2 GIs Killed, 2 Wounded; Bush Has own Interpretation of Security Agreement; 2/3s of Iraqis below the Poverty Line

A US soldier and a Marine were shot to death and two Marines were wounded in the northern Iraqi province of Ninevah on Tuesday, and the same attack killed 3 civilians. At least one of the attackers wore an Iraqi army uniform. 16 US troops have been killed in action in Iraq in November, up from zero in October (when the Bush administration presumably ordered the US military to avoid engagements during the run-up to the election).

The LAT reports that Sunni Arab parliamentarians are demanding significant concessions from the al-Maliki government in return for voting in favor of the US-Iraqi security agreement on Wednesday. They want guarantees that the government will stop being run as a tyranny of the Shiite majority, and they want the release of 16,500 Iraqis, the vast majority of them Sunni Arabs, held by the US military.

The votes of the Sunni Arab minority are important to al-Maliki, since they would show a national consensus for the security agreement. Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that President Jalal Talabani will write the Sunni Arab MPs a letter giving them undertakings with regard to their demands. Al-Hayat says that the Iraqi Accord Front, the Sunni fundamentalist coalition with 44 members in parliament, seems likely to split its vote. The Iraqi Islamic Party (a branch of the Iraqi Muslim Brotherhood) is demanding a national referendum on the agreement, and is nervous about voting for it because the Sunni cleric they follow has given a legal ruling or fatwa against it. The Iraqi Front for National Dialogue, another component of the Iraqi Accord Front, says it intends to vote for the agreement.

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the spiritual leader of the Iraqi Shiites, has said he would only support the agreement if it was adopted by a wide national consensus. His opposition would cause a lot of trouble, so al-Maliki needs to get some proportion of Sunni Arabs aboard. Deputy Speaker of the House Khalid Atiyah of the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance told AFP that the government did not want the agreement to pass by only two or three or four votes, but rather would prefer to gain an absolute majority for it.

One Shiite lawmaker said that the government could only count on 139 MPs to vote for the measure, which would just barely pass it if most MPs attended the session (there are 275). (If it passes, it seems to me more likely to pass with a simple majority.)

McClatchy reports that the Bush administration had deliberately not released the official English version of the security agreement it is negotiating with Iraq, fearing that extensive public debate on it in the US press might throw up criticisms that would be taken up by Iraqi parliamentarians, causing it to be rejected.

It is quite remarkable that this agreement, on which the fate of tens of thousands of American troops depends, has not been officially available to the American public or to Congress!

The McClatchy story makes it clear that the exact wording of some articles appears to have continued to be negotiated right up until the moment, though even agreement on wording has not produced agreement on the meaning of the words. (Iraqis should have been warned about Bush’s ‘signing statements,’ in which he attempts to reverse the intent of the laws that Congress passes and he signs, just by appending a commentary in Bushspeak.)

McClatchy adds:

‘The Bush administration has adopted a much looser interpretation than the Iraqi government of several key provisions of the pending U.S.-Iraq security agreement, U.S. officials said Tuesday — just hours before the Iraqi parliament was to hold its historic vote.These include a provision that bans the launch of attacks on other countries from Iraq, a requirement to notify the Iraqis in advance of U.S. military operations and the question of Iraqi legal jurisdiction over American troops and military contractors.’

In other words, the Pentagon will studiedly ignore the more important provisions of the agreement, if Bush has his way.

McClatchy got hold of copy of the official translation on Tuesday, posting it in pdf here.

Iraqi lawmakers are challenging the deal on developing the country’s natural gas worked out between the federal petroleum ministry and Royal Dutch Shell, feeling that the terms granted Shell are almost monopolistic.

Al-Hayat also reported that the head of police in Kirkuk for provincial affairs charged on Tuesday that the Ministry of Defense had gone ahead with organizing Arab tribal levies into a “support council.” Typically such councils are personally loyal to the prime minister. Such support councils in the north were rejected by the Kurdish Peshmerga paramilitary, so al-Maliki’s step in continuing to form them is bold.

All the crowing about “victory” in Iraq on the American Right completely ignores the miserable condition of the Iraqi public. This pdf presentation gives the findings of a recent survey of a random sample of 11,000 families all across Iraq, done at Baghdad University.

About 40% of these households were headed by women, an unusual finding for a patriarchal Arab society. About two-thirds of these female heads of household are widows, bespeaking the horrific loss of life among Iraqi males during the past five and a half years. Some 15% of female heads of household are divorced. Given the shortage of men produced by the war, divorcees may not easily be able to find a new mate. And then there is this odd statistic of 7.5% of female heads of household being single. The authors of the study interpret them as spinsters. It is not clear if they are both orphans and spinsters, so that they are living alone, or if they are heading a household of unemployed parents or siblings. The authors think they are having trouble finding a husband because of all the males killed in the war.

In the US, households headed by women are disproportionately poverty-stricken and it is likely this is true of Iraq in spades.

Nearly half of these families have 6-10 members, while 43% have 1-5.

Two-thirds of these families live on less than $210 per month, but given the size of the families, the average per capita income in this group is $420 per year. The international poverty line is set at $500 a year, so two-thirds of Iraqis are living in poverty. The population of the poorest country in the New World, Haiti, has an annual per capita income of $550.

Over two-thirds of families receive no aid from the Iraqi government, even though their needs are clear, and 50% get no aid from NGOs.

Among displaced families, 13% would not return home even if they could, so great is their fear.

The study asked people if they would vote in upcoming provincial elections, and 58% said yes. Nearly a quarter were undecided.

I fear I would not pay any attention to the survey’s findings on voting preferences. Iraqis have consistently lied to pollsters in recent years about this subject, saying they will vote in large numbers for secular parties or independents, but then they have turned around and put in the religious parties. Things can always change in this regard, but I doubt that it will. The Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, the Da’wa Party of PM Nuri al-Maliki, and the Sadr Movement have networks and supply local security and services in many neighborhoods. These factors are decisive in a way that mere inclination is not.