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Six Years Later: March 19 - Shock & Awe (aka The Beginning of the End)

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Middle East
Feb 19, 2010 
Allawi flirts with Iraq's elections

By Sami Moubayed

DAMASCUS - There is rising concern in Iraq over the parliamentary elections scheduled for March 7, with two main options now on the table.

One option is for the polls to take place amid widespread Sunni resentment - and a boycott similar to the one of 2005. That would lead to an overwhelming victory for Iran-backed politicians like Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, ex-premier Ibrahim al-Jaafari, Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and Adel Abdul Mehdi of the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (SIIC).

Another scenario is that the elections will be called off altogether, due to rising violence and Sunni resentment with Maliki's handling of the pre-election process. The controversy of disqualifying candidates, which has rocked the Iraqi scene for more than three weeks, is ongoing as 145 candidates are now officially confirmed as ineligible to run for office, due to their alleged ties to the outlawed Ba'ath Party.

Originally, the number of disqualified candidates stood at over 500, mainly Sunnis and seculars, but that has been slashed to 145. One man, however, remains on the blacklist: Saleh al-Mutlak, the heavyweight chief of the Iraqi National Dialogue Front, which has 11 members in the outgoing parliament.

Not only does the rejection of Mutlak's candidacy shed serious doubt about the election results, given his heavyweight status as a Sunni statesman, it also aims to bring down another secular - ex-prime minister Iyad Allawi, who is running with Mutlak on a joint list called the Iraqi Nationalist Movement Coalition (al-Iraqiya), a cross-sectarian outfit aimed at restoring secularism to Iraq.

Allawi has announced that he will be suspending his election campaign on Sunday in protest against the disqualification of Mutlak, who, like him, is a former member of the Ba'ath Party.

If Allawi pulls out, it will be good news for the prime minister and his allies, as a major challenger will have been removed.

Top Sunni statesmen like Vice President Tarek al-Hashemi, leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party, are also part of Allawi's coalition and in protest they, too, might not stand.

The disqualified politicians are crying foul play, accusing Maliki of wanting to return to one-party rule and claiming that he has transformed into a despot, arresting and persecuting anyone who is not supportive of his State of Law Coalition.

Allawi, who has never seen Maliki as a real statesman, will appeal to parliament to intervene and halt the disqualifications. The ex-prime minister, who has eyed the premiership since 2006, is furious with the series of attacks in recent weeks that have targeted his allies, blaming them on the central government in Baghdad.

One bomb went off in north Baghdad, near Mutlak's office headquarters, an area under the supposedly watchful eye of the pro-Maliki Ministry of Interior. Another bomb was thrown into the garden of a building in al-Mansour in west Baghdad that is used by Sunni scholars who are supportive of Mutlak and Hashemi. A third struck the headquarters of Allawi's Iraqi National List. A few days ago, a member of the Iraqi National List who planned to stand as a candidate in March was murdered in Mosul.

Coinciding with the attacks was a statement by Omar al-Baghdadi of al-Qaeda, threatening to sabotage the elections if they led to a victory of Iran-backed candidates like Maliki, maintaining the status quo of 2005-2010. According to a statement by the terrorist group, "Sunni participation in this election will certainly lead to the establishment of the principle that Sunnis in Iraq are a minority who have to be ruled by the rejectionists [in reference to Shi'ites]." It added, "We have decided to prevent these elections by all legitimate means possible; primarily, military means."

For very different reasons, radical groups like al-Qaeda and secular ones like the Iraqi National List are furious with the regime of Maliki. Both, however, want to prevent a Shi'ite-packed parliament from emerging in Baghdad.

Allawi wants to restore a fiery brand of secularism and Arab nationalism to Iraq. For the past five years, seculars have been the weaker link, unable to stand up to the sectarian giant that dominated the Iraqi street.

When civil war was ripe, due to a terrorist attack on a revered Shi'ite shrine in a mixed Sunni-Shi'ite city in February 2006, ordinary Iraqis turned to men with arms for protection. These militias happened to be religiously driven, believed to be on the payroll of Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Seculars like Allawi, who had no arms at their disposal, became increasingly unattractive to ordinary Iraqis as they preached a program that steered clear of religious overtones. Maliki and his team had the state at their disposal, along with plenty of funds, and came from religiously driven political parties like al-Dawa and SIIC and were fully backed by Tehran.

Five years down the road, those who betted on Maliki realize that despite his strength and rosy promises, he has been unable to deliver security or stability to Iraq. The massive bombings in August, October and December 2009 are testimony to the fact that the prime minister and his turbaned allies have drastically failed as nation-builders.

They have also cornered Iraq into isolation, distancing the country from traditional Arab friends like Syria, Saudi Arabia and most of the Arab Gulf. They frown on a political elite running Baghdad, especially one that strives for an Iran-style theocracy. This bolstered Allawi's popularity as ordinary Iraqis lost faith in a state built on sectarian affiliations.

For years, Maliki's team claimed that Allawi and Mutlak posed no real threat to their political existence, claiming that the Iraqi street - the Shi'ite part of it at least - remained rallied behind their leaders.

At one point, because of the relative calm brought to Iraq in 2007-2008, Maliki even began to attract supporters from the Sunni street. Briefly in early 2009, Maliki began to preach an agenda that was non-sectarian, promising Iraqis during provincial elections they would get better pay, better security, cheaper hospitals, finer education and more foreign direct investment to rescue the collapsing economy.

The support that Maliki obtained from both Sunnis and Shi'ites in January 2009 crumbled later that summer when over 100 Iraqis from all sects were killed in six attacks that ripped through Baghdad. Ordinary Iraqis from all religious groups have since started searching for credible alternatives, finding promise in Allawi and Mutlak.

Nobody realized this change better than Maliki and his allies, which explains the systematic state-sponsored disqualifications that began early this year.

Sami Moubayed is editor-in-chief of Forward Magazine in Syria.


Odierno: Chalabi, Lami Tied to Iran

BY Robert Dreyfuss


February 17, 2010

Yesterday, during his appearance at the Institute for the Study of War, I had a chance to ask General Ray Odierno, the US commander in Iraq, about the role of Iran in the recent purge of nearly 500 Iraqi candidates on trumped-up charges that they are Baathists. Odierno avoided diplomatic niceties and blamed Iran, Ahmed Chalabi, and Ali al-Lami by name.

Lami is the executive director of the de-Baathification commission in Iraq, now reemerged as the Accountability and Justice Commission, overseen by Chalabi. On January 14, the AJC ruled that hundreds of Iraqi candidates would be barred from running for office, including some very prominent secular politicians opposed to Iran. I asked General Odierno to clarify Lami's ties to Iran, and why he'd been arrested by US forces in 2008.

From the transcript:

DREYFUSS "I'm Bob Dreyfuss with The Nation magazine. [I want to ask about] Ali al-Lami, who was arrested by the U.S. a year and a half ago. And I was wondering if you could kind of clear up who this guy is and what his connections to Iran are and why he was arrested and why he was freed."
ODIERNO "Al-Lami is a Sadr'ist by trade. He was arrested after an operation in Sadr City where both Iraqi security forces, U.S. civilians, and U.S. soldiers were leaving a meeting that they had with the local government in Sadr City, and their vehicles were attacked with IEDs as they left the meeting.

"There were some accusations. We had some intelligence that said that al-Lami was the one who directed these attacks on these individuals. He was released in August of '09 as part of the drawdown of our detention facilities because we did not have the actual prosecutorial evidence in order to bring him in front of a court of law in Iraq. All we had was intelligence that linked him to this attack. So, as we had some others, we had to release him. He has been involved in very nefarious activities in Iraq for some time. It is disappointing that somebody like him was in fact put in charge or has been able to run this commission inside of Iraq, in my opinion.

"He is -- him and Chalabi clearly are influenced by Iran. We have direct intelligence that tells us that. They've had several meetings in Iran, meeting with a man named Mohandas, which is an ex-council representative member -- still is a council representative member -- who was on the terrorist watch list for a bombing in Kuwait in the 1980s. They are tied to him. He sits at the right-hand side of the Quds Force commandant, Qassem Soleimani. And we believe they're absolutely involved in influencing the outcome of the election. And it's concerning that they've been able to do that over time.

"Chalabi, who -- you know, has been involved in Iraqi politics in many different ways over the last seven years, mostly bad."

I also asked Odierno whether Lami is tied to the League of the Righteous, a Shiite terrorist group that is widely seen as an arm of Iran's Qods Force, the branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps that is responsible for the IRGC's external operations, including Iraq:

ODIERNO: "Yeah. I'm not going to -- it's not clear, so I won't comment on that."

As I've noted recently in this blog, the AJC's anti-Baathist purge, which has struck hundreds of Iraqis with only tenuous connections to the former regime, has threatened to unravel the entire Iraqi political fabric and restart sectarian violence. The Iranians aren't shy about taking credit for it, either, linking the United States to the Baath as part of some (nonexistent) anti-Iran plot. Last week, for instance, in his speech on the anniversary of Iran's 1979 revolution, President Ahmadinejad said:

"Why do you [United States] want to impose your will and Baathists on Iraq and regional nations?"
Tariq al-Hashemi, the vice president of Iraq and a leading Sunni politician who has joined with the campaign of Iyad Allawi, wrote a protest to the Iranian ambassador in Iraq about the speech by Ahmadinejad and Iran's blatant interference in Iraqi affairs.


Ahmed Chalabi's Victory

by Aram Roston


February 17, 2010

"Wallowing in his narcissism, victory to him means only one thing: his own political survival." That phrase appeared under the byline of Ahmad Chalabi in 1991, on the op-ed page of The Washington Post. He had fled Jordan while under criminal investigation, and was getting his political career going, even as the embezzlement case against him for massive bank fraud was under way.

He was referring to Saddam Hussein in that 1991 article, but of course Chalabi's own political survival, then and now, has been a stunning accomplishment. Now he thrives because Iran and its Revolutionary Guards, old allies of his, find him useful.

His most recent victory has been to establish relevance from nothing. First, he made himself something of a force in the upcoming Parliamentary elections in Iraq by forging a Shiite political bloc called the Iraqi National Alliance. He's on the party list with former Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Al Jaafari. Chalabi's driving ideology, his friends and family have always told me, has been his Shi'ism.

But just as important, Chalabi leveraged the one platform he had, an anti-Ba'athist committee he inherited from the days after the US invasion, to ban hundreds of political candidates for purported Ba'athist ties. It is seen as an effort to marginalize Sunni interests. He may yet, some believe, help spoil the March 7 elections in Iraq.

And Chalabi is getting noticed. General Ray Odierno, the well-respected US commander in Iraq, said Tuesday that Chalabi was actually aiding Iran with his antics. Chalabi and his sidekick on the anti-Baathist committee were "clearly influenced by Iran," the general said.

(Meanwhile, in old-school mirror imaging, Chalabi was accusing the United States, his former patron, not Iran, his current patron, of interfering in Iraq. The Tehran Times, an English language newspaper in Iran, had the following headline, "Chalabi: U.S. interfering in Iraq elections.")

In spite of all the fabrications and his propaganda of the past, Chalabi still has more loyal friends in the US then most people imagine. A prominent investigative editor who works for a website last year told me he'd still talk to Chalabi as a source.

Chalabi's US representative, Francis Brooke, insisted to me last week that Chalabi was the best friend America has in Iraq, a sorry thought.

It's easy to forget, now, seven years after the US invaded Iraq, how the American government gave Chalabi tens of millions of dollars over the years after his family banking business collapsed in fraud in 1989. It is also easy to forget how he used all that money to propagandize, how he raised more funds, and how Chalabi convinced so many influential Americans of the preposterous idea that simply giving him money would help topple Saddam. It is easy to forget all that, but it is important not to.

Certainly, Chalabi will remain a royal pain to plenty of people, and that will be his victory.


Iraq: Spate of Christian killings before Iraq March vote



February 17, 2010

MOSUL, Iraq (Reuters) - Four Christians have been killed in the last four days by gunmen in Iraq's turbulent north, weeks ahead of an election in which the minority group's vote could be a factor in a Kurd-Arab tussle for power.

Bombings and shootings are recorded almost daily in the violent northern city of Mosul, where a struggle for territory and power between Arabs and Kurds has hampered effective policing and been exploited by al Qaeda.

"We do not know anything except the situation is miserable in Mosul. We Christians became the target of political struggles," said a Christian priest in Mosul who declined to be named.

With Iraq's March 7 parliamentary vote looming, a spike in attacks against Christians could be a sign of voter intimidation by factions in the bitter Kurd-Arab dispute, or another attempt by al Qaeda to derail the election.

Sunni Islamist insurgent groups such as al Qaeda have little tolerance for those who do not adhere to their severe brand of Islam, and have attacked Iraqi minorities they label crusaders, devil worshippers and infidels.

In a November report, Human Rights Watch warned Kurd-Arab tensions put Iraq's minorities in a precarious position. Tensions are now likely exacerbated by the election.

There is a quota in parliament for Christian seats, but there are Christian lists of election candidates which include some that are closer to the Kurds, others who are independent, and others closer to the Arabs.

An al Qaeda affiliated group in Iraq last week said it would use military means to prevent the vote, given that Iraq's majority Shi'ites, whom they consider heretics, are likely to lead Iraq's next government.

On Wednesday morning police said they found the body of a Christian student, a day after gunmen opened fire on two other Christian students, killing one of them.

On Monday, gunmen stormed a grocery store and killed its Christian owner. A day earlier, a Christian man was shot dead outside his home.

Christians number around 250,000 to 300,000 in Nineveh province, of which Mosul is capital.

Abdul-Raheem al-Shemari, head of the provincial council's security committee, said a "systematic campaign" of violence against minorities had started late last year and that there were "political motives" behind the attacks.

Sabah Belda, a tailor and a Christian, said he had shuttered his shop and would go into hiding after hearing of the latest Christian slayings.

"I will hide in my house to watch out for my family until things change and the assassinations targeting us in recent days end," he said.

(Additional reporting and writing by Aseel Kami; Editing by Mohammed Abbas and Jon Hemming)


Chalabi and Al-Lami work for Iran - That is news for you? .. واي واي فطم

by Imad Khadduri

February 17, 2010

"The top American commander in Iraq says the U.S. has "direct intelligence" that two senior Iraqi officials in charge of keeping Saddam Hussein loyalists out of the Baghdad government have ties to Iran.

Gen. Raymond Odierno says Ali al-Lami and Ahmed Chalabi "are clearly influenced by Iran" and have attended senior-level meetings with members of the hardline Shiite regime there.

Al-Lami, detained in 2008 because of alleged ties to a Baghdad bombing, now heads an Iraq commission that has blacklisted hundreds of political candidates. Chalabi, who is blamed for supplying the U.S. faulty intelligence on Iraq's weapons program prior to the 2003 invasion, also is a member of the panel."

US General Cites Direct Intel Linking Iraq's al-Lami, Chalabi To Iran, February 16, 2010

If Odierno, after 7 years of occupation, considers this news, then no wonder he has made it up the ranks to be a U.S. General.

ـ"قال الجنرال ريموند اوديرنو القائد العسكري الامريكي الاعلى في العراق إن لدى الولايات المتحدة "ادلة استخبارية مباشرة" تثبت ان كلا من علي اللامي واحمد الجلبي، المسؤولين في هيئة المساءلة والعدالة العراقية المتخصصة في منع كبار اعضاء حزب البعث من المشاركة في العملية السياسية في العراق مرتبطان بايران.ـ
واكد الجنرال اوديرنو بأنه من الواضح تماما ان اللامي والجلبي واقعان تحت النفوذ الايراني، وانهما حضرا اجتماعات رفيعة المستوى مع مسؤولين ايرانيين كبار.ـ
يذكر ان اللامي، الذي كان قد اعتقل عام 2008 لتورطه في تفجير ببغداد وهجمات على القوات الامريكية يترأس هيئة المساءلة والعدالة التي منعت في الآونة الاخيرة المئات من المرشحين من المشاركة في الانتخابات المزمع اجراؤها في العراق في الشهر المقبل بدعوى اما انتمائهم لحزب البعث او الترويج له.ـ
اما الجلبي، المسؤول عن تزويد الولايات المتحدة بمعلومات مضللة عن برامج اسلحة الدمار الشامل العراقية قبيل الغزو الامريكي، فهو عضو في الهيئة المذكورة."ـ
الجنرال اوديرنو: مسؤولا "المساءلة والعدالة" العراقية مرتبطان مباشرة بايران
ـ16 شباط 2010

بالرغم من أني أتفادى، وقدر الإمكان، من إستخدام أمثلة قد تبدو غير لائقة في هذا الموقع، إلا أن تصريح جنرال الإحتلال ذكـَرني بتعليق صديق بدوي عندما علم بأمر شهادتي وفي نفس الوقت جهلي بأمور الصحراء، إذ لم يصبر على تخرصاتي و عبـّر عن ما يجيش في نفسه بالتالي:ـ
ـ"أكول! إذا هلكد تفتهم، ليش ما إطـّلع من طيزك فـِلم؟"ـ



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