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Iraq Vote in Limbo with Veto of Election Law

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Plans for Iraq to hold elections in January are up in the air after Iraq’s vice president vetoed part of an election law over the allocation of seats to Iraqis displaced by the US invasion and occupation. Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, who is Sunni, said he objected to Article One of the election law approved by parliament this month because it did not give a voice to Iraqis abroad. We speak to Iraqi political analyst Raed Jarrar. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Iraq. Plans for Iraq to hold elections in January are up in the air after Iraq’s vice president vetoed part of an election law over the allocation of seats to Iraqis displaced by the US invasion and occupation. Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, who is Sunni, said he objected to Article One of the election law approved by parliament this month because it did not give a voice to Iraqis abroad. Many of the displaced Iraqis are also Sunni. Al-Hashemi’s veto would force a postponement of the elections and open the door for a delay in the US withdrawal from Iraq.

For more on this, we’re joined in Washington, DC by Raed Jarrar. He’s an Iraqi-born blogger and political analyst, senior fellow at Peace Action.

Raed, talk about the significance of the Vice President and what this means for Iraqi elections.

RAED JARRAR: It’s a very huge threat to the entire political process in Iraq. What Mr. al-Hashemi did yesterday might cancel or delay the elections to after January 31st, which will be a huge problem for Iraqis, because that’s the constitutional limit for the current government and parliament. So it’s very worrisome. I think many Iraqis are extremely frustrated and worried about this new development.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about where Iraq is right now. Talk about what it means about the displaced Iraqis.

RAED JARRAR: The issue of displaced Iraqis, of course, is one of the major disasters that resulted from the US invasion and occupation. We are talking about around five million displaced Iraqis in the last six years. Half of them are inside the country, internally displaced persons, and the other half outside the country. Most of the refugees, Iraqis outside the country, are in Syria and Jordan.

Now, this issue, to tell you the truth, is important, but there are so many doubts that this was the real reason behind Mr. al-Hashemi’s veto. There are many speculations and analyses that indicate that Mr. al-Hashemi’s veto has — had more to it than the mere technical issue of Iraqis’ representation or Iraqis who are living abroad and their representation. We’re just splitting hairs regarding that issue, between five percent or ten percent or whatever the number is.

Now, the real reason behind Mr. al-Maliki’s veto might be the fact that all of the parties in the presidential council — Mr. al-Hashemi, the Sunni; al-Hakim, the Shiite, and the two Kurdish parties, Talabani and Barzani — they have been very vocal against this new law because of internal reasons in Iraq. They are against the open system that allows Iraqis to vote for individual candidates, rather than the old system that allowed these four parties to take a free ride on the expense of other big coalitions.

Other speculations indicate that these four parties in the presidential council are actually using this issue to try to sabotage the plans of the US withdrawal. These four parties, the series and Shiites and presidential council have been against the US withdrawal. These four parties — the Sunnis and Shiites and Kurds — in the presidential council have been against the plans of the US withdrawal. And unfortunately, it seems that the Obama administration and Pentagon have been reacting to this — to their demands in a positive way, as in being more flexible about the withdrawal and not giving a clear enough sign that the US is getting out of Iraq.

So the veto has way more to it than the issue of displacement. I think it is a threat to both the Iraqi political process and to the plans of the US withdrawal.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk more about the Status of Forces Agreement, the SOFA, and what it means, where it’s going, and the possibility that US troops would be forced to leave earlier, Raed Jarrar.

RAED JARRAR: We have two parallel processes of US withdrawal. One of them is the Status of Forces Agreement, or the security agreement that was signed last year. That agreement has two major deadlines. The first one has already passed successfully. It required all combat US troops — all US combat troops to leave Iraqi cities and towns and villages by June of this year. So this did already happen. The other deadline is December 31st of 2011, and that deadline requires all US troops, not just combat, all US troops to withdraw from Iraq. Now, there have been some attempts by Iraqi legislators and Mr. al-Maliki, the Prime Minister, to shift that deadline of December 31st, 2011 to earlier in the year and linking that shift to a public referendum. Now, all of this, what I described, is one of the processes that we have.

The other thing that is happening is President Obama’s plan, that is not included in the bilateral agreement. And President Obama’s plan for withdrawal promised to bring out what he called combat forces from Iraq between April and August of this year. Now, there is no clear definition of that, but we have a clear definition of numbers, at least. So the number of US troops, according to the Obama plan, not to the Status of Forces — the number of troops, according to the Obama plan, must go from the current 125,000 to 50,000 by the end of August of this year. So April to August of this year is an extremely important period for withdrawal, because it will have the biggest chunk of US troops withdrawn. The US will stop completely any combat operations, you know, except for some very few exceptions.

Now, unfortunately, the Obama administration — in the beginning, it was good in being vocal and clear about the withdrawal being time-based, not conditions-based, which is the main difference between the Obama plan and the Bush plan. Bush talked for six years about how the US will leave when conditions permit. But Obama talked about a timetable for withdrawal that is not conditions-based, and that’s why his plan had a lot of support in the US and Iraq.

Now, lately Obama has been more ambiguous about it, like, for example, last week, when the Iraqi parliament passed the law, Obama ended up saying in a statement that now we can go ahead with the withdrawal because the Iraqi parliament has passed the law, rather than saying we are going with the withdrawal — we are going ahead with the withdrawal, regardless of what the Iraqi parliament does. So I think this type of messaging, from Obama or from the Pentagon, that has been extremely generous about being flexible, about the possibilities of delaying the withdrawal, this type of messages, they do affect the Iraqi political process. And when Iraqi political leaders who want to delay the US occupation hear these messages, of course they will take positions like the one that was taken this week. Of course they will try to sabotage the Iraqi political process and Iraqi stability, because that will end up being the reason for prolonging the US occupation that is protecting them and their little regime.

So now I think we are going, in the next few weeks, in this extremely dangerous period, where if the Obama administration was not clear enough, we will end up going back to square one, where it’s a conditions-based withdrawal. Anyone who wants the US to stay longer will put a car bomb, will sabotage a political process, and then the US will say, “OK, let’s, you know, delay the withdrawal for a couple of months now, maybe a couple of years now,” and then this will end up, you know, yet another endless war. So it’s extremely dangerous. It’s the first test for the Obama plan, and I hope that the Obama administration will not fail itself and fail the American and Iraqi people.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Raed Jarrar, we just have thirty seconds, but the oil giants Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell have been awarded a contract for to southern — develop a southern Iraqi oil field. Can you talk about the significance of this, the first major deal for an American-led bid since the US invasion of 2003?

RAED JARRAR: Yeah, I mean, of course we need more than thirty seconds to talk about that, but, I mean, this has been one of the major reasons why Iraq was picked on and Iraq was invaded, because of its oil. But to put things in context, what happened now is their Plan B. Plan A, actually, was the complete looting of Iraq’s oil under the Iraq new — newly proposed Iraqi oil and law — oil and gas law, that did not pass. So what’s happening now, compared to the original plan, is not as bad, but I think it’s still horrible. It shows that the real intentions for invading Iraq had to do more with oil than weapons of mass destruction or freeing Iraqis or whatever other fake excuses were given to cover the real economic and political reasons.

AMY GOODMAN: Raed Jarrar, I want to thank you for being with us, Iraqi-born blogger, political analyst, now senior fellow at Peace Action in Washington, DC.

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