Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Haider Al-Abadi Report


Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi visited DC last week.  One of his public events was delivering a speech to  the Center for Strategic and International Studies and then briefly taking a few questions.  C.I. attended the event and reported on it in Thursday's snapshot.

We're reposting that report because (a) it matters and (b) very few bothered to cover it.

Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi was at an event this morning.  The forum was hosted by The Center For Strategic and International Studies.  Haider opened by reading a speech (which we'll note sections of) that lasted approximately 15 minutes and was most noted for the fact that he delivered it in English.  Unlike Iraq's former prime minister and forever thug Nouri al-Maliki, he did not speak through an interpreter or utilize one.  (Nouri can speak English.)

He and an Al Jazeera commentator would engage in Arabic when they wanted to trash the White House.  Such brave little cowards.  (I'm all for trashing anyone but do it openly, don't hide behind a foreign language.)  When the Al Jazeera commentator was asked to translate the question to English (as he was told he'd have to before he asked it), he insisted he'd ask his next question in English.

When told that wasn't good enough, the commentator then grew petulant and reduced his lengthy question to a simplistic sentence or two.

Haider responded to it in Arabic.

He was also unwilling to translate it and tried to avoid doing so.

At one point, he insisted he was not being paid to translate.

Well, I guess it's true, a whore expects to be paid for everything, right?

Huffy, Haider finally offered a very loose (and brief) translation of his remarks.

Haider also left the prepared text of his speech from time to time, such as near the end when he raised the issue of Saudi Arabia (and walked back some of his statements from the previous day -- "more concilitory" is how the New York Times' Michael R. Gordon termed the new remarks during his question to Haider at today's event).

His speech was filled with distortions.

Things got worse when the speech was set aside.

Responding to the first question asked by CSIS' Jon Alterman, Haider stated, "What we are facing in Iraq is a polarization of society caused by this terrorism and, of course, failure of governance, not only in Iraq but in the entire region."

That was problematic for a number of reasons.

First of all, the reply is ahistoric.  It attempts to set a mid-point as an instigating or creation point.  The Islamic State is the terrorism that Haider's referring to.

The Islamic State did not cause "polarization of society" in Iraq.

The Islamic State took root in Iraq, gained support and a foothold in the country, due to the government (led by Nouri) targeting Sunnis.

If Haider can't be honest about that, he's never going to accomplish anything.

The second biggest problem with the response is that Jon Alterman's actual question was: "I want to give you an opportunity to be critical about what Iran's doing in the Middle East.  What are they doing that they shouldn't be doing?"

And Haider took a pass -- instead noted that Iran shared in the battle against the Islamic State.

He sidestepped the issue with generic and bland statements such as, "It's not my role to criticize Gulf States, Saudi Arabia . . ."

Alterman attempted to follow up on the Iranian issue and Haider offered generic platitudes such as, "We welcome the Iranian help and support for us."

Haider relationship to the truth can best be described as "elusive."

At one point, he did not that "there must be a political solution.  In all honesty, I haven't seen any movement on that."

And, yes, it is true that US President Barack Obama has been declaring -- since last June -- that the only answer to Iraq's crises is a political solution.

But when Haider declared today that "there must be a political solution.  In all honesty, I haven't seen any movement on that"?

He was talking about Syria.

He was as full of it as the institution hosting him.  They included one Twitter question -- and that from a 'personality' -- in the proceedings -- this after spending over 24 hours begging for questions.

  • What's the future of Iraq? Tweet your questions NOW for Iraqi Prime Minister al-Abadi's address tomorrow, using 

  • The Center For Strategic & International Studies gave the impression that they wanted questions for Haider al-Abadi and yet they really just wanted to waste people's time.

    Prime Minister @HaiderAlAbadi will answer audience questions, including yours sent via  to @CSIS 

    The questions that insisted CSIS and Haider ignore them?

    The bulk were about the violence including that carried out by militias and Iraqi forces, this was followed by the lack of work being done on a political solution (with many noting US President Barack Obama declared this the only answer for Iraq back in June), many were about the threats against journalism and journalists in Iraq (with an emphasis on Ned Parker), many were also about the status of Iraqi women (with a number asking who the highest ranking woman was in Haider's office and how many women served in his Cabinet), etc.  I was told that CSIS was hoping for questions more along the lines of, "What do you miss most about Baghdad?" and impressions on DC.

    In other words, meaningless questions with inoffensive answers from Haider.

    FYI, I agreed not to slam Jon Alterman -- and I could, I could really do so -- in exchange for finding out what the Twitter users were asking about -- the questions CSIS compiled from Twitter but never used.

    While ignoring hard hitting questions from Twitter, they couldn't ignore the journalists present and, after Iran, the most asked of topic was Ned Parker.

    Barbara Slavin: And also, one of our colleagues, Ned Parker, recently has left because of threats against Reuters for reporting what happened in Tikrit.  Will you issue a statement in Arabic protecting journalists for reporting what goes on in Iraq.  Thank you.

    Haider al-Abadi: As with Mr. Parker, Ned Parker, I've known him for many years.  I heard this story while he was still in Baghdad.  My natural fact, a spokesman for my office has given me a message and he told me Ned Parker feels threatened and asked what sort of threats he had received? We want more information so that I can take action about these people who have threatened him.  I haven't received anything on that, to be honest with you. I asked for protection of his office -- to increase protection of his office -- and we did.  But all of the sudden, I'd heard he left. I know he sent a message he wants to meet me in Washington but unfortunately my program is, uh -- I didn't even have time to talk to my wife yesterday. [Begins chuckling.]  So I don't think I would talk to Ned instead of my wife.

    And a statement in Arabic?

    "I-I think my office issued a statement. In English?  Okay, we translate."

    What followed was an embarrassing and shameful round of laughter.

    This isn't a laughing matter.

    When the guffaws finally died down, the next question returned to the topic but with less 'jolly' and 'funnin'.'

    Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory: [. . .] But piggy backing on the last question about Ned Parker, I was just wondering if you could briefly comment as to your take on the current state of press freedom within Iraq?  And also, in terms of going and taking action in response to Parker's being chased out of the country, what steps are you planning -- or are there any steps planned to institute protections for international press covering your country?  During your address, you said, and I quote, "A free society needs a free press."  And so I was just wondering if that would extend to foreign press as well?

    Haider al-Abadi: Well I think if you look at the Iraqi press first, I think they're free to criticize.  I think that number one   institution which is being criticized in Iraq is the government.  We don't even reply to them.  We don't do anything. I drop charges against all-all media.  But I ask the media to have their own self-discipline.  That's important.  The media shouldn't be free to accuse others falsely.  They should respect freedom of others.  Freedom of speech is there but -- We need facts. But I refuse so far -- and I hope I continue on that -- you never know what office does.  Office usually corrupts people, right?  But I hope it doesn't corrupt me.  We keep on respecting the freedom of the press, we keep on protecting it.  As to the foreign press, as far as I know, there's no limitation on them, no restrictions.  They're free even to go to our --within our military unit.  I think we went to that extent to allow free reporting from the fronts.  I remember when the US army was there in 2003 [that's when Haider returned to Iraq after decades of exile in England], they had embedded journalists and they were restricted to what they were reporting.  I very much respect that.  I hope I can have that power to do that but unfortunately I cannot do it now.  It's so free, the situation in Iraq.  Now I'm not sure if Mr. Parker, why he has left.  To be honest with you, I didn't have the story from him.  He wrote something to me.  I cannot see why he left.  Was he really threatened?  Or he felt he was threatened?  I know some -- some Facebook thing and social media has mentioned him in a bad way but the-the thing I've seen -- in actual fact, they were condemning the government in the first place, not him.  They were condemning me as the prime minister to do something about it -- rather than him.  I know some of these, they want to use these things to just criticize the government in the same way when they accuse the coalition of dropping help to Da'ash or accuse the coalition of killing Iraqis falsely.  In actual fact, what they're trying to do -- trying to criticize the government for its policies. They don't want the government to seek the help of the coalition -- international coalition or to work with the US.  But to -- I think me, as prime minister, the safety of the Iraqi people, the interests of the Iraqi people is number one [. . .]

    He continued to babble on and avoid the question.

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