Gordon Campbell on how Iraq’s visiting Foreign Minister embodies an Iraq that’s not worth fighting for

When Iraq’s Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari makes a whistle-stop visit to Auckland on Friday, he will be issuing a formal invitation for New Zealand to get militarily involved in Iraq, something that’s already a virtual fait accompli. One rationale for our involvement that Prime Minister John Key has repeatedly given is that the new government in Baghdad is now more inclusive, and won’t be repeating the sectarian mistakes of the past that have driven the Sunni population into the arms of Islamic State.

Key is dreaming. As Prime Minister of Iraq in 2005 and 2006, al-Jaafari was the main architect of the sectarian divide, and nothing much has changed today. At the time, al-Jaafari was propelled into the top job in the mid 2000s largely because of his closeness to the murderous Shi’ite militia leader Moqtada al Sadr, and the bloody sectarian paralysis that eventuated was the main reason the Americans eventually asked al-Jaafari to stand down as PM. For background, see this New York Times article from 2006. Also see this summary of al-Jaafari’s career, from 2010.

To repeat : nothing much has changed since that time. Political power in Baghdad – and the survival of the Iraqi government against Islamic State – still heavily depend on the Shi’ite militia supported by Iran, as this al-Monitor article published earlier this week indicates.

For the time being, Iran-backed groups are providing most of the “boots on the ground” that are pushing back IS forces from key areas near Baghdad, including Diyala province. These militias are also preventing IS from overrunning even more territory in Syria. But there are disturbing reports of massacres of Sunni civilian populations by Shiite fighters, some of whom have killed Americans in the past.

The fact that a divisive figure such as al-Jaafari – with all the historical baggage he carries and the links to the Shi’ite militia that he maintains – can be appointed as Iraq’s Foreign Minister is indicative of this same, recurring problem. Which raises the question – what sort of government will our troops be trying to shore up inside Iraq? Key can prattle on about the greater inclusiveness of the new government. Tomorrow, his guest in Auckland will embody the exact opposite.
Want to see how easy it is for the PM’s office to play the mainstream media ? Here it is in three easy steps.

Step One. Labour leader Andrew Little makes some comments to the effect that – given the Waitangi Tribunal’s finding in November that sovereignty was not fully extinguished in 1840 – that it might be timely to have a debate about what kinds of autonomy could now be agreed between the Treaty partners, given that the settlements of historical grievances have given iwi a stronger economic base. Little cites the limited forms of autonomy held by Native Americans in the US as a possible starting point.

Step Two. Prime Minister John Key calls that “ separatism” and claims Little is advocating an independent homeland for Northland tribes.

Step Three. The NZ Herald goes back to Little who repeats that he was talking about limited forms of governance, and that models of co-governance currently exist between the Crown and iwi. Clearly, this isn’t separatism. So the Herald headlines its story : “Andrew Little waters down governance comments.”

See how easy that was? If you’re in the mainstream media, you simply let the PM’s office dictate the tone and terms of the political debate. Who needs Cameron Slater?

Footnote. Oh, and there was this in the NZ Herald a couple of weeks ago, which hah hah, likened Andrew Little to Wallace, from Wallace and Gromit. The interesting thing about this is that one of the recurring attack lines on British Labour leader Ed Milliband by the Murdoch media since 2012 was that hah hah, he looked like Wallace, from Wallace and Gromit.. If the Herald wants to lampoon Little, could it at least be original – and not simply recycle attack lines dreamed up offshore ?

Alabama Shakes Returns

Brittany Howard and her band Alabama Shakes (of “Hold On” fame) will have a new album out in late April, and the first single from it has just been released. Interesting to see how she’s trying to find fresh dimensions for the band’s retro blues metal, and this track edges pretty close to the kind of thing you’d expect from the Black Keys.

And here’s the third (and by far the best to date) single from the soon-to-be released Modest Mouse album.

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