Monday, April 17, 2006

IRAQ'S LEADERS STILL CAN'T AGREE ENOUGH to form a permanent government based on last December's election results:

Iraq's top legislator postponed the meeting of parliament scheduled for Monday, putting off "for a few days" an attempt to resolve a months-long deadlock over the formation of the country's new government.

The move was not entirely unexpected, but it still represented a setback for U.S. officials and an Iraqi public losing patience with four months of political paralysis since Dec. 15, when the country held elections to form a long-term government.

The delay coincided with a surge in sectarian killings between Iraq's Sunni Arabs and Shiite Muslims. At least 37 Iraqis died in shootings, bombings and other attacks Sunday, according to police officials and news reports. U.S. military officials also reported killing five insurgents in a raid in which a woman also was killed, and said four Marines were killed in combat west of Baghdad.

The Marines, from Regimental Combat Team 5, were killed in two engagements in Anbar province, officials said.

The biggest sticking point in the political process is whether incumbent Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jafari will serve a new four-year term. The leading coalition of Shiite parties nominated Jafari in a close vote, but Sunni Arabs, Kurds, and even some Shiites are now demanding an alternate candidate, saying Jafari is a weak leader. In recent days, some officials in the Shiite alliance said they had agreed to replace Jafari as part of a larger deal over who would hold the various positions in the government.

When Adnan al-Pachachi, the acting speaker of parliament, called on Wednesday for a meeting to resolve the impasse, he said it was with the intention of pushing all sides toward accommodation by setting Monday as a deadline. But as politicians from each group continued to hold closed-door meetings Sunday, Pachachi announced that the parliament meeting would be delayed "for a few days."

The Los Angeles Times reported yesterday that plans are afoot to scrap the election results and select a prime minister via political dealmaking and not in accordance with the way Iraqis voted in the elections.

Iraqi leaders worked Saturday to resolve their impasse over who will rule the country, with a secular coalition proposing an emergency government that would supersede election results and Shiite clerics conferring on how best to preserve their sect's newfound power.

Politicians remained deadlocked over Sunni Arab and Kurdish opposition to Ibrahim Jafari, the main Shiite Muslim coalition's nominee for prime minister. The crisis has created a political vacuum, stalling crucial reconstruction projects and contributing to the country's security woes.

Top Shiite clerics in Najaf were deep in discussion over whether to intervene more forcefully, an official at the clergy's office said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The clergy's aim, said the official, is to prevent the choice for prime minister from being made by the entire parliament, where Shiite politicians are short of a majority. The clerics also want to prevent the formation of a "salvation" government as proposed Saturday by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, the official said.

"They want to solve this crisis before there is an even bigger one," said the official.

Late last week, Mohammed Ridha Sistani, the son of Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, secured a commitment from radical cleric Muqtada Sadr not to object if the Shiites jettison Jafari, whom Sadr has supported.

Officials in the Shiite coalition, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there had been a concerted effort to remove Jafari. But party leaders still sought an alternate nominee, possibly a less-known figure from Jafari's Islamic Dawa Party.

Allawi, a onetime CIA protege and leader of a secular coalition with 25 seats in parliament, said in a statement broadcast on Iraqi television that political leaders might have to create an emergency government "that is capable of bringing Iraq to its feet and save it from its current deadly crisis."

Such a government could include political groups that didn't win seats in the election and be based on a political agreement rather than the constitution, said Adnan Pachachi, a leading politician in Allawi's coalition.

Many secular and moderate politicians who came to prominence in the initial period after the U.S.-led invasion failed to win seats in parliament in the December election. Iraqis voted heavily for coalitions based on ethnic or religious identities.

"It would be a genuine, effective partnership between all the political forces in the country," Pachachi said in an interview. "It would not necessarily be based on the results of the election, which we do not think reflected the voters' will, anyway."

Most Shiite religious and political leaders strongly oppose such a government, which they worry could deprive the Shiites of power even though they are a majority in the country.

Kurds, Sunnis and Allawi's followers oppose Jafari, saying he has been ineffective, bossy and uncommunicative during his year as interim premier. In recent weeks, Shiites within Jafari's coalition have also begun to speak out against him.

Shiites, Sunni Arabs and autonomy-minded Kurds have been jostling violently for power since the U.S.-led invasion brought down Saddam Hussein's Sunni-led government three years ago. [Emphasis above is mine.]

The Bush administration has been privately pressuring Jafari to resign while trying to appear neutral in public. Yesterday noted that "U.S. and British government representatives have said they want the situation resolved soon" -- meaning, presumably, that they support the idea of installing an "emergency" government that ignores the election results.

Remember back in December, when Pres. Bush and right-wing pundits were enthusing about purple fingers and massive Iraqi voter turnout and crowing about how it was for sure now that Iraq was a functioning democracy because they had had elections and the Iraqi people had spoken?

What good is democracy if you can just toss it aside when it becomes inconvenient?

Oddly enough, though, Iraq's new ambassador to the United States, Samir Sumaidaie, sees nothing inappropriate about the U.S. telling Iraq what to do:

Asked whether such comments represent interference in Iraq's internal affairs, Sumaidaie said, "I don't believe it could be described as improper interference. The United States and Britain have invested a great deal in this project in Iraq. They have invested blood and treasure, and they have a right to have a say."

Then again, maybe it's not so odd. Sumaidaie hasn't lived in Iraq for over 30 years. He left Iraq before Saddam Hussein came to power, and except for one brief visit in 1977, did not return until after Saddam was gone. Yet, somehow, he thinks he can speak for Iraqis who stayed in Iraq (which is most Iraqis). He even believes that the majority of Iraqis share his support for the war and occupation, despite the fact that they experienced it and are experiencing it firsthand, and he hasn't spent one day experiencing it.

The presence of U.S. troops in Iraq today is an extremely complex issue, Sumaidaie said, adding that he believes that often, many of the complexities are lost in the media coverage. Sumaidaie said he hopes that things in Iraq will continue to move forward and that American troops will return home safely. However, he said that American troops are needed in Iraq to sustain the current situation.

Even with the continuing insurgent attacks and uncertainty, Sumaidaie remains optimistic about the future.

"Iraqis know deep down that the Americans saved them," Sumaidaie said.

He expressed gratitude that the U.S. helped Iraq and believes that the freedom now enjoyed by Iraqis offers hope for better opportunities. [Emphasized text is mine.]

Iraqis know deep down that the Americans saved them? In other words, regardless of what Iraqis say they feel -- even if they say they think the invasion was wrong, even if they say they hate the Americans -- they are really grateful for the invasion! Sumaidaie knows their true feelings better than they do, even though they were there and Sumaidaie wasn't, and hasn't been for more than three decades!

Can you say presumptuous? Can you say arrogant? Can you say insufferably condescending?

And then there is that bit about "the freedom Iraqis now enjoy." The freedom to vote and then have the United States instruct the chosen leader of the winning coalition to resign? The freedom to say how you really feel about what's happening in your country and have your feelings ignored and discounted?

Maybe Sumaidaie is talking about the freedom Iraqi women now have to risk their lives if they fail to follow Islamic codes of behavior and dress for their gender. Possibly he thinks Iraqis are enjoying the freedom of living through a civil war, of being forced to flee their homes and cities by the tens of thousands, while American troops stand by helplessly, unable to do a thing to stop it. Or perhaps he is thinking about the freedom of living every minute of every day in fear of the militias, which the U.S. military authorities in Iraq have not taken seriously, and in some cases have even tolerated or encouraged. Jonathan Steele of the Guardian refers to assertions made by Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, that militias are the "infrastructure of civil war":

[Khalilzad] is not the first US overlord in Iraq to spot the danger. Shortly before the formal transfer of sovereignty to Iraqis, America's then top official Paul Bremer ordered all militias to disband. Some members could join the new army. Others would have to look for civilian work.

His decree was not enforced and now, two years later, this failure has come back to haunt Iraq. "More Iraqis are dying from militia violence than from the terrorists," Khalilzad said recently. "The militias need to be under control."

His blunt comment came in the wake of over 1,000 abductions and murders in a single month, most of them blamed on Shia militias. Terrified residents of Baghdad's mainly Sunni areas talk of cars roaring up after dark, uninhibited by the police in spite of the curfew. They enter homes and seize people, whose bodies turn up later, often garotted or marked with holes from electric drills -- evidence of torture before assassination.

But Sumaidaie can still gibber on about "the freedom Iraqis now enjoy" because -- the only thing that matters -- Saddam Hussein is gone.

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