Al Sistani’s non-signers say they’re signing

Happy talk from Iraqi Shiites is in the news. The “constitution”, they say, will be signed on Monday. Some are saying they’ve struck a deal, but no one is saying who they’ve struck the deal with, exactly. Others say they’re just signing the thing, the heck with Al Sistani. Apparently all the non-signers have met with Sistani and laid out their positions.

From AFP:

“You will hear very good news, very soon, the signing will take place Monday,” Governing Council member Muwaffaq al-Rubaie told reporters two days after his religious bloc withdrew their endorsement and pulled out of a signing ceremony.

Rubaie and Ahmad Chalabi, along with Abdel Adel Mahdi, a representative of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), visited Sistani for 25 minutes as informal talks proceeded on how to break the deadlock on the country’s transitional law.

“We think Sistani does not want to provoke a crisis in the country but, to the contrary, wishes to facilitate our work to make the political process succeed and without any interruption,” Rubaie said.

Both Chalabi and Rubaie later headed to Baghdad.

The Governing Council’s current president also voiced optimism that the body would meet Monday’s crucial deadline.

“We are headed toward an agreement on the unresolved issues. The signing of the provisional constitution must happen today at 2:00 pm (1100 GMT),” Mohammed Barhul al-Uloom told reporters.

Reuters quotes Mohammed Hussein Bahr al-Uloum:

Iraq’s interim constitution will be signed on Monday without changes being made to the text and despite the reservations of the country’s top Shi’ite cleric, Shi’ite politicians say.

“We will sign the interim constitution on Monday as it stands,” Mohammed Hussein Bahr al-Uloum, the son and chief adviser to Mohammed Bahr al-Uloum, the current president of the Iraqi Governing Council, told Reuters on Sunday.

“We told (Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani) our interest is in signing the constitution,” he added.

“We don’t want the rest of the Council to fear that the Shi’ites want to demolish the whole process. We don’t want them to fear that the Shi’ites are trying to control things.”

So, what do we make of all this? On the face of it, they seem to be saying they talked to Sistani and told him they were signing over his objections. I really don’t buy this. They refused to sign Friday, wrecked Bremer’s signing ceremony, kept hundreds of journos sitting around for hours, and left egg dripping off Shrub’s face. Now, just a little over 24 hours later, they’re ready to sign over Sistani’s objections?

On the other hand, to indulge in a bit of tin-foil speculation, it is possible that they’ll make a big to-do over signing Monday and come to the table with one change that will prompt a Kurd walkout, making the Kurds the balkers instead of the Shi’a.

cross-posted at UnFairWitness

British Chief of Defence Staff Bombshell


Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, who led Britain’s forces to war in Iraq last year, has dramatically broken his silence about the legal crisis which engulfed the Government on the eve of battle.

In an extraordinary interview which will reignite the controversy over the run-up to the conflict, the former Chief of Defence Staff has revealed how Britain went to the brink of a constitutional crisis after he demanded ‘unequivocal… legal top cover’ before agreeing to allow British troops to fight.


Rack up another ruined day for Tony.

Al Sistani’s Shi`a Walkout

Tony Karon, Senior Editor for world coverage at, in a commentary for The War In Context has an interesting insight on the Shi`a walkout from the “constitution” signing ceremony yesterday in Baghdad.

“Both by some of the issues they’ve raised and by their timing, the Shiite representatives who sabotaged Paul Bremer’s constitution signing ceremony on Friday are making a fundamental point: They see the interim administrative law as nothing more than a temporary set of rules governing the brief interlude between the U.S. handover and Iraqi elections — an interim measured in months. And they are sticking hard by Ayatollah Sistani’s insistence that the constitution of a new Iraq be adopted by an elected body. That accounts, in particular, for their rejection of the provisos inserted at the insistence of the Kurds that a majority veto in any region would prevent the adoption of a new constitution. The Kurds are trying to use the last months of the formal occupation to codify their autonomy and create legal obstacles to reversing it, and the Shiite leadership is plainly having none of it. The fact that the Shiites see the document as nothing more than an interim agreement to facilitate the July 1 handover also explains their very deliberate upstaging of Bremer’s showcase. They appear to want none of the pageantry of chamber orchestras and Founding Fathers-type signing ceremonies which might imply greater historical significance for the document than they’re prepared to grant. For Sistani’s supporters, plainly, the Founding Fathers moment comes only in 2005, when a constitution drafted by an elected body is adopted, and Bremer watches from the audience in his capacity as U.S. ambassador.

I wondered about this when I first heard of the elaborately staged signing ceremony complete with orchestra and children’s choir in representative native costumes. Juan Cole* describes it as “All Dressed Up With No Place To Go:

A huge formal signing ceremony had been arranged, attended by hundreds of people and the press, who just kept waiting for hours and hours as the five were holed up with Ahmad Chalabi. Finally the Coalition Provisional Authority announced that nothing would happen, and everyone went home.

The whole performance was a huge embarrassment for the Bush administration, which had counted on enacting the Basic Law as a prelude to finding a way to hand sovereignty over to an Iraqi government of some description on June 30. That deadline seems increasingly shaky.

Is it really worth it to Al Sistani, who was apparently behind the objections which proved insurmountable Friday, to deliver such a slap in the face to Bremer and Bush? Apparently so. It will be interesting to watch when and if a new signing is arranged if it isn’t done in a more low-key way, more in keeping with an interim Basic Law rather than the “New Constitution” as Bush referred to it in his Saturday radio address.

*While you’re at Juan Cole’s informative blog, check out his dossier on Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the New Iraqi Osama.

cross-posted at UnFairWitness

The American Election and Israeli Occupation

Joshua Micah Marshall, in Talking Points Memo, analyzes the recent headlines indicating that the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza has been postponed until after the American presidential election in November. Speculation has been widespread as to what Sharon’s motives and plan may have been when proposing his “unilateral disengagement.” Because the proposed withdrawal and dismantling of the Gaza settlements was first accompanied by an announcement that Sharon would move the Gaza settlers to West Bank settlements, for which he requested the American taxpayers pay, the proposal could be seen as a way to negotiate fresh American aid and a blessing on the West Bank settlements, while allowing Israel to abandon the expensive and difficult to defend Gaza settlements. The Americans nixed the idea of relocating the Gaza settlers to the West Bank early on as well as declining to pay for what amounted to an increase of settlers and expansion of settlements in the West Bank.

It now appears that the Gaza withdrawal is entirely off for reasons unexplained. Yossi Alpher in a Media Monitors column asks why:

Within a few months after US endorsement of the roadmap it was clear to all that the administration never viewed that formula as much more than a means of leveraging regional and European support for its campaign in Iraq. Since election year began in America a few months ago, even the rhetoric has dried up.

Now along comes Ariel Sharon and requests Bush’s blessing for his disengagement plan. Sharon’s motives are not entirely clear. He is under a legal cloud that threatens his entire political career. He wants to exploit disengagement in Gaza to strengthen Israel’s grip on the West Bank. He has never endorsed the demographic argument and never told the public why all of a sudden in his view abstract “security concerns” mandate disengagement and dismantling of settlements he himself built. He has still not removed any outposts to speak of, and he allows settlement construction to proceed apace at a number of sites.

On the other hand Sharon is, here and there, moving the fence back to a more reasonable, green line-based location, and he makes the case that removal of settlements, coupled with the “new” fence, will dovetail nicely with phase II of the roadmap, thereby seemingly giving the president a solid Middle East accomplishment in an election year.

Sharon wants to wrap all this up in a triumphant visit to Washington. The administration is cautious, and repeatedly postpones the date. It is making considerable demands on Sharon regarding the fence, settlement expansion, and coordination of transfer of territory with the more moderate Palestinians. But it faces a situation close to chaos in Palestine, and presumably understands that Sharon’s political (and legal) position is increasingly shaky.

Bush knows he must get to election day in November with Iraq solidly on the way to a new era of democracy. But until now he apparently assumed that the best case he need make on election day for Israel-Palestine would be that American crisis management had succeeded in keeping that conflict from getting too far out of hand–pending a better, post-Arafat day. The American public right now is very interested in Baghdad, where its sons and daughters are serving, but not in what goes on in Jerusalem and Ramallah. The president was even able to ignore the Israeli-Palestinian conflict completely in his January state-of-the-union address.

Will this administration, with its sorry record of missed opportunities and non-action in the Israeli-Palestinian sphere and its huge gamble in Iraq, take an election year chance on Sharon and his disengagement plan? Can it safely assume that the transfer of power will work out smoothly; that Sharon will not exploit Bush’s preoccupation with elections to build more settlements and fences in the West Bank that hinder a solution; that the entire project will not collapse into an Israeli governmental crisis?

The payoff could be the first real progress in three and a half years; this would be good politically for both Bush and Sharon. Or it could be a major fiasco, laid by Sharon and Arafat at Bush’s doorstep.

The odds are that the hands-off approach will again win out. Sharon will be asked to postpone any withdrawal until after US elections, to keep his preparations low key until then, and meanwhile to keep the conflict from getting out of hand.

Reuters has “Israeli political sources,” laying the responsibility for the election-centered delay squarely on the Bush administration:

Bowing to White House pressure, Israel intends to wait until after the U.S. presidential election in November before uprooting Jewish settlements from Gaza, Israeli security sources said on Friday.

Israeli political sources also said that, in a further concession to his U.S. ally, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had dropped the option of moving settlers from Gaza to the West Bank, an idea that had enraged Palestinians seeking to set up a state on land occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war.

The security sources said Sharon recognised the Bush administration’s concern that implementing his unilateral pullout plan during the U.S. campaign could cause political problems by fuelling instability in Palestinian areas — although Washington denied any link with the election.

Sharon, battered by multiple scandals, suffered a fresh blow when an opinion poll indicated for the first time that a majority of Israelis want him to quit. A Sharon confidant blamed his woes on far-right politicians opposed to a Gaza pull-out.

The Israeli daily Maariv reported that U.S. officials had made clear in recent high-level talks in Washington that they wanted Sharon to hold off on his plan to evacuate most Gaza settlements until after the U.S. election.

In the same article, Bush administration spokesman Adam Ereli denies any linkage to the election:

“That doesn’t sound right to me,” spokesman Adam Ereli told reporters. “Our policy is not tied to an electoral timeline,” he said later. “To make some kind of linkage with an electoral cycle, I think, is really stretching it.”

Oh? So, what is the withdrawal linked to?

For a President entering an election campaign with the specter of the illegitimate invasion of Iraq-turned-guerilla war quagmire hanging over his head, the prospect of being wholly responsible for continuation of the brutal Israeli occupation of Gaza can’t be a welcome development, but it seems clear that this is exactly what the inept crew of White House neocons has ended up stuck with, courtesy of the “Man of Peace” in Tel Aviv.

cross-posted at UnFairWitness

Iraqis screw up media event

Knight Ridder reports:

The scheduled signing of Iraq’s interim constitution was indefinitely postponed Friday after five Shiite members of the Governing Council lodged 11th hour objections to some of its key provisions.

News that the deal over the document had fallen apart wrecked the U.S.-led coalition’s plans for an upbeat, made-for-TV signing ceremony that was to have taken place at 8 a.m. EST inside the heavily fortified coalition headquarters compound–and carried live on Arabic and English news networks.

More than an hour after the signing was supposed to have happened, the six piece orchestra hired for the occasion had stopped playing, and the antique desk that had belonged to Iraq’s King Faisal stood abandoned, 25 fountain pens sitting untouched atop it. A senior coalition official emerged to tell dozens of waiting journalists that “democracy is sometimes a messy thing.”

Want to bet Rove had some campaign ads ready to go with space reserved for clips from the Triumph of Democracy in Iraq?

US Army cancels $US327 million contract with Chalabi pal


The US Army has cancelled a $US327 million contract to equip the Iraqi army, citing technical problems with the bidding process.

An Army official told reporters that new proposals for the work would be sought after a review found a huge spread in competing bids, an indication that competing suppliers had not understood the contract requirements in a uniform way.

He denied political considerations played a role in awarding the original contract.

Losing companies have claimed their bids were not properly assessed, that Virginia-based Nour USA had made an unrealistically low bid and that it did not have the experience to fulfill the contract.

Nour USA has said it stands by its proposal and insists it won the deal on merit.

Chairman Houda Farouki is a close friend of Iraqi Governing Council member Ahmed Chalabi.

OK, so let’s see. The US military is desperately trying to cobble together an army for Iraq, so they award the contract for the equipment to some fly-by-night Chalabi crony, and now are forced to concede that the crony can’t really produce. I wonder how Chalabi’s relatives guarding the pipeline are doing. Continue reading “US Army cancels $US327 million contract with Chalabi pal”