Oh, my goodness, the Hunter Biden scandals just never end. Note this Tweet:
Here is THE NEW YORK POST on the same story:
A federal COVID loan to the art gallery repping Hunter Biden more than doubled after his father took office, records show.
The Georges Berges Gallery initially received a $150,000 COVID “disaster assistance loan” from the Small Business Administration last year, according to public records.
But the loan was recently “revised,” with the SBA approving a further $350,000 to the SoHo gallery this summer, records show.
The approval came on July 26, in the lead-up to Berges’ exclusive marketing of 15 paintings by the president’s scandal-scarred son, public records show.
In addition to the COVID disaster assistance loans, the SoHo gallery received nearly $80,000 in two payments in April 2020 and February 2021 under the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program, funds meant to help businesses keep up with paychecks to employees during the pandemic.
And note this Tweet:
This is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot" for today:
Monday, October 11, 2021. In the lowest turn out of this decade, Iraqis voted. In other words, most adults elected not to vote.
Starting with this from the BBC.
He opens with The October Revolution -- the protesters who are part of a movement that began in the fall of 2019.
Murad Shishani: They presented, sort of, a package of demands, as they told me. This package included an early election but the government, the authorities, they just only this one condition. They asked for fighting corruption. They asked for disarming the militias. They asked for political reform, more engagement for youth. Therefore, as the government, they didn't meet all these demands from the protesters, then the boycotting campaigns have been becoming more stronger, they are today in Iraq. And this is what we've noticed in a city like Mosul which has been liberated four years ago from the so-called Islamic State. But that devastation is still there so people were reluctant to go to the polling stations today.
It's interesting, isn't it? How he noted the protesters and their demands -- unmet -- that might lower voter turnout but, while noting them, never notes that the government response to them -- the physical response -- also depressed turnout because the physical response included attacking the protesters, kidnapping the protesters, disappearing the protesters and killing the protesters. AP notes it in most of their reports. For example, "Although authorities gave in and called the early elections, the death toll and the heavy-handed crackdown -- as well as a string of targeted assassinations -- prompted many who took part in the protests to later call for a boycott of the vote."
How do you leave that out?
We left something out here, for example.
About two weeks ago, I created the set piece we used in every snapshot -- a rough overview of the upcoming elections nothing this and that. And it was added to and subtracted from and part of every snapshot. But it wasn't as it was originally written.
Before it popped up here, I had copied and pasted it into e-mails and sent it to various friends who offered input. Some would say, "Well how many candidates are running," for example, so I'd look that up and add it to the set piece. Or I'd hear back that one paragraph wasn't clear, so I'd add some clarification. A State Dept friend was very specific in the suggestion that something be pulled: The Erbil Agreement.
"Call me." That's what the e-mail read. I did. The Erbil Agreement, I was told, would suppress voter turnout. "People are looking for a reason not to vote. If you start going into that ahead of the elections, you are going to depress turnout even more."
Do you agree? I didn't. But, as I note frequently, I can be wrong and often am. We've been covering The Erbil Agreement since 2010 when it came to be. We've covered it every year since. That includes in 2021. Could we hold off in the lead up to the 2021 elections? Hold off on including it?
I explained it was already being cited on Arabic social media and, yes, the US State Dept was aware of that (they monitor the social networks). But, yeah, if there was a chance that hitting it daily two weeks ahead of the election was going to depress turnout -- an American hitting it every day for two weeks influencing an Iraqi election, sure, I could hold off. I wasn't being THE NEW YORK TIMES and killing a needed report. We had covered this topic here repeatedly and at length. We did so for several years when I was the only one publicly calling it out. Then Michael Gordon and his co-writer called it out in 2013's THE END GAME: THE INSIDE STORY OF THE STRUGGLE FOR IRAQ, FROM GEORGE W> BUSH TO BARACK OBAMA.
And we noted that. Repeatedly. Along with plans to note Michael discussing this on various programs -- including Charlie Rose. I loathed Charlie because his actions were well known before PBS finally dumped him. But I knew we'd have to include him and his superficial prattle because Michael R. Gordon was on THE CHARLIE ROSE SHOW so often since the start of the Iraq War that he was practically a staple of the show. So we'd grab those appearances and others to highlight The Erbil Agreement.
Funny thing, though: Charlie didn't have him on. Charlie didn't want to talk about The Erbil Agreement, apparently. And Charlie wasn't alone. Michael was no where to be found. Was he pulling a Garbo? No. He just wasn't being invited on. The media didn't want to discuss Iraq realities with a domestic audience -- one that had been fed a number of lies -- in the lead up to the war and as it continued.
In 2010, Iraq held the same type of elections as they did yesterday. In March of 2010, in fact. And despite bribing voters and despite preventing opponents from campaigning -- many were pulled from the list of eligible candidates with the claim (by the government Nouri controlled) that they were terrorists. I don't remember being able to cite the US media on this. I do remember the BBC did cover it and, of course, Jasim Al-Azzawi covered it as it was taking place -- and covered it repeatedly -- on ALJAZEERA's INSIDE IRAQ. Various Arabic languages covered it.
At any rate, the 2010 election takes place and despite all of the attempts to rig it, Nouri found that he and his State of Law came in second place. In other words, they lost. And they lost to Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya -- a brand new coalition.
Nouri stamped his feet and the United Nations, in a moment of stupidity as well as weakness, tossed him a few more votes in a recount. He still lost. And that was March. He refused to step down.
This is the political stalemate and we called it that here first. US think tanks adopted the term about a month after we started using it: Political stalemate.
Nouri wouldn't step down. He wouldnt in Mrach, or April or May or . . .
Quelle surprise, right?
Wrong. Ray Odierno was the top US commander in Iraq in 2010. Ahead of the elections, he warned of this: Nouri losing the election and refusing to step down. And what, he wondered, would the US do if that happened?
Ray didn't have Barack's ear. The Pig Pen Ambassador ensured that. Little Chrissy Hill had a hissy. The press liked Ray better, wah, wah, wah. So Ray was sidelined. He had orders not to speak to the media to refer them to Chrissy Hill. Chrissy was so overjoyed, he had the media now as well as those one hour, mid-day cat naps he was so fond of.
Eventually, as the stalemate continued, word got out to Secretary of Sate Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. And they insisted that Barack Obama speak with Ray. He did and the US was going to support the vote. Democracy was all about the vote. They wanted to 'bring' democracy to Iraq, so they'd support the winner.
Hold it just a minute, Samantha Power and others got with Joe Biden. They dazzled him with a lot of rap about how he was put in charge of Iraq by Barack for exactly this moment. This was where he was going to save Iraq, they insisted. And, by backing Nouri al-Maliki, they could keep their latest 'withdrawal' pledge -- they'd leave by the end of 2011. As promised -- well not the original promise Barack made on the campaign trail but, after all, Samantha Power had told the BBC back in 2008 that those were just words and nothing binding, Barack would decide about Iraq after he got elected. And he did. Repeatedly. New dates coming repeatedly.
But, Samantha purred (yes, it is a disgusting image) to Joe, what Iraq needs now is a great statesman and that's why you are Vice President and not a US senator at this moment, you are needed to lead with the wisdom that you possess that no one else in the administration does.
You, she fumbled, you, understand Ireland!
Ego flattered, Joe informed Barack that they had to back Nouri. He was Bully Boy Bush's choice back in 2006 and they wanted to break with Bully Boy but Nouri would provide stability and Nouri would do their bidding and Nouri would allow (most) US troops to leave at the end of 2011 and, in all his years of public service, nothing had even been clearer to Joe.
What to do about the voters and their votes?
Joe proposed he would set up a contract and he did. The Erbil Agreement set aside the 2010 votes. It was signed off on by all of Iraq's major political groups. It gave Nouri a second term. In exchange it met the demands of the various leaders.
Of course, Nouri didn't honor those demands. He told them to wait a few weeks -- back in November of 2010 when they signed it and he became prime minister-designate -- and then, by the time 2011 started, he stated, through his media spokesperson (who'd later flee the country when Nouri tried to scapegoat him for a deal with Russia that made Nouri and his son rich), Nouri was stating that the contract was illegal and he wouldn't honor it.
That shouldn't have surprised anyone. The day Nouri was named prime minister-designate, Ayad Allawi and his members left the Parliament. Barack Obama made a call and pleaded with Allawi to return. In that phone call, he promised that the US would fully support The Erbil Agreement. When you hear Ayad Allawi in the media offering ugly truths about the US government? He's speaking as someone who knows. As someone who was personally promised things and who never saw them -- despite the promises coming from the sitting president of the United States.
We've covered most of the above before -- we've left out Samantha Power's remarks though I've always known of them. As I said when Joe Biden was flirting with a run for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination, Joe needed to get honest about Iraq to win my vote. He never did. Maybe this'll help him?
Joe shows up talking Ireland, showed up in Iraq. It confused Ray Odierno and Emma Sky as well as all the Iraqis present. Be confused no more. Though Joe was no great leader on Ireland as a US senator, he was Irish and Samantha Power (also Irish) played to his ego. He showed up for that meet-up thinking he was the world's greatest statesperson and bound and determined to strut. That's why he brought up Ireland -- even though Ireland had nothing to do with the current situation in Iraq.
By the way, Emma wrote a book that we've sighted many times and will continue to site. Her book got more attention that Michael Gordon's . . . outside the US. The CBC, for example, did extensive coverage. In the US, it got some public radio traction but not a lot more. It, too, told the truth about The Erbil Agreement and how the US spat on democracy in 2015's THE UNRAVELING: HIGH HOPES AND MISSED OPPORTUNITIES IN IRAQ.
Though the American public has largely been sheltered from The Erbil Agreement, the rest of the world is a little more informed and, certainly, Iraqis lived through it so they know, they grasp it.
And long before early elections were called, Arabic social media was already noting that Joe Biden, the man who rammed through The Erbil Agreement and overturned the votes of the Iraqi people, was now president.
They knew it and we'd long covered it here so I was fine with setting it aside in the two week lead up to Sunday's vote.
Elections took place in Iraq Sunday, they supposedly will determine the next Parliament (Parliament dissolved itself October 7th) as well as the next prime minister. Parliament will also get a Speaker and Iraq will get a president. The role of president is purely ceremonial though the current president, Barham Salih, has spent his terms increasing the role of the president beyond what the Constitution dictates. He may or may not have a third term as president after today.
He is a member of the PUK which once shared a spot with the KDP as one of the Kurdistan's two dominant parties. Once. With the CIA seed money, Goran ("Change") emerged and quickly began to challenge the PUK for votes. RUDAW reminds, "In the 2018 election, KDP won eight seats, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) two, New Generation two, and the Coalition for Democracy and Justice (CDJ), Gorran, and Kurdistan Islamic Group (Komal) each took one." For this election, the once powerful PUK entered into an alliance with Goran in an attempt to increase their votes. Of all the areas people will be watching the turnout in, the KRG is one of the ones of keen interest. There was always talk that turnout would be low in Mosul (in the KRG's Nineveh Province -- where biometric voter i.d. cards were not issued promptly) and that was in part due to issues involving the turnout of Christian voters. But the Kurdistan region is not facing some of the same obstacles that the other areas are.
Keen to see will be whether the KDP -- which holds the position of Prime Minister of Kurdistan and President of Kurdistan -- manages to remain the region's dominant party. By custom (since the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq), the post of President goes to a Kurd, the post of Speaker of Parliament goes to a Sunni and the post of Prime Minister goes to a Shi'ite. By custom, the struggle for these posts is now on.
Of the three, the prize is prime minister. It is the prime minister who rules Iraq -- though some would argue that it's actually the governments of Iran and the United States that rule Iraq.
John Davidson and Ahmed Rasheed (REUTERS) report, "Iraq's parliamentary election on Sunday drew one of the smallest turnouts for years, electoral officials indicated, with the low participation suggesting dwindling trust in political leaders and the democratic system brought in by the 2003 U.S.-led invasion." The political leadership has been corrupt. With the billions in oil revenues that the government of Iraq takes in yearly, there is no reason why poverty should exist in Iraq. But not only does it exist, it is actually increasing. The corrupt leaders have taken public monies. That money, for example, has bought multiple sports cars and homes in Europe for Ahmed al-Maliki, son of forever thug and former prime minister of Iraq Nouri al-Maliki whose (mis)leadership and paranoia helped create ISIS and led to its seizure of Mosul and other areas in 2014. The corruption has continued and worsened. Long cited by Transparency International as one of the five most corrupt nations in the world, Iraq's governmental corruption is now so bad that President Saleh, addressing the United Nations last month, called it one of the greatest security threats to the country.
ALJAZEERA notes, "Two electoral commission officials said the nationwide turnout of eligible voters was 19 percent by midday. Turnout was 44.5 percent in the last election in 2018." Since 2018? The October Revolution. That movement of mainly Shi'ite protesters began in 2019 protesting the corruption, the lack of jobs, the lack of dependable public services (such as electricity and potable water). Louisa Loveluck and Mustafa Salim (WASHINGTON POST) observe:
In effect, Sunday’s election was a referendum on that system, and most Iraqis chose to stay home.
Despite a months-long campaign and millions of dollars spent by foreign governments including the United States to boost trust in the voting process, Iraq’s electoral commission said turnout by midday was only around 20 percent and that it had risen only slowly through the afternoon.
Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi came to office last year vowing early elections after mass protests ousted his predecessor, Adel Abdul Mahdi, in 2019. On Sunday, voters trickled to the polls through some of the streets where security forces had fired live ammunition into crowds and killed 600 during the months-long protests.
Qassim Abdul-Zahra (AP) speaks with two Iraqi citizens:
Muna Hussein, a 22-year-old cinematic makeup artist, said she boycotted the election because she did not feel there was a safe environment “with uncontrolled weapons everywhere,” a reference to the mainly Shiite militias backed by neighboring Iran.
“In my opinion, it isn’t easy to hold free and fair elections under the current circumstances,” she said.
Amir Fadel, a 22-year-old car dealer, disagreed. “I don’t want these same faces and same parties to return,” he said after casting his ballot in Baghdad’s Karradah district.
An Iraqi community member who is Shi'ite notes that she did not vote but that her parents did.
They are supporting Harakat Huqooq which is linked to Iran and whose leader is Hussein Muanis. Among the reasons? Hussein has spoken of their militia laying down arms (once US and other foreign forces are out of the country -- Hussein leads Kataeb Hezbollah). They also see him as a fresh face compared to 71-year-old Nouri al-Maliki (who leads State of Law) -- Hussein is fifty-years-old. They are not impressed with the people who have led in the past and feel that Iraq needs to move beyond "settling old scores and working towards a future" and that politicians like Hussein could lead the country towards that. Herself? She couldn't bring herself to vote for those who attacked her and her friends when they were out in the streets protesting or for those who stayed silent as they were attacked. She's 24-years-old and part of one of the biggest age groups in Iraq. AFP notes, "Sixty percent of Iraq’s population is under 25. For them, the ballot is about the same old faces who are unable to fix a country rich in oil but replete with problems, including a youth unemployment rate of around 40 percent." Shant Shahrigian (NEW YORK DAILY NEWS) offers, "Many young people heeded calls to boycott the election, wary after security forces in 2019 attacked protesters demanding basic public services and an end to corruption. About 600 people were killed and thousands of others injured during the crackdown."
While the walls of Karrada were covered with posters and banners urging customers to support the likes of the State of Law, Taqaddum or Fatah coalitions, or any number of political parties, the men in the cafe are arguably representative of the biggest constituency in Iraq - non-voters.
"I threw away my election card," Murtada, a young medical student, told Middle East Eye. "The country is sold, there's no-one to vote for. This country's on its way to hell."
A number of his friends, he added, had gone to the polling stations to "sell their votes" for around 50,000 or 100,000 dinars ($35 to $70) a go, deciding it was worth more to them not to starve than vote in a hopeless election.
When will results be known? Sinan Mahmoud, Haider Husseini and Mina Aldroubi (THE NATIONAL) explain, "The results of Iraq's first elections under new electoral law will be revealed at 3pm local time on Monday afternoon, within 24 hours of polls closing, the Iraqi electoral commission has said. They are likely to be overshadowed by the confirmation of a low voter turnout, despite Iraq's prime minister hailing the process as 'safe and fair' -- a verdict echoed by the electoral commission chairman."
Now the scramble, the post-election scramble, begins. Martin Chulov (GUARDIAN) notes:
Horse trading for the positions is expected to take many months – a process that is likely to result in ministries again being carved up between blocs. “The election allows a veneer of democracy,” said Munther Mansour, a Baghdad resident. “But nothing that comes afterwards is democratic.”
2010 saw the longest amount of time in Iraq between elections and a government being formed. It lasted over eight months and only ended because Joe Biden and the US government brokered The Erbil Agreement -- a legal contract that set the votes aside and allowed second place winner Nouri al-Maliki to have a second term as prime minister
Ray Odierno has passed away. We'll note that tomorrow and I'll probably reference some of the communication we had with Odierno over the years.
Over the weekend, the following sites updated: