Ahmed Suleiman and Hussein Dakan.''
''The former Minister of Finance, Raffia al-Essawi, was among the MPs banned of travel,'' the source added, noting that ''A copy of the names of banned MPs was delivered to the Airport security.'' ARTICLE LINK
During one of my trips to Iraqi Kurdistan last year, I traveled from Erbil to Sulaimani. Not being overly fond of the white SUV convoys that many foreigners seem to travel in, I asked a friend in Erbil to just drop me off at the taxi station there – from where I bought a seat on a shared taxi to Sulaimani, via Kirkuk. At the checkpoint just northeast of Kirkuk, I was, as usual, taken aside when the Peshmerga checking identifications saw my foreign passport. Inside the inspection building, a member of the asayish (Kurdish security) asked me the usual questions and then proceeded to also ask me for a bribe. As I continued pretending not to understand his request, he eventually lost patience and waived me back to the waiting taxi and my very patient fellow passengers.
The event itself was not particularly remarkable and I didn’t dwell on it for too long afterwards. This sort of thing happens all the time in the Middle East. In 1998, I remember spending an entire day in northern Syria with an Arab friend as we dodged Syrian policemen. My friend was a minibus driver, and it was the day of the month that the police collect “taxes”, or bribes, from all the drivers. He wanted to show me around the area, but he did not want to give his money to the police. Eventually we got caught and he was given a smiling but menacing warning “not to try and avoid them again.”
In Turkey during the mid-1990s, I used to call the area just before the Ibrahim Xalil border crossing into Iraqi Kurdistan “the longest kilometer on earth” – one had to pass around ten police checks in that kilometer, with a different stop for police to check your tires, another for the trunk of the car, another for your papers, another for the inside of the car, and so forth. At each one, you had to pay a bribe – which probably explains why there were so many different checkpoints. Only the last checkpoint (manned by the Turkish army rather than the police) did not require a bribe.
Usually this sort of low-level corruption thrives when average officials are poorly paid and poorly supervised. In the case of the asayish in Kurdistan, it is the supervision issue which my experience makes me wonder about. Who watches the watchmen? How many secret prisons exist in Iraqi Kurdistan? How many people have been taken into custody, imprisoned, beaten, tortured and then forgotten, all without much in the way of legal evidence against them or legal means of defending themselves? How many people were intimidated for their politics, their money or something else, and how many of these remain too intimidated to publicize the harassment?
I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I’m reasonably certain that the institutional safeguards currently in place to prevent such things from happening are woefully inadequate. When I lived in the region in 2003 and 2004, the only operating human rights “NGOs” flew the KDP or PUK flags outside their offices. International Committee of the Red Cross officials I spoke with assured me that the treatment of [known] prisoners in Iraqi Kurdistan has improved a good deal since 2004, when the general consensus was that the asayish operated a bit more like most secret police in the region, but I suspect a lot remains unknown and much work still needs to be done. Perhaps now that the Gorran party received the interior ministry in the next government, they can put their words into action and establish a truly independent oversight body to watch the watchmen.
The asayish in Kurdistan have done a fine job protecting the region, of course, and people are grateful for this. They seem to be a good security force in a difficult neighborhood, and especially compared to the secret police of neighboring governments I think Iraqi Kurds are right to be proud of them. At the same time, I think Iraqi Kurds want their government, their institutions and their security forces to be different and much better than others in the region. Presumably Kurds do not struggle for self-determination in order to replace Arab, Persian or Turkish despots with local ones.
Kurdistan Regional Government officials seem to know this, as their treatment of minorities in the Kurdistan Region demonstrates – Turkmen, Assyrians, Arabs and others are free in South Kurdistan, with no impediments to educating their children in their own languages, to practicing their religions and cultures and publishing their views. In contrast to what happens in most other political systems in the region, Kurdistan’s last elections also saw the once co-dominant Patriotic Union of Kurdistan eclipsed by the new Gorran Movement, at which point the PUK gracefully accepted its defeat.
If the KRG, in fact if all Kurds, wish to keep sharing in these achievements, of serving as the real model of Middle Eastern Muslim moderation and democracy for which Washington has resumed its search (events in Turkey are addressed in another column), they should work at creating more institutional safeguards to watch over and command their security forces.
Hyundai to sign 6 billion USD oil refinery contract with Karbala government
Karbala (IraqiNews.com) The Local Government in Karbala province revealed that the next week will witness concluding of a contract with a Korean company to implement Karbala oil refinery project.
The Second Deputy Governor of Karbala, Ali al-Mayali, mentioned to the correspondent of IraqiNews.com on Tuesday ”The Ministry of Oil will sign the contract with the Korean company, Hyundai, next week.”
”The gross cost of the project reaches USD six billions within 54 months,” he added, noting that ”The project will provide about two to three thousand job opportunities for the province.”