Iraq Awaits Election Results

March 11, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

The first results of Iraq’s parliamentary elections are expected to be released on Wednesday, officials have said, in a vote seen as a test of democracy in the country.

But none of the political blocs contesting Sunday’s vote are expected to win a decisive victory, and talks to form a coalition could take months.

Figures showed that more than 60 per cent of eligible voters took part in Sunday’s elections, despite numerous attempts to disrupt the process.

The independent electoral commission, IHEC, said on Monday that roughly 11.7 million voters had cast their ballots on election day.

The 62.5 voter turnout did not include ballots cast by security forces and others in early voting or the 275,000 Iraqis voting abroad.

Hamdiyah al-Husseini, a senior official with IHEC, told reporters that turnout was particularly high in the country’s autonomous northern Kurdish region, with 80 percent of voters in Dohuk casting ballots.

Informal tallies showed prime minister Nuri al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition had polled well in Shia provinces while a secular, cross-sectarian bloc led by former premier Iyad Allawi appeared to be strong in Sunni areas of the north and west.

Sami al-Askari, a member of Maliki’s coalition, said his coalition took about 45 per cent of the vote in Baghdad, the capital, and would win about half the seats in the Shia holy city of Najaf. He added that it was running third in some northern areas behind Iraqiya and the Kurdish Alliance, he said.

“We will be the biggest bloc in the next parliament and according to the constitution we will be the bloc that will nominate the next prime minister,” he said. “But definitely we will need to ally with one or two other lists.”

Mike Hanna, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Baghdad, said the first preliminary results would be based on just 30 per cent of the votes and may not be that representable.

“The prime intention is to get a governing bloc within the parliament which has 50 per cent plus one seat, which would then enable that particular bloc to form a government and nominate a prime minister.”

Final results, certified by the supreme court after hearing appeals, were expected within about a month of the election.

More than 6,000 candidates from 86 political groups were competing for the 325 seats in parliament.

Despite tight security arrangements, the vote was marred by violence as a series of explosions left at least 38 people dead and 89 others wounded in the capital.

The bloodiest toll was from an explosion that destroyed a residential building in the Shaab district of northern Baghdad, killing 25 people and wounding at least eight more.

Source:     Al Jazeera and agencies

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India Salutes Comrade Basu’s Memory

January 21, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI: Jyoti Basu is no more but the incomparable stamp left by communist patriarch on politics of the country and West Bengal cannot be ever erased away. Ninety-five year old Basu breathed his last this Sunday at a hospital in Kolkata, where he was admitted earlier this month after he complained of uneasiness. Described as a “political legend,” Basu towered over West Bengal’s politics as the longest serving Chief Minister, for a record period of 23 years, from 1977 till 2000. The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) led state government, with Basu as Chief Minister, spelt emergence of Left Front for the first time at the helm in West Bengal.

Basu is credited for championing the cause of farmers, giving them a political voice through the Panchayati Raj (decentralization of political power to the village-level) and by effectively implementing land reforms. He is remembered for restoring political stability in West Bengal which had faced severe disturbance in 1970s from Maoist insurgency. His political policy of forming a coalition government in West Bengal is there to stay at the national level for perhaps a long time to come. It led to like-minded parties come together as a third alternative to Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in late eighties and nineties. Though the third alternative did not make much of a political impact, the strategy of forming coalition governments remains in the lead till date. Initially known to be strongly anti-Congress, Basu’s secular inclination led to the Left Front give external support to the Congress-led coalition government in 2004 to keep BJP out of power.

Secular ideals followed by Basu restricted communal forces from entering West Bengal. This stood out markedly when as the Chief Minister, Basu played a firm role in not allowing any disturbance in West Bengal when anti-Sikh violence surfaced following assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1984 and when communal riots spread across the nation over demolition of Babari Masji by extremist Hindus in December 1992.

Though a leftist to the core, who was first introduced to this ideology while studying law in United Kingdom, Basu is also remembered for not being averse to capitalism and attracting foreign investment to West Bengal. On this, he stated: “We want capital, both foreign and domestic. After all we are working in a capitalist system. Socialism is not possible now.”

Not surprisingly, the political icon was close to becoming the country’s first Left-bloc Prime Minister in 1996, as the head of United Front coalition government. His party, however, declined to take over power, a decision to which he yielded even though he criticized it as “historic blunder.” The CPI-M viewed his criticism as his “personal” opinion. Though he never held the office of the Prime Minister, Basu is remembered for being a guide on several crucial issues to many prime ministers. During the late eighties, he succeeded in convincing late premier Rajiv Gandhi on forming a hill council to restore peace in Darjeeling, where an agitation was on for a separate state.

In her condolence message, addressed to his son, Chandan Basu, Congress leader Sonia Gandhi stated: “We continued to count on him for his wise counsel even after he retired from political life.” “Together with Indiraji and Rajivji, I held him in the highest esteem. I have warmest memories of our many meetings – of his charm and grace and his deep humanity.” Describing him as “a tireless crusader against communalism, fundamentalism, casteism and all kinds of obscurantism; a warrior for social justice and equality and for the eradication of poverty; a true patriot who always put the national interest above all else,” Gandhi said: “He was a towering figure of our national life, whose noble vision, superb judgment and depth of experience was valued greatly.”

“In the years after he relinquished the Chief Ministership, he continued to be looked upon as an elder statesman, whose advice was sought by many political leaders in the state,” President Pratibha Patil said in her condolence message. “In his passing away, the nation has lost a veteran and an eminent public figure,” Patil said.

Expressing grief, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in his condolence message that Basu’s “passing away” “marks the end of an era in annals of Indian politics.” “He was a powerful regional voice in the national political scene and helped to strengthen Indian federalism,” Singh said. “On many occasions in my career, I turned to him for his sagacious advice on all matters, whether they related to West Bengal or to issues of national importance. His advice was statesmanlike but always pragmatic and based on unshakable values that he championed throughout his political career,” Singh said.

The condolence resolution of CPI-M Polit Bureau expressed “profound grief at passing away of Comrade Basu.” Though he stepped down from Chief Ministership in 2000 due to health reasons, “he continued to work and discharge responsibilities till the end of his life.” “The Left movement in the country was fortunate in having such an accomplished and dedicated leader at helm of affairs in West Bengal and in leadership of CPI-M for such a long time… The Polit Bureau salutes the memory of our beloved departed comrade.”

Tributes and condolence messages poured in from all over the country, with few states declaring a state mourning as a mark of respect. West Bengal government announced a three-day state mourning. Expressing grief, former prime minister and senior BJP leader Atal Bihar Vajpayee said that his demise had “ended a chapter in country’s politics.”

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‘Coalition of the Willing’ Comes to an End in Iraq

August 6, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

War now truly an American-only effort after Britain and Australia pull out

By Chelsea J. Carter, AP

2009-07-30T165015Z_01_LON708_RTRMDNP_3_BRITAIN-IRAQ

John Chilcot, the chairman of the Iraq Inquiry, listens during a news conference in London July 30, 2009. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair will be asked to testify to a panel investigating the Iraq war, the head of the inquiry said on Thursday. Former civil servant Chilcot said the inquiry, set up by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, would look at British involvement in the war, covering the period from the summer of 2001 to the end of July this year.

REUTERS/Matt Dunham/Pool

The war in Iraq was truly an American-only effort Saturday after Britain and Australia, the last of its international partners, pulled out.

Little attention was paid in Iraq to what effectively ended the so-called coalition of the willing, with the U.S. — as the leader of Multi-National Force, Iraq — letting the withdrawals pass without any public demonstration.

The quiet end of the coalition was a departure from its creation, which saw then-U.S. President George W. Bush court countries for support before and after the March 2003 invasion.

“We’re grateful to those partners who contributed in the past and we look forward to working with them in the future,” military spokesman Army Lieutenant-Colonel Mark Ballesteros told The Associated Press in an e-mail.

At its height, the coalition numbered about 300,000 soldiers from 38 countries— 250,000 from the United States, about 40,000 from Britain, and the rest ranging from 2,000 Australians to 70 Albanians. But most of the United States’ traditional European allies, those who supported actions in Afghanistan and the previous Iraq war, sat it out.

It effectively ended this week with Friday’s departure of Australian troops and the expiration of the mandate for the tiny remaining British contingent after Iraq’s parliament adjourned without agreeing to allow the troops to stay to protect southern oil ports and train Iraqi troops.

The U.S. military, though, said the withdrawals did not mean it was going it alone in Iraq.

“We haven’t lost our international partners. Rather, there are representatives from around the world here in various capacities such as NATO, military advisers, law enforcement and construction workers,” said Army Colonel John R. Robinson, a military spokesman at the U.S. headquarters outside Baghdad.

Australia’s military commander in the Middle East, Major-General Mark Kelly, said Friday the last 12 Australian soldiers who had been embedded with U.S. units were flown out of Baghdad on Tuesday, three days ahead of the deadline. A security detachment of about 100 soldiers will remain to protect embassy personnel.

Britain withdrew its remaining 100 to 150 mostly Navy personnel to Kuwait, though was hopeful they might return.

“We are exploring with the Iraqi Government the possibility of resuming some or all of our planned naval activity in advance of ratification,” the British Defence Ministry said in a statement released Saturday.

The coalition had a troubled history and began to crumble within months of the U.S.-led invasion as many countries faced political and social unrest over an unpopular war.

Critics said the tiny contingents that partnered with the coalition, such as Estonia, Albania and Romania, gave the U.S. token international support for the invasion.

Mass protests were held in many countries, including Spain, which was one of the most notable withdrawals from the coalition. In 2004, a bombing attack in Madrid linked to Islamic extremists helped overturn the political establishment in Spain and the new leadership pulled out the Spanish troops.

By January 2007, the combined non-U.S. contingent had dwindled to just over 14,000. By October 2007, it stood at 20 nations and roughly 11,400 soldiers.

The US military, meanwhile, has increased its focus on redefining its relationship with Iraq under a security pact that took effect on Jan. 1.

American combat forces withdrew from Iraq’s urban areas at the end of June and all troops are to withdraw by the end of 2011, according to the agreement. President Barack Obama has ordered the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops by Aug. 31, 2010, leaving roughly 50,000 troops to train and advise Iraqi security forces.
“Today is a normal day for our forces currently in Iraq,” Col. Robinson said, “because our business is already tied closely to our bilateral partnership with the Iraqis.”

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AL-AWDA Convention

May 28, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, MMNS

Palestinians comprise the largest refugee population in the world today. The Israelis drove out approximately 750,000 Palestinians from their homes in 1948. The legal basis for their right of return cannot be disputed. In their treatment of Palestinian refugees, the Israelis not only forced Palestinians to leave ancestral lands, but, through their treatment of them from 1948 until today, they have destroyed a culture.

In the 61st year of the Nakba (the catastrophe), AL-AWDA once again has brought national and international attention to this situation.

The seventh annual convention of AL-AWDA, the Palestinian Right of Return Coalition, was held in Garden Grove, Ca. this past weekend. This well attended, exciting and educational event, titled “Freedom for Palestine”, began Friday evening with a meet and greet session enhanced by outstanding Arabic food.

After the convention opening and welcome, activists from solidarity organizations addressed the audience. These activists included, but were not limited to: John Parker, the West Coast Coordinator of the International Action Center; Richard Becker, a founder and current leader of the ANSWER Coalition, and Cindy Sheehan, a prominent anti-war activist and campaigner for human rights.

A showing of “Salt of the Sea” closed the evening’s activities. This motion picture tells the story of a young Palestinian woman, born in the United States to Palestinian refugees. When she becomes aware that at the time of the Nakba the Israelis froze her grandfather’s bank account in Jaffa, she travels to Palestine to reclaim what she believes is her due. As she sees the conditions of Palestinian existence and meets a young Palestinian man, she comes to realize that what needs to be reclaimed is far more than a bank account.

On Saturday forums were held throughout the day dealing with such timely issues as: “Palestinian Refugees – Background and Current Status”  with Dr. Jesse Ghannam. Dr. Ghannam has established mental health clinics in Gaza and travels there frequently. The clinics and his participation in them are under the auspices of the Gaza Community Mental Health program. In the United States, Dr. Ghannam is a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Chief of Medical Psychology at the University of California San Francisco.

“Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions” was conducted by Lubna Hamad of Adalah (The Coalition for Justice in the Middle East) New York of which she is co founder. Ms Hamad was a legal consultant for UNICEF in Jerusalem with a specialty of child protection.

George Galloway, British MP and international human rights advocate, conducted a forum on “Viva Palestina”.

MP Galloway also addressed an evening session on “Growing our Global Movement – Freedom for Palestine” which session included fundraising.

Keynote addresses on Gaza in the aftermath of the Israeli attack and the situation in Jerusalem highlighted the luncheon session.

A parallel youth program was held.

The final session of the Convention, held on Sunday, dealt with reports, challenges and future plans.

The Sacramento chapter, which had at one time been part of the San Francisco chapter, reported growth and successful participation in anti war events, BDS and educational series. The Phoenix chapter also reported growth and public engagement.

A suggestion was made to encourage tourism to Palestine,specifically Jerusalem, as the Israeli government is trying to cripple East Jerusalem economically. Tourists should stay at Palestinian run hotels; eat at Palestinian run restaurants, and purchase from Palestinian run shops.

Further, a suggestion was made to coordinate AL-AWDA activity here with AL-AWDA groups in Europe where the movement is extremely active.

Still another suggestion, unanimously and enthusiastically accepted, was to send a small delegation to the Egyptian Consulate to express our dismay at Egypt’s cooperation in making crossing into Gaza through Rafah difficult and erratic.

Booths on display at the AL-AWDA Convention included but were not limited to: Palestine Online Store; A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition; International Action Center; Free Gaza Movement, and Students for Justice in Palestine at the University of California in San Diego.

Host committee organizations of the AL-AWDA Convention included but were not limited to: Palestine Aid Society; Muslim Students Association at UCSD, Palomar College, and Mira Costa and the Muslim Students Union at UCR; Free Palestine Alliance, and Palestinian American Women Association.

AL-AWDA may be accessed at: www.al-awda.org.

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