Saturday, January 31, 2009

Iraq Election Day Peacefull and Inclusive

Prime Minister of Iraq Nouri Maliki cast his vote.

"A new dawn, God willing," said Sabah Bashir Hassan, known as Abu Talib, who leads thousands of former insurgents and others in the Popular Committees, the name here for the U.S.-backed Sunni militia that fought the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq.

"To me, the elections represent the point between darkness and light," the Sunni leader said. "Everybody wants to turn a page on the past. We're turning a new page over today."

Iraqis vote in provincial elections under tight security. The vote is seen as a test for the nation's stability as the U.S. weighs dialing down its troop presence here.

US President Barack Obama has congratulated Iraqis for holding a largely peaceful vote for provincial councils across the country.

He called the elections "an important step forward" for Iraqi self-determination.

Mr Obama urged the newly elected councils to "get seated, select new governors, and begin work on behalf of the Iraqi people who elected them".

The elections were held in 14 of the country's 18 provinces, with more than 14,000 candidates competing for just 440 seats.

There was no voting in the three provinces of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of the north and the ballot was postponed in oil-rich Kirkuk province.

There was a strong turn-out in Sunni areas, which boycotted the last polls.

The first nationwide vote in four years is seen as a test of stability before a general election due later this year.

Displaced Kurds Demanded Vote
Hundreds of Iraqi Kurds stormed an electoral commission office in northeast Iraq on Saturday claiming they were displaced residents of Khanaqin and demanding to vote, an official said.

“The Kurds entered the election commission office and asked to vote because they said they were people displaced by Saddam Hussein,” an official from the electoral commission told AFP.

The issue was resolved when those holding identification from Khanaqin were allowed to vote in the provincial elections that were held on Saturday, the official added.

During Saddam’s reign tens of thousands of Kurds were forced to relocate to the Kurd regions in northern Iraq, as part of the dictator’s Arabisation plans.

Many of those 16,000 residents have returned in the wake of the 2003 US-invasion which deposed Saddam, renewing tensions and sparking rival territorial claims between Kurds and Arab Shiites.

The town of Khanaqin in northeast Diyala province is near the border with Iran and holds sizeable oil reserves.

The local Kurdish political leadership has called for Khanaqin to join the adjoining autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq

Four thousand women are running for office in Iraq

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Four thousand women are running for office in Iraq's provincial elections Saturday, and many of them will be guaranteed seats under an electoral quota system.

Iraqi women show off their ink-stained fingers after voting Saturday in Baghdad.

Iraqi women show off their ink-stained fingers after voting Saturday in Baghdad.

Regardless of the votes their candidates receive, parties are required to give every third seat to a woman, according to a report this week from the International Crisis Group.

The ultimate share of seats held by women will depend on the distribution of votes among parties, the report said.

Some women candidates say these elections -- only the second provincial elections since the fall of Saddam Hussein -- are a chance to improve their standing in Iraqi society.

Nibras al-Mamuri is a secular female candidate who argues that fundamentalists have taken over the country. She says it was the 2005 elections that brought them into power and tarnished Islam's image in Iraq.

Al-Mamuri, who is running for the Baghdad provincial council, says it's time for a change. Video

"Although a woman's role in the Arab world is mainly that of a mother and child bearer," she said, "I want to prove that women are just as capable as men when it comes to challenging

At first, al-Mamuri said, she thought just participating in the elections as a woman was enough. But now, she says she is running to win in order to defy men who believe a woman's place is in the home.

"I've entered a battlefield where women have to prove they are competent," she said. "I have to forget about fear."

In recent years, Iraqi women have been targeted by extremists for a variety of reasons -- from not covering their hair to entering the political arena.

Under Hussein, Iraq was one of the more secular Arab countries, but the 2003 U.S. invasion unleashed extremist militias. Now, many activists say women have been forced back to the Dark Ages, forced to be submissive, anonymous and fully veiled.

Al-Mamuri said she believes Saturday's vote can help women improve their position in society.

"An Iraqi woman can be an equal. She can participate in change," she told CNN.

The image of a woman posing a public and direct challenge to fundamentalists and their beliefs was not seen in the 2005 vote.


"Iraqi women form the core of society," said Rissala Khalid, another female candidate in Baghdad.

Passing out her campaign card, Khalid told young women that she will fight for their rights, and told young men that she will try to provide jobs for Iraq's largely unemployed youth.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Barack Obama, Day One Meeting to discuss Iraq Poilicy

Top of the Agenda:

Reporting from Washington -- President Obama will discuss U.S. military involvement in Iraq with his senior national security team this afternoon, a critical first meeting as the new administration reshapes the Pentagon's war strategy.

"Running up to the inauguration, the president made clear this is one of the important items on his agenda," said Bryan Whitman, the Pentagon spokesman. "This is a logical first step for a new president that wants to speak to the people most directly responsibility for managing and executing the wars."

Obama is scheduled to meet with White House National Security Advisor James L. Jones and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates

along with Adm. Michael G. Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,

and Gen. David H. Petraeus, the head of U.S. forces in the Middle East.

In addition, Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the top commander in Iraq, will participate by video teleconference.

At the meeting, expected to begin around 4 p.m. Eastern time, Obama could order a change in war policy and direct the military to speed up its withdrawals.

But some officials believe it is more likely that the president will ask the Defense Department take some time to draft new plans for his approval. Military officials said that will give them a chance to reconcile commanders' current plans with the wishes of the new president.,0,1363695.story

In Iraq Basara attempt at becoming autonomous Failed

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A drive to boost the political and economic power of Iraq's oil-rich southern province of Basra has failed, Iraqi election officials said Wednesday.

An Iraqi security patrols a water way in Basra.

An Iraqi security patrols a water way in Basra.

A petition campaign that would have paved the way for a referendum asking voters to make Basra an autonomous region did not garner enough signatures, the Independent Electoral High Commission said.

We now have a quantitative indicator of the true level of popular support: it is somewhere between the 2 per cent of the electorate that turned in the first 30,000 plus signatures required to get the initiative going and the 10 per cent of the electorate that the federalists were unable to mobilise between 15 December 2008 and 15 January 2009.

The idea of an autonomous region in southern Iraq reflects the challenges of restoring political stability and balancing competing interests in Iraq among the war-torn country's many diverse constituencies.

Under the country's constitution, one or more of Iraq's 18 provinces may form federal regions. At present, the three-province Kurdish region is the only such region in the country.

Called for by Vice President Biden in 2004:

The Biden & co plan for federal partition in 2004-5 recognized Iraq civil war for what it was, notable in itself. It accepted US responsibility for putting a mitigating structure in place. 'Fence the sectarian militias in homelands, while safeguarding secular and sectarian blending in the Baghdad belt.' It was an attempt to avert a disaster like Lebanon, Palestine or Bosnia. Hoped for quid pro quo protection of Christian, Turkomen, Persian or imbedded minorities within each partition was bound to be limited, with conflict on the Kurd borderlands evident before we blew our way into Baghdad.

Our feckless six year war of occupation instead saw the destruction of Sunni cities, Baghdad belt chaos and a civil war that killed hundreds of thousands, and displaced 4 millions. The civil war especially impacted the skilled urban middle class that any occupation plan should have protected in place. The occupying force failed to protect even our own translators and informants.

No one can know if early federal partition could have reduced the scope of the Iraq calamity. But Biden should be excused for pointing to constitutional federal provisions during the 2006 melt-down, and the 2007 mission reset that we call 'the surge'.

The barrier to forming any of the 3 'stans' at this time seems to be that no one is able or trusted by Kurd or Sunni to redraw regional boundaries. Shiite and Sunni Arabs remain deeply (lethally) divided within their sectarian communities.

BASARA's return to normalcy after Millitias taken out

There has been a tug of war between the central government and local powers. In the face of a push by regional officials for more autonomy, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki backs a stronger federal government and wants changes in the constitution to bolster its power.

"The existence of a strong central federal government that is able to preserve the country's unity is not detrimental to the provinces; they will have more support and money to bring about achievements, develop the economy and increase services," al-Maliki said in remarks to crowds Wednesday in Najaf.

Federal region status would give Basra the same legal power as the Kurdistan in northern Iraq.

Basra officials backing federal region status hoped it would have boosted the amount of oil income staying in the region.

Basran politician Wail Abd al-Latif started the drive last month that would give voters the opportunity to make the Shiite-dominated province a federal region. Wail Abd al-Latif, the chief protagonist of the campaign to transform Basra into a standalone federal region, has told Iraqi radio that his project has failed. Abd al-Latif is already talking about the possibility of re-launching his scheme at some future juncture, and his comments echo statements to the press by another supporter of the project,

The month-long petition drive -- which began December 15 and ended January 19 -- needed the signatures of at least 10 percent of the registered voters in the province.

Officials said 135,707 signatures were required but only 32,448 signatures were collected before the deadline.

Another idea for an autonomous region had emerged from the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, one of the parties in the ruling United Iraq Alliance. It is looking at a nine-province federal region in the south.

Basra is the only Iraqi province that borders a body of water -- the Shatt al Arab waterway near the Persian Gulf. The province also borders Kuwait and Iran. Cities in the province include Basra city, Umm Qasr and Zubayr.

Freed last year from the grip of militias, Basra has emerged as the main battleground for rival Shiites in elections for control of the oil-rich south — a race that will test the power of religious parties and the influence of neighboring Iran.

The Jan. 31 ballot, in which voters across the country will choose ruling provincial councils, will be the first since U.S.-backed Iraqi forces wrested control of Basra from Shiite militias and criminal gangs.

American officials will be watching the outcome for any sign that the militias might return in Iraq's second largest city of about 2 million people, located only a few miles from the Iranian border.

More than 1,000 candidates have entered the race for Basra's 35 council seats, filling the city's dusty and traffic-choked streets with campaign posters and flyers that give the city a festive look. The outcome will help shape the political future of the southern Shiite heartland ahead of national elections expected by year's end.

Basra has been relatively quiet since last year's military crackdown, which ended three years of Shiite militia rule, rampant crime and turmoil. Today, thousands of national police and army soldiers patrol its streets.

At the commercial heart of the city, the soldiers and policemen rub shoulders with the thousands of residents who throng stores until late into the night. With militiamen off the streets, women are out in public again — some unaccompanied by male chaperons and wearing makeup.

Music CDs and DVDs of Western and Egyptian films are back in the stores. Those items were once banned by militias; merchants who defied the gunmen risked death.

The battle for Basra is now being fought politically, with Shiite religious parties more divided than ever following their emergence as Iraq's dominant political force after the ouster of Saddam Hussein's Sunni-led regime in 2003.

Chief among the competitors in Basra are the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, the country's largest Shiite party and Iran's main ally in Iraq, and Fadhila, a smaller religious group that has controlled local government since the last provincial elections in January 2005.

Also in the mix are followers of radical Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr, whose influence in Basra significantly diminished after last year's crackdown. Al-Sadr, who lives in exile in Iran, is supporting two lists of candidates running as independents.

The Dawa Party of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is also in the race.

Al-Maliki's popularity soared here after he took on the militias. He is at odds with the Supreme Council over distribution of power between provinces and the central government.

No single party is expected to win a majority of seats. But Fadhila and the Supreme Council, which is allied with al-Maliki in the national government and has been a reliable U.S. ally despite its ties to Iran, are expected to top the winners.

That will likely push them into deals with smaller parties to form a majority.

However, some in Basra predict the two biggest parties will suffer from a voter backlash against religious parties, which many urban Shiites believe have failed to provide public services and jobs.

Still, secular politician Hamed al-Dhalmi believes the religious parties have the money for their candidates to succeed. The Supreme Council can also use its ties to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's top Shiite cleric, to win votes among Basra's poor Shiites.

"Religious parties are flush with cash, while nonreligious parties hope to take advantage of the popular disillusionment with the religious parties," said al-Dhalmi, a member of Basra's provincial council and a linguistics professor.

"No one knows who will win, but one thing is certain, the political map here will change."

For the parties, the stakes are high.

Basra and the surrounding province contain 70 percent of Iraq's proven oil reserves of 115 billion barrels. The province also includes the country's only outlet to the sea — the Umm Qasr port on the Persian Gulf.

"We are not ready to give up Basra and we are hopeful it will remain in our hands," said Aqeel al-Fereij, a senior Fadhila member of the outgoing Basra provincial council.

The Supreme Council is equally determined to win control of Basra after four years of Fadhila domination.

"Without wanting to sound too confident or too ambitious, we will not be happy with less than the majority that places us in a decision-making position," said Furat al-Sharaa, a local Supreme Council leader and a candidate.

Basra's proximity to Iran has made the city a focus of Iranian efforts to gain influence in post-Saddam Iraq.

The Supreme Council is pushing for the establishment of a self-ruled area in the south, similar to one the Kurds enjoy in the north. Critics believe such a region would be effectively run by Iran, harden religious divisions and lead to the breakup Iraq.

Basra stores are filled with Iranian goods from vegetables and fruits to electrical appliances, eggs and fresh red meat. Iran's consulate has an unusually high profile in the city, throwing frequent banquets, organizing book fairs at the local university and sponsoring scores of visits by local officials to Iran.

Fadhila is taking advantage of the popular perception of its rival as an Iranian ally to promote itself as a nationalist party free of foreign influence.

"Fadhila, a party that is 100 percent Iraqi," declare its campaign posters. "Born in Iraq and Financed by Iraqis," say others.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

Bush's Legacy must include Prosocution of his Crimes

Forgive and forget all of the crimes of the Bush Administration and instead focus on the future would be in itself criminal and inexcusable- as was much of what happened during the last 8 years.

Well summed up by Kieth Olbereman in this video

8 years in 8 minutes - accomplishments of George W. Bush - Keith Olberman

Friday, January 16, 2009

Bush's farewell to Iraq- We had fun.

Comments by James Denselow of the Guardian regard the fun that Bush had:, Friday 16 January 2009

Early in December before the Middle East began another round of bloodshed, President Bush gave a speech at the Brookings Institute where he summed up the legacy of his foreign policy on the Middle East. He began by explaining that the "Middle East in 2008 is a freer, more hopeful and more promising place than it was in 2001."

This is the conclusion to President Bush's personal narrative of his impact on the Middle East. The symbolic handing over of the Green Zone – the epicentre of US power in Iraq – provides the illusionary end of President Bush's "successful" attempt to bring freedom to the people of Iraq.
The American public has its own reasons for not liking Bush and his wars. Latest US polls suggested that 79% of Americans will not miss him after he leaves the White House. Iraq has been the second most expensive American war in history according to the Centre for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. The deceit over WMD, the failure to square expectations from "mission accomplished" in 2003 with the bloody Iraqi civil war that followed, the number of American casualties and the subsequent controversies over veteran treatment all added up to a messy conflict that the US is ready to see end.

The largest danger for Iraq is what military commanders and diplomats term "slippage". While this refers largely to any potential reversal in the metrics of success (US troops killed, Iraqi civilians killed, oil output etc.) – recent events have highlighted the dangers of going back to square one. Indeed US attempts to empower the Iraqi military in order to calm the competing elements within society may sow the seeds of this reset. The Iraqi military's operations across Iraq over the past year have been designed to allow the state to take charge. The relative success of these operations is reflected in the emboldened premiership of Prime Minister Maliki. However, if the state (for what it's worth) becomes dependent on the military for power, what happens when the military challenges the state for power?

The new Iraq is also largely religious and tribal in nature with regular attacks at the time of key festivals – such as the 38 civilians killed on Ashura or other outbreaks of violence when tribal diplomacy fails (such as the recent story about 23 people killed in a tribal dispute).

At his final press conference on Monday President Bush said that he and his administration "had fun", but for the millions of displaced Iraqis, the thousands of wounded, those imprisoned without trial and those who live in fear of violent death there is no saying goodbye to the Iraq tragedy.

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