What Horror…

BEIRUT — While the world watches New Orleans drown, Baghdad has seen the single greatest loss of life when thousands of Shi’ite pilgrims panicked on a bridge over the Tigris and stampeded after rumors flew among the crowd that two suicide bombers were in the midst…. They drowned in the river and suffocated on land…. I don’t have any words for this, but the Iraqis don’t deserve this.

BEIRUT — While the world watches New Orleans drown, Baghdad has seen the single greatest loss of life when thousands of Shi’ite pilgrims “panicked on a bridge”:http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20050831/ap_on_re_mi_ea/iraq over the Tigris and stampeded after rumors flew among the crowd that two suicide bombers were in the midst.
Almost 650 people are dead and hundreds wounded. They drowned in the river and suffocated on land.

“We were on the bridge. It was so crowded. Thousands of people were surrounding me,” said survivor Fadhel Ali, 28, barefoot and soaking wet after swimming in the river. “We heard that a suicide attacker was among the crowd. Everybody was yelling so I jumped from the bridge into the river, swam and reached the bank. I saw women, children and old men falling after me into the water.”
Health Minister Abdul-Mutalib Mohammed told state-run Iraqiya television that there were “huge crowds on the bridge and the disaster happened when someone shouted that there is a suicide bomber on the bridge.”
“This led to a state of panic among the pilgrims and they started to push each other and there was many cases of suffocation,” he said.

Just horrible. I don’t have any words for this, but the Iraqis don’t deserve this. They’ve been through so much already.
I’ll be back in Baghdad next week.

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Uh, Sorry about that

So, in the process of updating to MovableType 3.2, I somehow managed to destroy my custom templates… Which explains the somewhat plain-jane look of the blog now. I hope to get this fixed in the coming days. My apologies for this.

So, in the process of updating to MovableType 3.2, I somehow managed to destroy my custom templates… Which explains the somewhat plain-jane look of the blog now. I hope to get this fixed in the coming days. My apologies for this.
Also, the new Notifier plug-in may or may not be working. I’m not sure.

Update on Shi’ite clash

Some updates on the clashes in Najaf and elsewhere: The clashes last night erupted because Moqtada’s people were demonstrating at the same time and near another demonstration by residents of Najaf who were protesting the lack of aid in rebuilding their homes and city.

BAGHDAD — Some updates on the “clashes in Najaf”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/2005/08/clashes_between_badr_and_sadr.php and elsewhere. “Whatever80’s comments”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/2005/08/clashes_between_badr_and_sadr.php#c45193 in the previous post match information I’ve gathered this morning.
So far: The clashes last night erupted because Moqtada’s people were demonstrating at the same time and near another demonstration by residents of Najaf who were protesting the lack of aid in rebuilding their homes and city. The principle reason for the destruction of Najaf was… Moqtada al-Sadr’s insurrection last year in August. So, Najafis have no great love for the young cleric.
Words were exchanged between the two groups and the Najaf police were called in by deputy governor Abd al-Hussein Abttan, a SCIRI member. The police, most of whom are Badr and who don’t particularly like Moqtada either, were said to have involved themselves in the melee and things escalated from there. Earlier reports of 20+ dead seem to be exaggerated, thankfully. Now it’s 6-8 people, from what I’ve heard.
The AP “reports”:http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20050825/ap_on_re_mi_ea/iraq;_ylt=Ak6JTff84zO2cRoa3KmpwJOs0NUE;_ylu=X3oDMTA3b2NibDltBHNlYwM3MTY-:

As word of the Najaf attack spread, clashes broke out between the two Shiite rival groups across central and southern Iraq. The violence extended to the country’s second largest city, Basra, where several hardline Shiite groups are competing for influence.
Fighting was reported in at least six Basra neighborhoods as al-Sadr’s followers attacked SCIRI offices and the headquarters of SCIRI’s Badr Brigade militia, setting it ablaze, police said. Al-Sadr’s headquarters in Basra was attacked with rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire, according to police.
In Amarah, eight mortar shells were fired at the SCIRI office, and a dozen pro-al-Sadr officials announced they were also suspending work. Gunmen from al-Sadr’s militia roamed the streets. Clashes were also reported in Kut, where a SCIRI-owned building was torched, and in Nasiriyah.
On Thursday, rival militant groups clashed in Diwaniya, a provincial capital in south-central Iraq, using automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades, police Capt. Hussein Hakim said. There was no immediate word on casualties.

The situation across the south, however, is still very tense. All of the parties and militias are on high alert in Najaf, Nasiryah, Basra and Amarah. SCIRI and Badr offices in these cities are closed. Fatah al-Sheikh and his NICE coalition in parliament — a small block of about 20 legislators allied with Moqtada — haven’t resigned but have “suspended their participation” in parliament on the day of the voting on the new constitution. This will probably have little impact on the passage of the charter, because Sadr’s people have indicated they wouldn’t have voted for it anyway because of the issue of federalism and the belief that the issue will partition the country and hand the oil-rich south over to Iran’s proxies in Baghdad. (The al-Sadr clan has a history of Iraqi nationalism, and Moqtada’s father and uncle both worked to purge the _hawza_ — the Shi’ite theological seminary — in Najaf of Iranian influence and “Arabize” it.)
Fatah, along with Wolf Brigade Commander Abu Walid and the minister of health — a Sadr supporter — is currently in the Imam Ali Shrine in Najaf attempting to “mediate” the situation. The Wolf Brigade is an infamous commando unit attached to the ministry of interior, which is helmed by Badr loyalist Bayan Jabr.
I have to cover the constitution today, so I don’t know how much I’ll be able to update this, but I imagine the politics of the street will intrude on the politics of the constitution today. Should be interesting.

Clashes between Badr and Sadr

Earlier this evening, Najaf police units, led by a Badr Organization commander, descended on Moqtada’s office in Najaf, located on the main street approaching the Imam Ali Shrine. In the clash, Moqtada’s office, only four meters from the shrine, was burned to the ground, according to Abu Hazzim, who worked in the Najaf office and fled for his life to Sadr City. He says 23 people have been killed, most of them Moqtada’s supporters. Iraqi Army and police have been involved in the fighting. Many of the police and army units in the south are packed by Badr militiamen with more loyalty to the party than to the state. As I write, clashes continue.

BAGHDAD — Earlier this evening, Najaf police units, led by a Badr Organization commander, descended on Moqtada’s office in Najaf, located on the main street approaching the Imam Ali Shrine. In the clash, Moqtada’s office, only four meters from the shrine, was burned to the ground, according to Abu Hazzim, who worked in the Najaf office and fled for his life to Sadr City. He says 23 people have been killed, most of them Moqtada’s supporters, while media reports put the number between five and eight. Iraqi Army and police have been involved in the fighting. Many of the police and army units in the south are packed by Badr militiamen with more loyalty to the party than to the state. As I write, clashes continue.
Moqtada has put out an alert for the _jaysh al-Mahdi_ militia to be on high alert in Sadr City, Najaf, Nasriyah, Amarah and Basra. In Sadr City and Basra, _jaysh al-Mahdi_ members have asked to occupy/attack SCIRI and Badr offices, but so far they’ve been kept in check by Moqtada and Fatah al-Sheikh, one of Moqtada’s supporters in parliament.
Or at least he was. Earlier this evening, Moqtada gave the Jaafari government an hour to explain, pull back or apologize for these attacks. He also called on his supporters in parliament, Fatah and others from the NICE list, to resign because “Moqtada now considers the government illegal,” according to Abu Hazzim. Fatah has told me he has resigned. A press conference is imminent.
[UPDATE 8/25/05 0032 +0300: Fatah al-Sheikh and 20 other members have “suspended” their duties in the government and parliament until those responsible for the attacks have been punished, he said. It is unclear how this development will affect tomorrow’s vote on the constitution.]
This may blow over or it may blow up. But these are fast moving events. Coming on the eve of the constitution vote, as well as large clashes between Sunni insurgents and U.S. and Iraqi forces in western Baghdad that are also continuing, these events can only be seen as worrisome.

Iraq’s proposed constitution… oddly incomplete

And despite some protests that the Iraqis again broke the law of the TAL, I don’t think they did…. As near as I can tell, as long as they hold a referendum on Oct. 15, there’s nothing legally wrong with waiting until Oct. 14 for parliamentary approval…. Also, there’s nothing in the TAL forbidding amending the draft after it’s turned in. Since it’s not forbidden, the National Assembly—again, theoretically—could amend the damn thing willy-nilly…

BAGHDAD—Last night’s drama at least left us with a draft of Iraq’s new constitution sitting on someone’s desk. And despite some protests that the Iraqis again broke the law of the TAL, I don’t think they did. The amended TAL said the draft had to be submitted by Aug. 22 for approval. There’s nothing in the TAL, at least as near as I can tell, that requires an approval vote on that date. Which is why I was mystified that so many news reports headlined their stories with “Assembly fails to vote on constitution!” Well, duh. They weren’t required to. As long as they’re able to hold a referendum on Oct. 15, there seems to be nothing legally improper with waiting until Oct. 14 for parliamentary approval. That would be impolitic, yes, but sometimes the law is an ass.

I wouldn’t be surprised if this three-day consensus-building period gets extended some more, as there’s nothing preventing it. Also, there’s nothing in the TAL forbidding amending the draft after it’s turned in. Since it’s not forbidden, the National Assembly—again, theoretically—could amend the damn thing willy-nilly. And this is not just my judgment but the opinion of lawyers here on the ground specializing in international and constitutional laws.

However… the AP published a thoroughly incomplete draft, which the New York Times has now also published. For instance, there’s no mention of a judicial branch, thanks to large chunks just being left out. For instance, Articles 6, 8-34, 38, 40-65, 67-74, 76-103, 105-106, 108, 111-113, 115-116, 119, 121-127, 130-134, 136-143, 146-150, 152 and possibly anything after 153 are simply not in the English drafts yet. The draft in al-Sabah, a government newspaper, is much more complete and—shockingly—”good” according to A., my extremely gruff and cynical office manager. Shocking because he hates everything. To hear him say it’s “good” has to be a good sign, although he immediately began complaining about the official language. “I hate this shit,” he said. Yes, yes, A. I know.

Anyway, we’re piecing together a translation, but so far it’s not bad. There seems to be no role for the Shi’ite hawza, women are mentioned in almost every clause that guarantees rights, the court system is independent and liberal. Islam is the official religion and “a main source of legislation,” but religious minorities are guaranteed freedom of worship. However, no law may contradict the principles of Islam, democracy or the rights and freedoms mentioned in the constitution, which sets up an immediate contradiction when you get to the rights of women. Under some schools of Islamic jurisprudence, women’s testimony are worth only half as much as a man, and they get half the share of inheritance that men get. Their custody of children can be easily abridged and marriage and divorce can be a nightmare for them. Under a human-rights focused democracy, all people are equal before the law. So what takes precedence in a dispute? The Qur’an or the Constitution?

Federalism is a big part of the constitution, which will upset the Sunnis. At least they’re still in the game by threatening to vote it down instead of blowing stuff up. That’s an improvement even if they manage to scuttle it in October. (I don’t think they have the numbers to do that, though.)

I’m sure there are more legal land mines a-plenty, but I’ve not been able to reach any lawyers who’ve seen a complete draft for analysis. Maybe later today.

[UPDATE 8/23/05 17:35 +0300: I’ve got a piece on Time.com on some of the issues here.]

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Notification problems solved (I think)

Hi, all — I think I have the notification problem I’ve been having with the blog solved. So, in some ways, this post is a test of that and I hope it works.

Hi, all — I _think_ I have the notification problem I’ve been having with the blog solved. So, in some ways, this post is a test of that and I hope it works.
If you no longer want to receive emails, and you received a notification for this entry, you can opt-out on your own without any input from me. I don’t ever have to know you’ve left me and broken my little heart. Maybe it’s best that way.

Sadly, no, Prof. Cole…

Juan Cole gets his facts wrong in his rush to judgement.

Juan Cole, a usually smart guy, gets some things wrong in this post on the Iraqi Constitution. He claims that changing the Aug. 15 deadline is unconstitutional and he pre-emptively argued that last night’s delay approved by the Iraqi National Assembly is against the law. He says:

61 (G) If the National Assembly does not complete writing the draft permanent constitution by 15 August 2005 and does not request extension of the deadline in Article 61(F) above, the provisions of Article 61(E), above, shall be applied.

So what does 61 (E) say?

If the referendum rejects the draft permanent constitution, the National Assembly shall be dissolved. Elections for a new National Assembly shall be held no later than 15 December 2005. The new National Assembly and new Iraqi Transitional Government shall then assume office no later than 31 December 2005, and shall continue to operate under this Law, except that the final deadlines for preparing a new draft may be changed to make it possible to draft a permanent constitution within a period not to exceed one year. The new National Assembly shall be entrusted with writing another draft permanent constitution.

The language about changing the final deadline refers to the period after new elections, not before.
Thus, according to the existing interim constitution, the plan of extending the deadline at this late date is clearly unconstitutional, and parliament should instead be dissolved and new elections held. (They have to be held no later than December, but could be held, e.g., in September or October in principle).

Well, not so fast, Professor. Article 3, Section A says:

This Law is the Supreme Law of the land and shall be binding in all parts of Iraq without exception. No amendment to this Law may be made except by a three-fourths majority of the members of the National Assembly and the unanimous approval of the Presidency Council. Likewise, no amendment may be made that could abridge in any way the rights of the Iraqi people cited in Chapter Two; extend the transitional period beyond the timeframe cited in this Law; delay the holding of elections to a new assembly; reduce the powers of the regions or governorates; or affect Islam, or any other religions or sects and their rites

Last night’s amendment contradicted none of the bold face in the previous section. Last night’s vote was unanimous, near as I could tell from watching the video. It doesn’t extend the transitional period beyond the legal timeframe — indeed, Article 3, Section C says, “This Law shall cease to have effect upon the formation of an elected government pursuant to a permanent constitution.” And, finally, it doesn’t delay the holding of elections to a new assembly, which are still set for Dec. 15.
Now, one might ask the question why the Americans, who by and large wrote the TAL, inserted “hard” deadlines in Article 61 that could be changed with little effort in Article 3, but there’s little question that’s exactly what they did. And the Iraqis took advantage of this.

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