This could very well be much ado about nothing, but I noticed an interesting emphasis (and exclusion) in a recent article that features certain US military officials discussing the importance of regional elections in Iraq:
Provincial elections must be held as soon as possible if violence is to be kept at bay in Anbar, once Iraq's bloodiest province but now hailed as a major security success story, a top U.S. military official said.
Major-General John Kelly, commander of U.S. forces in the western province, said local polls, due to be held by October 1, could bolster peace but a delay could trigger a return to the violence which almost tore it apart.
"There is some potential for violence if citizens' expectations for new elections are not realized," Kelly told Reuters in an e-mail interview.
Most Sunni Arabs boycotted provincial polls in 2005. Many joined with al Qaeda to form the backbone of an insurgency against U.S. and Iraqi forces in Anbar, scene of some of the fiercest fighting since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
There has since been a remarkable turnaround in security in the province, in large part due to a decision by Sunni tribal leaders to turn against Sunni Islamist al Qaeda because of its indiscriminate killing and strict interpretation of Islam.
However, tribal chiefs and the men they ordered to protect the province against al Qaeda are now straining against a local political system they say does not represent them, and does little for reconstruction and employment in Anbar.
"If elections in Anbar are delayed until 2009, problems could result. Multi-National Forces West supports the holding of transparent and fair elections in the province as soon as the government of Iraq finds it practical," Kelly added.
"The elections are perceived as an opportunity to correct past mistakes associated with the Sunni decision not to participate in the last round of elections," he said.
Leaving aside questions of whether or not regional elections would actually lead to violence in their own right (they are still probably necessary due to legitimate Sunni demands, and a net positive, if a pyrrhic one), something else stood out in its absence: any discussion of regional elections in the Shiite regions. Like many Sunni elements, Moqtada al-Sadr's current boycotted the last round of regional elections in 2005, and are eager to push for another round. The Sadrists' main Shiite rival, ISCI, benefitted greatly from the former's absence in 2005, and thus rightly fear that a new round of elections would greatly dilute their power in Shiite local government.
Here's the question that occurred to me as I read the above excerpted article: is the lack of any mention of the Shiite regions an indication that ISCI (the main ally of both the US and Iran in Iraq) had succeeded in convincing the various external powers that regional elections held in only certain (read: Sunni) parts of the country would be acceptable? Keep in mind that the elections themselves are on hold because of ISCI's veto. From the article:
A provincial powers law, which will define the relationship between Iraq's provinces and the central government, is seen as key to paving the way for fresh elections, but its passage has been blocked by Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi [ed: a member of ISCI].
This veto was particularly suspicious because it was ISCI that was pushing for the provincial powers law that it eventually vetoed. More than a month ago, Reidar Visser took note of some of the chatter in Iraq:
Against this backdrop, it would not be surprising if the dextrous politicians of ISCI, PUK and KDP were once more able to have it their way. ?Rolling elections? has already been mentioned ? perhaps the perfect euphemism in a context where the dominant US-sponsored Iraqi factions want to have elections in a few selected areas, but not everywhere?
Again, maybe I'm reading too much into this one article. Regardless, though, this maneuvering is something to keep an eye on in the weeks and months ahead. Suffice it to say, trying to deny the Sadrist current a new round of regional elections would be a recipe for disaster. Any fear (legitimate as it is) that Awakenings groups would attempt to seize power violently if denied the ballot box route applies to the Sadrists as well. On top of that, Sistani seems to be sending signals that he's not interested in playing these games.
(h/t to Juan Cole)
When the US Constitution was being debated, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay came up with an ingenious way to bring the debate on the various constitutional provisions to the masses in NY state as a way to encourage voters to ratify the[...]
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The debate on the Rule for considering HR 3773, the FISA amendments has begun. Kagro covered the critical ground of the rule and how it hamstrings Republicans, which resulted in the one monkeywrench left to Republicans thrown yesterday. That was the secret session which, according to Hoyer, accomplished exactly nothing.
By all appearances, Democratic leadership did a good job on this one in scripting out the procedure. That includes the scheduling. The House is adjourning today for Congress's two week Spring district work period (aka "recess"), so expect debate and votes to wrap up quickly (in Congress time) and in time for everyone to catch their planes back home. Also expect the Republicans to spend a lot of time whining about how they don't have enough time. Never mind that they were trying to adjourn for recess three days ago, to avoid having to vote on ethics reform. Time is relative, as is ethics, when you're a Republican.
This now sets up a conflict between the House and Senate Version:
The House Dem leadership's surveillance bill just cleared the House by a vote of 213-197 with 1 vote of present. 12 Dems crossed the aisle to vote against it.
The bill has stricter privacy safeguards than the Senate's version -- and of course does not contain a provision granting retroactive immunity for the telecoms' participation in the administration's warrantless wiretapping program.
As for what's next, it's over to the Senate where it's sure to undergo some modifications. In a statement earlier this week, Senate intelligence committee Chair Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) said that "considerable work remains" on reconciling the House's latest version and the Senate version. Rockefeller said he's willing to adopt a number of the House's provisions, including a much shorter sunset (2 years) on the law, but notably omitted the topic of immunity. Rockefeller supports blanket immunity for the telecoms.
In another example of Hillary's resume being a wee bit padded, it seems that Hillary didn't create the children's health insurance bill after all. In fact, her husband's White House was initially against the bill. But in all fairness to Hillary, I hear Barack Obama is black. From the Boston Globe:
[T]he Clinton White House, while supportive of the idea of expanding children's health, fought the first SCHIP effort, spearheaded by Senators Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, and Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, because of fears that it would derail a bigger budget bill. And several current and former lawmakers and staff said Hillary Clinton had no role in helping to write the congressional legislation, which grew out of a similar program approved in Massachusetts in 1996....
privately, some lawmakers and staff members are fuming over what they see as Clinton's exaggeration of her role in developing SCHIP, including her campaign ads claiming she "helped create" the program. The irritation has grown since Nov. 1, when Clinton - along with fellow senators and presidential candidates Barack Obama, Chris Dodd, and John McCain - missed a Senate vote to extend the SCHIP program, which was approved without the votes of those lawmakers.
The House is expected to finally vote on the leadership's surveillance bill this afternoon and debate is ongoing now. We'll keep you updated on how it goes.
It's unclear exactly what went on. For one thing, it appears from comments Republicans made going into the session that they didn't actually discuss the details of the administration's warrantless wiretapping program. Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI) tells the AP that he had read aloud the titles ? but not details ? of intelligence reports "that shows the nature of the global threat and how dynamic the situation is, and how fluid."
Democrats are as dismissive afterwards as they were skeptical going in. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) dismissed it as "mysterious hocus-pocus" on the House floor this morning. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said that he didn't "hear any new information" that dissuades him from supporting the Dems' bill. (Meanwhile, House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-MO) said in a statement that he was satisfied with the session and ?As members go home, I hope the information and debate we heard will help inform their decisions when we consider the legislation that will be before the House tomorrow.")
Dana Milbank writing in The Washington Post can hardly restrain his mockery of the whole thing -- and has a hard time deciding whether the debate to go into closed session was sillier than the closed session itself.
But if it was a PR stunt, I have to say that the secret session seems to have fallen far short of the GOP's staged walkout in garnering publicity.
Nancy Boyda was just on the floor of the House speaking against immunity for telecommunications[...]
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During a videoconference with U.S. military and civilian personnel yesterday, President Bush praised the troops fighting in Afghanistan, claiming he was “a little envious” of their “romantic” fight:
“I must say, I’m a little envious,” Bush said. “If I were slightly younger and not employed here, I think it would be a fantastic experience to be on the front lines of helping this young democracy succeed.”
“It must be exciting for you … in some ways romantic, in some ways, you know, confronting danger. You’re really making history, and thanks,” Bush said.
But isn’t Bush already fighting the war? In June 2007, then-White House Press Secretary Tony Snow claimed, “The President is in the war every day…On the frontlines, wherever.”
(HT: Matt Yglesias)