Friday, November 18, 2011

Who Won the Iraq War?

"The visit aims to develop bilateral relations, as Iran and Iraq are two friendly countries and neighbours, who must have very close relations,"  The Iraqi armed forces chief of staff, General Babak Zebari, made the remarks during a meeting with General Mohammad Pakpour, the commander of the elite Revolutionary Guards' ground forces in Tehran earlier this week. -AFP

**This article was originally published at Good Bye and Good Luck, a newsletter at the Dept. of Government at the University of Texas. Click here to find original link.

By Ali Rawaf

Last month, President Obama announced the end of the Iraq war, saying the last few thousand troops would withdraw by Dec. 2. While polls show a majority of Americans support the president’s decision, Iraqis have become significantly concerned over increased meddling from Iran. The State Department has warned Iran against interfering in Iraqi internal affairs after the troops leave and also told the Iraqis that Iran will not be a problem in the future. The truth is that U.S. officials underestimate Iranian influence and control in Iraq and the region.

Iraq’s Prime Minister, Nuri Al-Maliki, who didn’t win the last elections, was able to form a government only because Iran, a Shiite state, pressured the Shiite groups in the country to rally around him and give him the vote of confidence. Al-Maliki, a divisive figure even amongst the Shiites, has been returning the favor to Iran ever since. He has sent the Iraqi army to crack down on Mujahidee Khalk, an Iranian opposition group that has been based in Iraq for a couple of decades. Despite calls from international human rights groups to halt the attacks on the group’s camp, Al-Maliki still periodically sends Iraqi troops to intimidate them. He has vowed to remove the group from the country at the end of the year.

Iranian influence goes well beyond Iraq. In Syria, Iran has been transferring weapons to the Assad regime and abetting Assad’s crackdown on protestors opposing the regime. Last month, California-based BlueCoat said that internet surveillance devices which were sold to the Iraqi government were later found to be used by the Syrian regime to crack down on protestors. How did that happen? The Iranian regime bought those devices for Syria under the name of the Iraqi Communications Ministry.

Al-Maliki is also returning a favor to Iran by keeping quiet about the developments in Syria. As the Syrian regime employed the army to crack down on its people, Al-Maliki hosted a group of Syrian officials and entrepreneurs to strengthen economic ties with the Syrian regime. And recently, Al-Maliki’s foreign minister said Baghdad is committed to preventing any action against Iran.

In the Palestinian territories, Iran funds Hamas, the militant group blocking Palestinian-Israeli peace, and Hezbolla, the anti-western, militant Shiite group in Lebanon. In Yemen, Iran funds extremist, militant Shiite groups.

If Iran is this influential without nuclear weapons, I can only imagine what happens when Tehran acquires such weapons.

If the U.S. follows through with a complete troop withdrawal, Iran would be the sole winner of the Iraq war. The war would have only cleared the way for Iran to exert more influence in the region. After the president’s announcement of a U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq, an Iranian delegation visited Iraq and signed economic and political agreements with the Iraqi government, whereas there have been mere talks about such agreements between the United States and Iraq.

Iraq’s strategic location in the Middle East would have served as a good check on the encroaching Iranian regime. Now, Iraq  can’t even protect its airspace and its borders. While a prosperous and democratic Iraq would set a good example for the band of countries where people are demanding democracy, a failed one would serve as poster child for how democracy can fail in the Middle East. There is still a chance for negotiations to resume and possibly leave a couple of thousand troops in Iraq. If these negotiations fail, Iraq will be in the hands of Iran and the lost lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and thousands of American soldiers would have been in vain.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Iraq Abstained as Arab League Voted on Syria Suspension

The Arab League decided to suspend Syria's membership.
Lebanon and Yemen voted against the measure. Iraq abstained from voting. 
By: Ali Rawaf

A month after Iraq’s government had cracked down on former members of the Iraq Baath regime, it abstained from voting to suspend Syria’s Baathist regime from membership in the Arab League.  

Only two countries voted against the suspension: Yemen and Lebanon. It is understandable why those two would vote as such. The Yemeni is also facing public demonstrations and protests, demanding democracy. Lebanon’s government, which used to be overwhelmed by Syrian influence, is now dominated by Hezbolla, a militant and political group funded by Iran.

Iraq, on the other hand, should have been leading the effort to suspend Syria’s membership. After all, it is the first country in the region that has experimented with democratization. The Iraqi government, which consists predominantly of Shiites and Kurdish politicians, shouldn’t forget how Saddam Hussein massacred the Shiites and the Kurds when they revolted against the government in 1991.

This is yet another alarming move by the Iraqi government. Such actions invoke only concerns amongst Iraqis. Last month, the government launched a campaign of arrests against former Baathists. More than 600 former Baathists were arrested, some of which were government employees and college professors. Why the crack down on harmless civilians but  The Iraqi Prime Minister said the Baath Party, which is banned by the constitution, was conspiring to bring down Iraq’s new democracy, a claim which Iraqis have heard too many times.

If anything, Iraq's decision seems like another favor to Iran, which has pressed the Iraqi government to support the Syrian regime. A few months ago, Prime Minister Al-Maliki hosted a group of Syrian officials and entrepreneurs  to strengthen ties with the next-door neighbor, while the rest of the world was calling on the Syrian president to step down.

Iraq’s abstention to vote to suspend the membership of Syria’s violent and authoritarian regime offers one more clue as to where Iraqi might be headed in the future.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Gaddafi: Born and Killed in Sirte, Libya

By: Ali Rawaf

In this video, a bunch of the rebels are dragging Gaddafi down the street, htting him, and pulling his hair. Through out the video, one can hear a couple of them yelling "Keep him alive." One of the rebels repeats to Gaddafi, "This is Misrata you dog," referring to the fact that people of city that was bombed the most by Gaddafi's forces have captured him. The camera turns and voices are heard yelling "No, no, no." Gun shots are heard then the crowd starts yelling "God is great, God is great."

It is ironic that the last words of a man who ordered the shooting of thousands of people were “Don’t shoot.” It is also ironic to see the people who revolted against him for his violent control of Lybia end up treating him so violently.

When Saddam Hussein was hung amidst a cheering crowd, telling him to go to “go to hell”, I thought that was barbaric for a country that was trying to put behind decades of violence. But the Libyan rebels took a lot further with their dictator. They shot him in the legs and the head. They dragged him down the street, while hitting him and yelling at him, “shut up you dog.” Gaddafi tried to dodge the punches and wipe his bleeding face.

Later footage shows him lying on a bed of a truck, covered in blood, surrounded by a cheering crowd. “God is great,” they chanted, probably the same word Gaddafi himself chanted when he lead a military coup on his predecessor 42 years ago.

As Gaddafi fell, the chants got louder and the crowds started shooting in the air, celebrating his death.

His son was captured without any injuries. Shortly after, it was reported that he was killed for trying to fight his captors. He wasn’t armed. He was shot four times in the back.

I am not mourning Gaddafi’s death and I am not speaking against the revolutionaries of Libya but what I am trying to say is that it doesn’t make sense to change an era of violence with such an act. On paper, Gaddafi and his son were killed without a trial. This is not a good precedent for a country that wants to build a peaceful democracy.

What Libyans and other revolting countries need to realize is that they are setting precedents. The more peaceful and civilized they are, the more they will advance their cause. It would have made a big difference if the dictator was put through trial. Now, from the beginning, the new Libyan government will have to deal with accusations of violating human rights. Putting him to trial could have been a good initiative to promote rule of law. But they didn't. Nato and the Libya’s National Transitional Council signaled that Gaddafi’s death would end the military operations. The future of Libya is just as uncertain as the way Gaddafi died (or was killed). What I’m certain about is that this is not a good way to start a peaceful democracy.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Iraqi's Dissatisfaction with Economy Hits Record High

By: Ali Rawaf

A survey conducted by Gallup Polls shows Iraqis have grown more dissatisfied with the economic conditions of the country.  Between January 2010 and early 2011, the number of Iraqis who think the economy is getting worse has significantly risen to 37 percent, up from 20 percent last year.

Survey results show more than half of Iraqis are dissatisfied with their standard of living. A third of the population struggles to pay for shelter. A UN report also shows that more than half of Iraqis live in slum conditions.

 Iraqis don't see an end in sight. Even though the country's revenue have increased, especially after the rise in oil prices and the increase in the Iraq's oil output, the government has failed to implement policies to incentivise the economy. The private sector remains weak and public sector jobs are mostly given to individuals with connections or party affiliations. 65 percent believe it is a bad time to get a job in cities where they live. 

The Iraqi political elite has failed to enact legislation to provide any form of stability to the economy. The country lacks law to protect the rights of private business and lacks any incentives for foreign entities to come in for investments. Building the infrastructure can provide people with many jobs. Reviving agriculture can provide jobs. Foreign companies can be invited to invest in the country and hire Iraqi people. These are few possible solutions. The political body can do much more to help the economy, if they put their differences aside and work on common interests of the Iraqi people.

Sources: Gallup

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Can Iraq Let Go of the Death Penalty?

By: Ali Rawaf

In the West, the debate over the death penalty has been heated and ongoing for a long time. Recently, the execution of Troy Davis, a former inmate in the State of Georgia in the US, has brought this subject back to the attention of the world. Different countries, religious groups, and human rights groups have protested the death sentence that was given to Troy Davis, who was convicted of killing a police officer 20 years ago but the evidence in the case wasn’t conclusive. In the Middle East, the death penalty hasn’t been as much debated as it is in the west. After all, most governments in the Middle East don’t have to follow the legal procedure to see the execution of their citizens. 

In Iraq, courts have to deal with more than just ordinary killers and criminals. They have to deal with terrorists and mass killers so the death penalty is given more often than in other countries. In one court hearing in 2005, a woman described why she wanted the capital punishment for the killers of her son, “They broke his arms. They broke his legs. They took out his eyeballs […] I want the death penalty.” This is one of hundreds of similar cases and so, hundreds of death sentences have been given since 2003.

Under the counter-terrorism laws, the government had established the “secret informer,” a guarantee from the government that if one reports a terrorist activity, the person’s identity shall remain secret. Because of the “secret informer,” many have been arrested without real offenses and many have wrongly been executed.
According to Amnesty International, Iraqi authorities justify the use of the death penalty as form of deterrence, even though officials like the former Iraqi Human Rights Minister admit that it is useless. In 2010, the organization listed in its report that 1100 prisoners are under the sentence of death and most of them have ran out of ways to appeal their sentences.

Human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have called on Iraqi authorities to stop the death penalty in the country, citing high numbers of death sentences, many of which are given without fair trials or without any evidence. The Parliament has finally paid some attention to this issue. The Human Rights Committee in Parliament announced today that they will debate a legislation to stop the death penalty in the country. Parliament members said that mounting pressure from human rights groups have pushed them to consider such a measure. Other members say, given the security situation, this type of legislation will not do the country any good at this point in time.

The question to Mailki’s government is how much do they really care about promoting reconciliation in the country? If they do care one tiny bit, ending the death sentence would be a good place to start. 

Iraq: Human Rights Briefing 2010 - Amnesty International

Radio Sawa: Discussions About New Legislation to Stop Death Penalty

Washington Post: Capitol Punishment Returns to Iraq

Monday, October 3, 2011

Iraqi Parliament is More Active

By: Ali Rawaf

Today, Nuri Al-Maliki is seen more of an authoritarian ruler than a prime minister in a newly formed democracy. He fires opponents, ignores political promises and agreements, and defies the legislative and the legal system of the country. And Parliament doesn’t exercise its power to check on the Prime Minister.

In recent move that further demonized the second term PM, Maliki pressured the Chairman of Iraq’s Integrity Commission*, Judge Raheem Al-Ugaili to resign**. The PM’s party says the Chairman wasn’t qualified for the position anyways because he was a former Baathist and therefore shouldn’t hold such an important position. Maliki asked the Chairman to investigate two corruption cases in which two of Maliki’s opponents are involved. When, the Chairman refused to do so for lack of evidence, Maliki pressured him to resign.

In Maliki’s first term, Parliament would have overlooked the resignation of the Chairman and wouldn’t have sought for ways to check the power of the PM, who obviously has overstepped his boundaries.  But not this time.  A day late, a member of the Parliament’s Integrity Committee(Different from the Integrity Commission), Sabbah Al-Saedi  issued a press release in which characterized the move as reminiscent of Saddam Hussein’s authoritarian regime and cautioned his fellow members that if this move goes unopposed, they are letting a new Saddam Hussein flourish in the country’s new democracy.

Maliki sought an arrest warrant against Al-Saedi, in which he claimed that his comments threaten the countries security. The warrant was issues, based on a law from the Saddam Hussein era under which opponents were criminalized.

In order for the arrest to go through, Parliament has to withdraw immunity from the member. A majority of the parliament stood by the member and didn’t withdraw his immunity. Further, Parliament voted for a new law for the Integrity Commission, where the Chairman is appointed and is fired by Parliament and not the PM. However, a day before the law was passed, Maliki used a law from the Coalition Administration under Paul Bremer to appoint a temporary Chairman for the Integrity Commission.  

The Iraqi parliament got its act together to vote for the law. Now, will they get their act together to appoint a new Chairman for the Integrity Commission?

*Under the Iraqi Constitution, The Integrity Commission is one of the principal independent oversight bodies like the Electoral Commission and the Central bank. The Commission investigates corruption cases in government institutions. According to the Commission's website, it had succeeded in indicting more than 2000 government employees on the basis of fraud (Bribery)  and/or providing false college degrees in their job applications.

 **Judge Rahem Al-Ugaili was born in 1966, bachelor degree in Law from university of Baghdad in 1991. After his graduation at the Judicial Institution, he was appointed as a judge in 1997. Judge Izzat Twafiq is the fourth personality to hold the presidency of Commission of Integrity which was established by CPA where Mr. Rady Al-Rady was the first commissioner.

Website of the Integrity Commission:

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Why US Troops Should Stay in Iraq

By: Ali Rawaf

Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki and US Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates discuss US withdrawal during Gates" recent visit to Iraq
US Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates visited Iraq last week. In his visit, Gates asked Iraqi officials to makeup their minds about whether they want the US troops to stay in Iraq. This marks the first time the Obama Administration mentions longer US presence in Iraq.

The Iraqis are split on whether they want American soldiers to remain in the country. Spokesmen from the Ministries of Defense and Internal Affairs have said the Iraqi military and police forces are ready to take the task of protecting the country on their own. Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki has been consistent in his public comments about abiding by the State of Forces Agreement (SOFA) which outline US military withdraws by August of this year. In press conferences in March, Maliki went to the extent of saying that “Iraq is the safest country in the region,” citing the violence sweeping other Middle Eastern countries, where protests are taking place.

But these comments made by Maliki and other Iraqi officials don’t reflect the reality in Iraq. A few days ago, a group of armed men, set off a car bomb in front of the City Council building in the province of Sallahuddin. After, those men stormed into the building and took everyone in the building as hostages. Two of the hostages were members of the City Council.  A few minutes later, American soldiers arrived on the scene and were followed by the Iraqi Army. The story ends by the Iraqi army throwing grenade and killing the terrorists and everyone else in the building, including the City Council members. If this story tells anything, it is that the Iraqi military is by no means ready to handle the county’s security. This is not to mention the recent escalation in the number of car bombs, kidnapping, and assassinations.

Nevertheless, Muqtada al-Sadir, the anti-American Shiite cleric and al-Mahdi militia leader, called on his followers to go out and protest Gate’s comments and ask for complete military withdrawal. Muqtada wasn’t the only politician who denounced Gates’ comments. This diverts Iraqis’ attention from protesting against poor service and government corruption to be focused once again, against America and the West.

Iraq needs the American troops to stay. Even though Iraq is getting very slowly better, the chances of success are still high. Iraqi people now want to be part of the political process. They voted and they are asking for better policies and a better government through demonstrations and protests. More importantly, the civil society is getting more robust. It would be a waste, considering the massive number of Iraqi civilian casualties and the lost lives of American soldiers, to suddenly pull out and leave the country vulnerable to terrorism and dangerous regional influence. Wikileaks documents show that many of the Iraqi politicians also want the US troops to stay and admit the need for their presence, despite what they say publically.  

The protests in the Middle East might have shifted the American Administration’s attention to the region. For a while, the Administration is criticized for less engagement in Iraq. But Iraq’s future will have an effect on the outcomes of the transition in the Middle East. The Obama Administration might have just realized that. And Gates’ comments might be the early signs of that shifted attention.  

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Iraq: Guns vs. Butter, Butter Wins

By Ali Rawaf

The American victory against Saddam Hussein's Army came mostly by air force attacks. The US outmatched Iraq's air force capabilities and was able to swipe of the Iraqi army in just a couple of weeks. The air force has also been one of Gaddafi’s main tools for devastating the rebel forces and gaining momentum once again.

Iraq’s air force stands weaker today than it’s ever had. The current aircraft capabilities don’t go farther than transportation purposes. So, if Iran was to attack us today with its overwhelming air force, it can demolish whatever Iraqi military capability in no time (if the US isn’t around anymore).

Two years ago, Iraq’s defense ministry bid for a number of fighter jets from the United States and won an unprecedented support for its bid from the latter. Iraq was able to order more than 90 F-16’s. In February, 18 of them were ready for purchase.

In February, however, Iraqis went on the streets and protested poor services, one of which was the national food program, which provides millions of Iraqis with basic food supplies such as flour, rice, and sugar. Iraq hasn’t been able to pay for these massive food subsidies partially due to the massive salaries Iraqi officials have granted themselves.

To appease the crowds, the Iraqi government diverted funds that were allocated for the purchase of the F-16’s to buy more flour, sugar, and rice. However, the pilots who traveled to the US to get training on flying the jets will continue their program. 

I wouldn’t say this is the smartest move and makes me feel quite ambivalent.

On one hand, it is a good sign. If Saddam Hussein was still in power, he wouldn’t have given a second thought to purchasing the fighter jets. For him, advancing the military would have been more important than feeding the hungry crowds. On the other hand, this kind of move leaves more space for other countries to practice regional dominance, something that isn’t in Iraq’s best interest. I think the Iraqi government could have diverted money from other programs to purchase the F-16’s, all of which will be pending until Iraq has the money to purchase them.

Note: Guns vs Butter is a symbol for the economic policy of a government insofar as spending is allocated for either military or social purposes

Saturday, March 5, 2011

In Facing Protests, Iraq's Democracy Looks More Authoritarian

By: Ali Rawaf
Iraqi Forces surrounding Tahrir Square, where Iraqis protested poor services and high unemployment

Iraq, a democracy where elections were almost free and fair, didn’t treat its protestors any better than the rest of the authoritarian regimes in the region. The government took quick and violent actions to prevent Iraq’s protests from gaining momentum.

Since the inception of the protests, Maliki branded the activists who organized the protests as Baathists and member of al-Qaeda who were looking for opportunities to bring down the Iraqi government, despite repeated declarations that the protests were aimed at improving basic services and unemployment, not at removing the current government. This move, previously employed against political opponents, discouraged many people from voicing their discontent in the protests.  Another fear-mongering announcement from Maliki’s office was humorous. In it, Maliki predicted that terrorists dressed in police uniforms will beat the protestors so people should be cautious.

On the eve of the protest, a curfew was imposed by the Prime Minister’s office (The Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces) until further notice. On the day of the protests, many of Iraq’s Sunni provinces had imposed curfews. Despite the curfew, people marched down the streets and expressed their anger with the current status of services and employment.

Freedom of the press, a constitutional right, was violated as well. Iraqi and foreign TV networks weren’t allowed to cover the protests live, therefore, people wouldn’t be encouraged to come join the protests after watching them on TV.

Journalists who were on the grounds of the protests were beaten, humiliated, and imprisoned by the Iraqi Army and police forces. Journalists, who were freed later, said they had seen leaders of civil society groups, actors, activists, and local civilians imprisoned and beaten by the Iraqi forces.

The protestors themselves were hosed with water cannons, beaten, and imprisoned.

The central government and Parliament found a way of diverting the blame onto local governments instead of taking responsibility for the shortcomings in their performance for the past years. Governors of two provinces had resigned and a few other governors are expected to do the same soon.  

To appease the protestors, Maliki and the parliament, cut their salaries by 20%, though originally intended to cut 50%. They also promised to give more food aid for the poor, place a halt on a newly approved import tax, and to improve basic services within a 100 days. Critics are skeptical  that such promises will be fulfilled.

If I could draw one main theme of the protests, it would be regret. Iraqis risked their lives on March 7th 2010 to vote for a new government. A year later, that government hasn’t been formed completely, with key ministries such as the Interior and Defense still vacant. The very little faith Iraqis had that the past election cycle was going to bring about change, has been lost. The picture shows an Iraqi biting his index finger, a gesture of regret in Iraqi culture. His finger is still painted purple with voting ink.