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 Chilcot is a pageant, too late to matter

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Dr.Hannani Maya
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تاريخ التسجيل : 21/09/2009
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مُساهمةموضوع: Chilcot is a pageant, too late to matter    الخميس 20 يناير 2011, 00:52

Chilcot is a pageant, too late to matter

Did the earth move? Did your coffee cup shake and your corn flakes fly across the room? "Blair misled MPs on Iraq, says Goldsmith", screamed the headline. "PM shut me out of crucial discussions, says Goldsmith". Great heavens, the Chilcot inquiry is back from the realm of the undead, singing its ghostly chorus through Westminster. On Friday Tony Blair returns like some ageing tenor, to reprise his no-regrets aria in a staging long past its sell-by date. Welcome to a new round of Britain's unique contribution to world government, politics
ex-post-facto, or democracy just too late.

In most countries the government inquires, deliberates, does something. Britain does something, deliberates, then inquires. We are getting
worse at it. In the case of Derry's Bloody Sunday of 1972, government shot first and spent 38 years and £400m trying to decide whether i
t was the right thing to do. After the Charge of the Light Brigade, it took Tennyson eight weeks and one poem to draw the same conclusion
: "Someone had blundered."

2005 London bombings were followed by five years of inquiries by the police, parliament and security services. All decided that bombs
had gone off and people had died. It was sad but nothing much could have been done about it, matter closed. Now we have yet another
drawn-out investigation because the inquest system has not been allowed its say. It is filling newspapers with attenuated personal grief,
without concern for brevity, economy or dignity. Lawyers and consultants are again seen lugging their taxpayer loot across London.

As for Chilcot, no one can remember why it was set up, except that it had something to do with Gordon Brown's fratricidal spat with Blair.
We knew someone had blundered. We knew the light brigade had again gone charging up the wrong valley. But that was long ago under a
government now booted from office.

The inquiry was set up by Brown in June 2009 to draw lessons from Iraq, "to help ensure that, if we face similar situations in future, the
government of the day is best equipped to respond to those situations". The implication was that the Iraq fiasco was about the
"equipping" of government, not about the judgement or venality of individuals. David Cameron was then a stripling Opposition leader,
and he called it "an establishment stitch-up". Time has moved on, Cameron has moved up and Chilcot has settled comfortably into the
Westminster scenery.

The inquiry held sessions from November 2009 to January 2010, when an unseasonally tanned Blair graced it with his presence. Further sessions were held in March, at which the inquiry was excited to fault Brown for confusing real-terms with money-terms expenditure. By then it had tucked in to £2.27m and was still going strong. It sat again in June and July, after which torpor set in. Even doctoral students in Iraq studies deserted the gallery. A report originally suggested for late 2010 did not appear.

We are now being fed what can only be termed stale meat. The fact that Lord Goldsmith was "uncomfortable" with the advice he was said to have given Blair is hardly new. That Blair "shut him out" of crucial meetings must have been upsetting for him personally, but is hardly a matter for public commiseration. He was clearly no good at playing poodle. We are told that legal decisions were "problematic" and that the foreign secretary and most belligerent warmonger, Jack Straw, was in reality "very reluctant" and could even have stopped the war. All sorts of people are heading for the hills.

The truth is that this was a wretched episode in British history and only the late foreign secretary,
Robin Cook, acquitted himself with the remotest credit. Apart from some legal small fry, none of these witnesses resigned when it might have made a difference. Ministers sat on their hands while the normal defences of democracy were breached with attempted curbs on civil liberty, habeas corpus and free speech,
and with gross distortion of government process. Thousands died as a direct result.

Politicians, soldiers and officials want history to exonerate them of blame by being able to write it themselves before Chilcot. They beat
their breasts and declare their everlasting doubt, when privately they acquiesced. Will Chilcot name, blame and condemn them, so as to
encourage others in future? I bet he will not. He will confine himself to procedures, lessons and recommendations, as inquiries always do.
That way no establishment blood is spilled.

Iraq saw a collapse in parliament's ability to hold the executive to account. Commons and Lords rarely strayed beyond party posturing,
terrified to seem "unpatriotic" when fobbed off with the language of the war on terror. Select committees were an impotent disgrace. The
BBC, because it spends millions broadcasting them, always refers to them as "powerful" and "influential". They are neither.

A public inquiry is a surrogate court of law. It should be crisp, swift and certain in its justice, allocating praise and blame for some
catastrophe, as a punishment and a deterrent. Instead British inquiries, such as those often held into welfare tragedies, have become substitutes for proper, ongoing democratic accountability. They are a dilatory mechanism for postponing judgment and diffusing blame on to underlings.

The Chilcot inquiry has become like the history murals in the Palace of Westminster, a fanciful pageant in which the great of the past are depicted in pastel shades, jostling each other at some historical college reunion. The rage of their victims is deadened by protocol and decorum. The cost of it all is paid by someone else.

This week
the government is reforming the NHS. It is embarrassingly clear that nobody, least of all the cabinet, has a clue whether it is doing the right thing. The same applied to all previous reforms of the NHS. With words such as gamble, risk, radical and revolutionary being bandied about, it might be sensible to have a committee of inquiry up and running in continuous session, feeding such wisdom as it
can summon into the process in "real time".

Instead everyone is doing what they are told. In about 10 years time I imagine there will be an inquiry into the NHS, to tell us all what went
wrong back in 2011. They will all be summoned, David Cameron, Andrew Lansley, George Osborne, Oliver Letwin, the BMA, the
consultants, the nurses and lawyers for the bereaved. They will slap each other on the back and ask after each other's sciatica. They will
gaze back over time and wonder, who on earth was to blame, as it cannot possibly have been them?

By Simon Jenkins

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Carnage in Iraq

In the most brutal attack in a new surge of violence across Iraq, a suicide bomber detonated himself Tuesday, Jan. 18, in a crowd of some 300 police applicants in the northern city of Tikrit, killing at least 50 and wounding as many as 150 others, according to local media. Reports from the scene describe pickups piled high with bodies, blood running down the sides of the vehicles. Hospitals are reported to be overloaded with critically injured patients, and a local mosque is calling on followers for emergency blood donations.

The bombing, in the hometown of former dictator Saddam Hussein, who was executed in December 2006, is the bloodiest attack since Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's political bloc wrangled enough parliamentary seats to begin forming a new government. It is the worst in Iraq since the horrific siege of a Christian church in Baghdad that killed 52 worshipers last Oct. 31. Al-Qaeda in Iraq and its offshoot are believed to be behind the episodes. The latest is almost certainly going to increase pressure on al-Maliki, who rode to re-election on a strongman persona and promises to restore stability. But the Prime Minister has not yet appointed anyone to the nation's top security posts; he is running the departments himself in the interim.

The situation in Tikrit had already been tense. Abdulah Rahman Almashdani, who teaches political science at Tikrit University, says he has received threats from al-Qaeda on such matters as revising curriculums to reflect hard-line Islam and forcing female students to wear the traditional hijab. "We all know the security and police are too weak to stop al-Qaeda or the terrorists," says Almashdani. "We understand that al-Qaeda wants to conduct an attack tomorrow on Tikrit University, they could, and no one would stop them. They are becoming strong, and today's attack has put serious fears in our hearts and made us believe there is no solution to the security problems in our country."

The attacks on the police job seekers was not unprecedented: an attack on a similar police-recruiting center in Baghdad last year left more than 60 dead and was seen as a message from al-Qaeda to strike fear among potential security troops and prey on those eager to find jobs amid Iraq's nearly 35% unemployment rate.

Why, then, aren't such lines of job seekers better protected? Politicians blame al-Maliki. "We are sorry for the victims, but this was not unexpected. There has already been a slaughter here and a slaughter there. This is just the latest in a series of security breakdowns that need to be dealt with," says Dr. Mahmoud Othman, a veteran Kurdish lawmaker and former member of the Governing Council. "None of the security ministries have been appointed — Interior, Defense or Security. At the moment it's all in the hands of Maliki." Adds Othman: "We need the whole security policy to be revised, and this needs to be the absolute priority right now."

Although bombing, shootings and other violent crimes are common each day in Iraq, the 2010 death toll — 4,017 civilians and 408 Iraqi security forces, according to the Britain-based Iraqi Body Count — was the lowest since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. In recent weeks, however, violence against security personnel, public officials and Christians has escalated, raising questions about the ability of al-Maliki's fragile coalition — which took nine months to assemble — to squash insurgent groups, notably the al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq, which is believed to be behind Tuesday's Tikrit bombing. In the backdrop is the U.S.'s plan to withdraw all its military personnel by the end of the year — and al-Maliki's public pronouncements that it should do so on schedule.

Al-Maliki thus risks public embarrassment if the security situation continues to deteriorate, says Sean Kane, the Iraq program officer for the United States Institute for Peace and a former U.N. official in Baghdad from 2006 to 2009. "High-profile security breaches, whether they be today's tragic bombing in Tikrit or last week's jailbreak of al-Qaeda in Iraq members from a prison in Basra, serve to puncture this law-and-order image that Maliki and his new government are trying to promote," says Kane. "Insurgent groups are certainly aware of this, and while high-profile attacks are growing less frequent, they are at least in part intended to embarrass and discredit the new government."

The escape Kane referred to took place three days before the Tikrit bombing. Twelve prisoners connected to the Islamic State of Iraq staged a break from a prison (and former Saddam palace) in the southern oil hub of Basra. The escape, in which the prisoners donned police uniforms and walked out the front gate, led to calls for the local police chief to be sacked, while all the guards at the prison were arrested for allegedly turning a blind eye to the escape.

The constant news of security breakdowns is further eroding al-Maliki's reputation. The attack in Tikrit came just a day after a suicide car bombing targeted the governor of majority Sunni Anbar province, killing four bodyguards but leaving the official unhurt. Earlier this month, Baghdad was placed on high alert after 10 security and government officials were killed and four wounded in less than a week by death squads equipped with silenced pistols. Officials and security officers who spoke to TIME attributed the uptick in attacks to al-Qaeda and its offshoot Islamic State of Iraq but noted that the insurgents could never have been so successful without inside help. Many observers repeatedly point to a vacuum at the top echelons of the security apparatus.

Al-Maliki's parliamentary opposition, the so-called Iraqiya List, is already using the failure to appoint security ministers as a launch pad from which to criticize the Prime Minister. Says Hani Ashor, Iraqiya's chief security adviser: "You've seen what happened [in Tikrit], and any more delays will lead to more problems, and Iraqis will pay in blood for this." Ashor adds, "A lot of people have been murdered because of information leaks from within their own government. The new Security Minister will need to act quickly to evaluate his ministry, and the sooner he's in office, the better." The government insists it is fast-tracking the search for a Security Minister.

The apparent paralysis, Kane points out, will affect the way Iraqis view the efficacy of al-Maliki — and the existing political status quo. Says Kane: "The juxtaposition of the political parties wrangling over these vital posts while bombs are going off is obviously not a good one."

By Charles McDermid & Erbil and Nizar Latif for
TIME Magazine.

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Fatwa: end attacks on christians

A group of senior Iraqi clerics have issued a joint Shiite, Sunni and Christian fatwa calling for the end of violence against the Christian minority in Iraq.

They had been meeting at a three-day conference between 12-14 January in the Danish capital, Copenhagen, to discuss the increasing spate of attacks against Iraqi Christians.The deadliest was the siege on the Our Lady of Salvation Church on 31 October 2010 in Baghdad, which killed more than 50 worshippers, including a priest.

Insurgents from the Islamic State of Iraq, a group linked to al-Qaeda, claimed responsibility, saying they would continue to target Iraqi Christians, unless they exerted pressure on a Coptic Christian church in Egypt to release two women reportedly held by the church for trying to convert to Islam.

The Iraqi security forces stepped up measures to protect Christian churches around the country, but there have been further attacks in residential areas.On 10 November, a series of bombings on Christian homes in Baghdad killed 6 people, and injured 33.On New Year’s Eve, another attack on 14 homes in Baghdad left 2 Christians dead and 16 wounded.

There are now fears of a return to sectarian violence, which swept Iraq after the US-led invasion in 2003 and reached its peak in 2006 and 2007.The attacks have reinforced a deep feeling of insecurity among Christians in Iraq, and many have fled to Kurdistan and neighbouring countries or are seeking asylum in the West.

The Iraqi Minister of Displacement and Migration, Dindar Najman Doski, confirms that more than 5,000 Christian families left the country in 2010. Kurdistan’s interior minister, Kareem Sinjari, released a press statement, stating that more than 1,600 Christian families have fled to Kurdistan since the raid on the Baghdad church and subsequent attacks.According to other sources, 1,400 Iraqi Christian families have sought asylum in Lebanon, and there are similar numbers in countries such as Jordan and Syria.

The UN Office in Turkey has confirmed that the number of Iraqi Christians who have migrated to Turkey has increased significantly in recent months.Records of the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Istanbul, the major mediator between refugees and Turkish authorities, show that in 2009, about 150 families with more than 600 people arrived in Turkey. In the last few months of 2010, the number of people rose to 12,000.

After Islam, Christianity has the most number of followers in Iraq. The religion is recognized by the Constitution, as is the existence of fourteen Christian holy worship places. Christians live in the main Iraqi cities of Baghdad, Basra, Mosul and Kirkuk, as well as in cities in Kurdistan. They speak several languages, including Arabic, Kurdish, Syriac and Armenian.

At the end of the 1980's, there were nearly two million Christians in Iraq. This number decreased in the 1990's, after the second Gulf war and the economic siege on Iraq, and again after 2003, with the outbreak of sectarian violence and suicide bombings. Today, there are an estimated 700,000 Christians living in Iraq.

Christian clerics have warned that Iraq may soon be devoid of Christians - just as there are practically no longer any Jews living here. In the mid 1990‘s, there were around 120,000 Jews. But they left because of persecution, and today only 6 Jews remain, all elderly.“There is a campaign of genocide against Christians in Iraq and we have to find a way of stopping it”, says the Christian MP, Yunadim Kanna, one of the participants at the Copenhagen conference.

Most of those who attended the meeting in Copenhagen were members of the Iraqi interfaith dialogue council, which was set up in 2006. Their names* remained confidential for security reasons until their arrival in the Danish capital, according to the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“We invited the most influential Shiite, Sunni and Christian personalities in Iraq”, said the organiser, Canon Andrew White, vicar of the St George’s Anglican church in Baghdad and head of the NGO, British Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East (FRRME).

“Christians are facing a serious problem, because they do not feel safe in their country and want to leave", he said, adding that "It is not Islam that is making them afraid, but the threat of terrorism."

The conference, called the “Emergency Summit for Inter-faith Dialogue in Iraq”, was the second of its kind, after the one held in 2008 in the same city. It was organised with assistance from the Copenhagen Church and funding from the Danish Foreign Ministry.

It ended with the signing of the Copenhagen Relief and National Reconciliation Agreement, which stressed the need to address the targeting of Christians in Iraq and to press the government to activate the recommendations of the Iraqi Council of Representatives in this regard as quickly as possible.

It also called upon the relevant authorities to adopt a moderate religious discourse and to make the incitement of sectarian, religious and cultural hatred a criminal offence. Finally, it recommended that the forthcoming Arab summit conference in Baghdad should put this subject on their agenda.

The conference coincided with the arrest in Copenhagen of five people of planning a terrorist attack on the Jyllands-Posten newspaper, which published the controversial cartoons of Prophet Mohammed on 30 September 2005, that offended and angered the Muslim world, and led to death threats against the cartoonist.

The five suspects were all Swedish residents of Arab origin. One of them - a 26-year-old Iraqi asylum-seeker - was released last Thursday, although he still faces charges against him.Magnus Ranstorp, an expert on terrorism at the Swedish National Defence College, believes that even though these suspected terrorists were unsuccessful, their impact is clear. “People have become scared and this is the essence of terrorism."

Certainly, this “essence of terrorism” has been spreading for years among Christians in Baghdad and other provinces of Iraq, which is why they have been fleeing their country in such large numbers.The question now is whether the Copenhagen fatwa will be able to end the killing of Christians in Iraq and stop their migration. If not, then Iraq will lose one of its ancient communities.

* The participants in Copenhagen were: Sheikh Abdul Latif Hameem, secretary general of the Muslim Scholars and Iraq's Intellectuals group, Khaled Al-Mulla, al-Sayyed Jawad al-Khoei, Sheikh Abdul-Haleem al-Zuhairi, MP Yunanem Kanna, His Eminence Archbishop, Avak Asadourian, the Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of Iraq, MP Majid al-Hafeed, Imam and preacher of the Great Mosque in Sulaymaniyah, Abdul-Razzaq Shamkhi, the representative of the Sabean Mandaeans (from the second day), and Canon Andrew White. Ammar Abu Ragheef, a Shiite clergyman, was unable to attend.

By Dana Asaad for

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Qa'eda prisoners 'had inside help'

Al Qa'eda prisoners who escaped from a jail in Basra last week had high-level government connections and were helped by insiders from a corrupt Iraqi intelligence unit, investigators believe.

The 12 detainees, including leading members of the Islamic State of Iraq, an Al Qa'eda affiliate, walked out of a high security government compound on Friday, apparently disguised as police officers.

In the aftermath of the jailbreak, the federal authorities in Baghdad ordered the arrest of all security officers working at the site, 550km south of the capital, fearing the escape had inside help.

Those fears have now been confirmed, according to a senior security officer privy to details of the ongoing investigation. He said the Iraqi intelligence cell based on the Basra Palace compound, the same unit that had been leading the interrogation of the al Qa'eda detainees, had been infiltrated by the militants and had colluded to set them free.

"The basic picture we have is that a cell inside the intelligence system had been broken by al Qa'eda and got them out of prison," the officer said."Our investigation is also pointing to someone in the Iraqi government in Baghdad who has his hands in this; a senior government official with connections to the intelligence unit."

The security officer said a number of suspects from the intelligence unit had been detained and were being questioned, but that other members thought to be involved were not yet in custody."Some of the [intelligence] cell members are in our hands, but not all of them," he said. "When we have them, we expect to be able to get the name of the official in Baghdad who is involved."

Investigators had been told to report directly to the office of the prime minister, Nouri al Maliki, the official said, and had been given a remit to probe senior security and government figures. "We have the authority from the prime minister to look at anyone, we were told to look at senior people if we thought it was necessary," the officer said.

Yesterday the Basra police chief, Major Gen Adil Daham, was also fired over the incident, said the head of Basra's provincial council, Jabbar Amin.

Among the prisoners who escaped was Majid Abdul Aziz, a former Basra college professor who is now considered to be the leader of al Qa'eda's operations in southern Iraq. The security services believe he was involved in a series of bombings, including a triple explosion in Basra market last August, which killed some 50 people and wounded more than 100 others.

Mohammed Ishab Yacoub, another of the escaped prisoners is believed to have carried out a string of assassinations throughout southern Iraq.Amar Tumma, a Fadila party MP from Basra, said the escape may have been launched because the prisoners, under interrogation, were close to admitting intelligence units had been infiltrated at senior levels.

"I believe the prisoners were freed on orders, perhaps because some officials in the Basra security forces were worried that they were about to be exposed," he said. "It has left a big question mark over the abilities of the security forces. It's a serious problem; we have to clean out our security and rebuild, we have to make sure the foundations are strong."

Ali al Maliki, the head of Basra provincial council's security committee, said the escape had exposed dangerous flaws, even inside elite anti-terrorist units."Basra has problems, the security system is not stable and what happened in the palace jail has really worried us," he said. "We have to have a full investigation, from the smallest officer to the largest, we must investigate the whole security system to find out what happened."

Mr al Maliki said it was too soon to confirm that senior security officials had aided the jailbreak, but he was adamant it would have required inside assistance."We are still in the investigating stage but I'm sure people inside the leadership of the security system in Basra helped them escape, they made it easy for them," he said.

Two key events appear to have preceded the escape. First, the planned transfer of the prisoners to Baghdad was delayed, at the request of interrogators in Basra who asked for more time to get information from the suspects. Second, police reinforcements stationed at the prison compound were apparently redeployed on the morning the prisoners walked out of jail, significantly reducing the strength of security.

Susan al Sa'ab, an MP with the ruling National Alliance coalition, said: "Federal police were given orders to leave the prison at 6am on the day of the escape. It is essential we find out exactly what happened. If there are terrorists inside the security forces, it undermines the whole system and defeats the work of the good officers who are trying to protect us all.

"The dirty security units must be found and their members must be punished for their crimes."

Nizar Latif,
The National
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