Iraq: A Government on a Long Vacation
More than six months ago, millions of Iraqis cast aside fears about bombs and bullets to vote. In households without a reliable supply of water, the indelible purple ink on the voters’ index fingers did not wear off for more than a week.About a dozen members of the Iraqi Parliament met in Baghdad on Sept. 19 to discuss the continuing political deadlock.The voters have since watched winter turn to spring, and now summer become fall — and the people they elected still have no leader.
They are waiting for their parties to come to an agreement so they can start work. And while the summer months were marked by a surge in violence and by riots over the lack of electricity, drinking water and other basic services, in Baghdad, members of Parliament have lived out a workers’ fantasy: a vacation of more than 200 days (and counting), with full pay and benefits, each free to do his heart’s desire.Since the March 7 election, they have met just once, and that was for less than 19 minutes.
In the interim, some have sought out less chaotic places with better weather and less bloodshed, staying in nice hotels or private homes with chlorinated swimming pools in Jordan, Syria, Iran or Dubai.A few have sat home and stewed.Others have reconnected with family, undergone medical procedures in countries with better-equipped hospitals, or gone to weddings and funerals they would otherwise have missed.
More than a dozen members interviewed say they have been assiduously following news on television and in the papers on sporadic talks among parties to form a coalition government. There has been much news, they agree, but little progress.The energy and optimism with which these would-be reformers rode into Baghdad after the March 7 election have all but vanished. They have been replaced by feelings of embarrassment, frustration and anger.
“I’m representing the Iraqi people, but it doesn’t feel like it,” said Kadhim Jwad, a Sadrist elected to represent Babil Province in the country’s south. “I’m at the boiling point. I’m tired and annoyed all the time. There’s lots of pressure on me. This is more than I can take.”Ayad Samarrai, the speaker of Iraq’s last functioning Parliament — a body whose trademark lassitude led the public to vote good members out of office in March (though Mr. Samarrai was re-elected) — said feelings of melancholy were not uncommon among his colleagues.“Not having a session has created a state of psychological emptiness” among those elected, he said. “They feel useless. They were ready to participate. They were ambitious, ready to make change. And of course, that motivation has now been stopped entirely.”
A salve for their ennui, however, has been their compensation: salaries of about $11,050 a month each, which include a housing allowance; a fleet of three brand-new armored sport utility vehicles and a 30-member security detail for their use; freshly issued diplomatic passports, which allow for worry-free international travel; and government payments into pension plans that will yield 80 percent of their salaries.A bank was recently set up inside the Parliament building so that checks can be cashed without fuss.In the meantime, one in four Iraqis are estimated to live below the poverty line. Leila Hassan, a newly elected member, said, “I get embarrassed when people ask me ‘What’s going on?’ and when I go out, I feel shy because I’m worried people will blame me.”
Ms. Hassan, from the Kurdish Alliance party, said she had tried to stay engaged, but now often gives in to an all-enveloping boredom.“In my spare time, well, I’m not married and my mother takes care of me,” the 30-year-old said. “She cooks and cleans the house, so I have nothing to do. I have spent a lot of time reading books.”Ms. Hassan said she had also taken courses on democracy with other women elected to Parliament, which has taken them to the United States and Lebanon.
“We have agreed to serve as a lobby on women’s issues inside Parliament,” she said. “We expected that we would meet each other during a session, so it’s funny it happened outside Iraq.”Mahmoud Othman, also a member of the Kurdish Alliance, said he had been fighting the doldrums by showing up at Parliament in spite of himself. He has found himself feeling even more isolated.“I keep coming to the building, but I am all alone,” he said. “I find no one. Sometimes, there are journalists so I do an interview with them, and sometimes I see friends here, but nothing very useful.”
He said he had spent all but one month of the break in Baghdad, a city he says compares poorly to Erbil, the capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region.“Baghdad? What’s there in Baghdad?” he said. “There’s nothing to do in Baghdad. I’m sitting at home most of the time with my wife, chatting, bonding. This has been a great opportunity for me to spend more time with her.”Fatah al-Ashikh, a member of the Iraqiya political slate, who represents Baghdad, said the hiatus had given him the chance to work on his doctorate in media studies.
“I am using this useless time to do something that will help me in the future,” he said.He has also broken in his new official passport.“During Ramadan, I went to Syria and spent most of the month there,” he said. “I was running from the heat of Iraq and all the electrical blackouts.”Mr. Ashikh also organized a rally protesting a Florida pastor’s threat earlier this month to burn copies of the Koran, and said he had visited the sites of recent bombings around the country — of which there has been no shortage since the election.
“I’ve been able to attend many events,” he said, “including a lot of funerals for army officers who have been killed by terrorists.”Unadim Kana, an independent who represents Christians in Nineveh Province in Iraq’s north, said he, too, had been “able to travel freely,” but said he would be happy to dispense with that new freedom if he were allowed to work.“We have lost seven months of possibility,” he said.
By TIMOTHY WILLIAMS and YASIR GHAZI, The New York Times
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About a year after taking office, Iraq’s higher education minister asked a senior professor if he would like to be president of one of Baghdad’s universities.
The man was “very qualified”, says Abid Thyab al-Ajeeli but he grimly turned down the offer. “He said, ‘Mr Minister, I think you want my two daughters to be orphaned’.
Such were the travails of running a government department during the bloodiest years of sectarian violence between 2005 and early 2008. Educated professionals were often targeted for assassination, kidnapping or robbery. There were 31,598 reported attacks on educational institutions between the US-led invasion of 2003 and October 2008. A 2007 government study found about a third of professors, doctors, pharmacists and engineers had fled the country, according to the UN.
Today, however, Mr Ajeeli is upbeat. The level of violence has fallen and professors are now “sometimes fighting” over posts.The government, assisted by the World Bank and UN, is drawing up a plan for education and Mr Ajeeli says his budget has increased. “We are in a good position,” he says. “Without education . . . we will never be built in a proper way.”
As with many other areas in Iraq, improvement starts from a low base. One in five Iraqis aged over 15 is illiterate, according to the UN, and anything from 500,000 to almost 2m children do not go to school. With about 60 per cent of Iraq’s 30m population aged under 18, education is a key issue.
“We see a huge bubble of youth that are falling out of the education system and as long as there are no job opportunities that is a concern,” says Mette Nordstrand, an education specialist at Unicef, the UN children’s agency. Youth unemployment runs at roughly 30 per cent. Schools suffer acute shortages of teaching and learning materials, while often lacking water and toilet facilities. More than one in six schools has been vandalised, damaged or destroyed.
But salaries absorb 80-90 per cent of the education ministry’s budget and negligible sums are devoted to maintenance.In the higher education ministry building – surrounded by checkpoints and blast walls – Mr Ajeeli’s office is air-conditioned and smartly furnished. But on the floors above, cigarette butts litter threadbare carpets while people fan themselves in gloomy corridors: there is no electricity so the air-conditioning is silent.
In a country where the public sector is the key source of jobs, government offices are bloated. The higher education ministry employs 30,000 academics for 21 universities and some 40 technical institutions, with another 50,000 support staff – double what is needed according to Mr Ajeeli. “We cannot sack people,” says Mr Ajeeli. “If we sack them, where are they going to go?”
Corruption is a problem. The US military said this week a port official had auctioned off computers worth $1.9m, intended for schools and paid for by America. The consignment was sold for $47,500.
Then there is the fractious nature of Iraqi politics. Officials have been given posts according to political loyalties, not their ability. Mr Ajeeli describes his early years in office as akin to being in a “battlefield”. “I did not receive much support from the government, especially during the . . . first three years because of conflict of interest, because of their suspicion, or suspicions with the members of the government itself,” he says.
That has improved, he adds. But Iraqis have been waiting since elections on March 7 for politicians to form a government. When it comes to the political environment “nothing is certain”, says Mr Ajeeli.
The Financial Times
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The former Labour government's top legal adviser during the Iraq war has questioned whether the British military justice system is fit for purpose.Lord Goldsmith told Panorama that some evidence has emerged that queries about the legality of hooding detainees were deliberately not put to him by the MoD.
Hooding detainees for interrogation purposes was banned in 1972.The MoD denies any systemic attempt to circumvent the law or the Geneva conventions prohibiting hooding.Lord Goldsmith, the former Attorney General, made his comments as two separate inquiries investigate the deaths of Iraqi civilians while in British army custody.
The reputation of the British army suffered after revelations during the two-year public inquiry into the death of Iraqi citizen Baha Mousa, who died in 2003 while in British army custody in Basra.The Baha Mousa inquiry looked beyond the actual death into the legality of interrogation techniques, including hooding, after evidence emerged that it had been used on detainees in Iraq.Hooding of prisoners was permitted during transportation for security reasons but has been banned for 30 years - along with the use of physical stress positions - as a tactic to soften up prisoners ahead of interrogation.
Lord Goldsmith, who stood down as Attorney General in 2007 after six years, said that he was not asked for his legal advice on hooding: "There's some evidence that has since emerged that I deliberately wasn't asked that question."It shows a bad approach to the role of the senior law officer because if there are important legal questions that is what the senior law office is there to answer, whatever the answer. On this occasion the MoD didn't want to know," he said.
Brigadier John Donnelly, the Head of Military Liaison at the MoD, said of the instances of hooding: "There were incidents of hooding in Iraq in 2003, but the MoD has placed a ban on hooding. The MoD no longer does hooding."The Royal Military Police has also come under scrutiny following a separate investigation into claims that prisoners died while in British custody after a gun-battle in 2004 known as the Battle of Danny Boy.The investigation into the Battle of Danny Boy incident was conducted by the Special Investigations Branch (SIB) of the Royal Military Police (RMP).
Following complaints of interference by the chain of command during the SIB investigation, a judicial review was ordered to assess the quality of the initial investigation.Colonel Dudley Giles, then deputy head of the military police, was asked to explain delays in granting RMP investigators access and one instance of an officer instructing other soldiers not to assist investigators.Col Giles was obligated to provide the court with all relevant documents.
However, the judicial review found Col Giles's evidence to be unreliable when it emerged that a document stating 12 live Iraqi prisoners were brought onto the base was not initially disclosed. This document contradicted Col Giles's witness statement that only nine live prisoners were brought onto the base.
A former SIB detective, Major Andre Ramsey, who served in the RMP for six years before leaving in 2005, said it is inevitable that the military investigating its own can cause a conflict of interest."The SIB performance in Iraq sadly led to a situation where generally they cannot be regarded as fit for purpose," Maj Ramsey said.The MoD's failure to disclose evidence led to a new inquiry into what happened on the British base after the battle of Danny Boy, which will begin taking evidence in the coming months.
Brigadier Donnelly says the latest inquiry will "get all the information out in the public domain so the MoD can refute the claims in a way that will retain the confidence of the court."Lord Goldsmith said of the MoD's performance at the judicial review: "There wasn't a desire to get the truth and sadly there wasn't a desire to be frank and candid with the court either."Lord Goldsmith said he welcomed the debate on the British army - and the MoD - policing itself.
"I thought it was important in the interests of justice and of the many thousands of service personnel who were doing the right thing and part of our overall strategy of winning hearts and minds," he said.He added that Britain's overall strategy needed to include a reputation for justice."You don't do that if people can look at you and think 'actually these are people who don't follow through their own ideals in relation to justice'."
Panorama: Britain in the Dock, is available in the UK on the BBC iPlayer.
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David Miliband made an early Labour conference exit on Tuesday as a member of his campaign team admitted they now ‘assume’ he will not serve under his brother.The failed leadership candidate has not yet put his name forward for election to the shadow cabinet and nominations close at 5pm on Wednesday.Despite making a public show of loyalty to sibling Ed after his first speech as party leader, a barbed remark was caught on camera.
Ed Miliband’s description of the decision to invade Iraq in 2003 as ‘wrong’ saw David turn to deputy leader Harriet Harman next to him and say: ‘You voted for it, why are you clapping?’Mrs Harman was seen to reply: ‘I’m clapping because he is the leader. I’m supporting him.’David had praised his brother’s address as ‘a nerveless speech... the speech of a conviction politician’ but his endorsement was quickly undermined when ITV News footage emerged of his catty exchange with Mrs Harman.
When challenged about the comment, Mrs Harman told the BBC: ‘I can’t remember exactly what he said to me... he was clapping at the end of that section as well.’ Asked why she applauded when the Iraq war was described as ‘wrong’, she said: ‘As far as weapons of mass destruction are concerned, we were wrong.’Ed Miliband said he knew nothing of the comment. ‘All I know is that David has been incredibly gracious both since Saturday and in response to my speech, where he sent me a very nice message,’ he told the BBC.The Iraq war was a divisive issue for the brothers as they vied for Labour’s top job. Yesterday’s episode reinforces the sense that David Miliband’s front bench career is nearing its end.
After David’s own well-received speech on Monday – in which he called for Labour to unite behind Ed – wife Louise was seen in tears backstage.Elsewhere, the leader’s speech – which saw him condemn tuition fees, lax City regulation and Gordon Brown’s claim to have ended the boom and bust cycle – was well received.It was a ‘confident performance’, said TUC general secretary Brendan Barber. He was ‘fantastic and inspiring’, said Paul Kenny, GMB head.
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