Unconventional thinking about the Middle East.

Friday, December 15, 2006

More on the Alsammarae saga...(Updated December 18, 2006)

James Glanz profiles Aiham Alsammarae today (New York Times, 'Bitter Detour for Expatriate Back in Iraq,' December 15, 2006), the ex-Iraqi Minister of Electricity who just got acquitted by an Iraqi appeals court on one of the charges he’d been convicted of—for lack of evidence, mind you—but continues to face another 12 other charges brought to bear against him by Iraq’s Public Integrity Commission: the government’s anti-corruption arm.

It is a high-profile case involving an American citizen, Mr. Alsammarae, and there is plenty of spin involved. Some want to use this case to cast doubts on the enthused ‘zealotry’ of the Public Integrity Commission in tracking down and indicting corrupt officials, which in any society should be considered a good thing. I guess most reporters don’t have a problem with the ‘zealotry’ of the Patrick Fitzgeralds of the world, even when such zealots get their facts wrong.

But Glanz fails to mention an important episode when Alsammarae apparently hired western mercenaries to spring him out of jail on October 11, 2006: Armed foreigners entered an Iraqi courtroom, waived their weapons and badges at the Iraqi police and whisked Alsammarae away to a life on the run. He was later handed back to Iraqi authorities by the US Embassy. I would have thought that it is an incident that is very relevant to the story; establishing the lengths to which Alsammarae went to in order to escape the charges; he's a 'flight risk' and thus must remain in custody.

But Glanz does not want to write a story about the Iraqi justice system doing its work, on the contrary, the NYT reporter wants to draw attention to “vagaries of an Iraqi court system that in many ways is still the opaque and frightening apparatus it was before the invasion”—a walloping assertion that is not sourced to anyone or backed-up with facts within the rest of the article, yet it is allowed to stand as is by the paper’s editors. It’s a cheap shot by a biased reporter, that’s all.

Alsammarae, though, is being treated like a Mafiosi don (...he's a Chicago man after all; once Al Capone's territory) while in ‘prison’:




Possibly in deference to his former rank, his “cell” was a converted office with a computer, a refrigerator, a potted plant, a thin mattress and other amenities — far better than what is provided to other prisoners in the jail.

Does he get a regular supply of Doritos, like the ones Saddam enjoys? Clearly prison conditions have improved since “before the invasion,” for disagreeable high-ranking officials at least.

But at least the Public Integrity Commission continues its spectacular work despite all the self-serving acrimony and the cheap shots:




Ali Shbot, a spokesman for the commission, which is run by Rathi al-Rathi, said that those charges were ludicrous and that the commission was investigating politicians of all stripes. He said that of roughly 90 cabinet-level officials in previous Iraqi governments since the invasion, 18 have received either arrest warrants or subpoenas.

All but a few of those officials remain at large, having fled the country or gone into hiding. Mr. Shbot said there were also active corruption cases against about 80 former officials — deputy ministers, directors general or senior ministry advisers — at least some of whom are still in Iraq. In the same jail in Baghdad’s protected Green Zone, a former deputy finance minister, Kareem Hmeed Faraj, is serving a three-year sentence.


[The full NYT article is posted in the comments section.]


UPDATE (December 18, 2006): Alsammarae Escapes, Again

I would peg James Glanz as an unwitting accomplice in this jail break: his story about Alsammarae a couple of days ago failed to mention the convict's propensity for 'lamming it,' which only served to reassure prison authorities (...avid readers of the NYT; isn't everyone?) that Alsammarae was not a 'flight risk.'

Isn't it about time to revoke the operating license of the security company that Alsammarae keeps hiring to spring him out of jail?

Now watch how this story will probably get covered: When Alsammarae was in prison, he was depicted as a Sunni Arab victim of an arbitrary Shi'a kangaroo court; the story was never about how the Iraqi anti-corruption folks are doing their job and doing it well, even when going after daunting and well-connected targets. And now that Alsammarae is back on the run, the knee-jerk storyline will be how much Baghdad has turned into a chaotic and free-for-all version of the Wild West; the story about why foreign security companies (many of them with contracts to guard foreign press bureaus) are still acting above Iraqi law--something that they are doing legally by Bremer's still-standing CPA orders--will not interest the editors back in stateside.

The categories for the biased press are neat and simple: Iraq is a mess, the Sunnis are being victimized, the Shi'a-dominated government is settling scores; impeach Bush.

Here's a question: mercenaries cost a lot of money, and staging jailbreaks will probably set you back several million dollars. How can Alsammarae afford that on his public servant's salary?

Nice touch with the Chinese passport...



Former Electricity Minister Ayham al-Samaraie broke out of a Baghdad detention facility Sunday with the help of a group of private security experts, said Faris Kareem, deputy head of Iraq's Public Integrity Commission, an anti-corruption panel. It was al-Samaraie's second escape since he was convicted in October.

Kareem said the security agents were "foreign," but he had no further details.

Lou Fintor, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, said U.S. officials were aware of reports of al-Samaraie's escape and had been in touch with him in prison to provide basic consular services.

A Sunni Arab political figure, al-Samaraie was a member of the transitional government set up after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and led by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.

The former minister, who was convicted of corruption and sentenced to two years in prison, is believed to have had contacts with Sunni Arab insurgents and has tried to persuade them to put down their weapons and join the political process.

After al-Samaraie's first escape, a few days after his conviction, Iraqi officials caught him at the Baghdad airport with a Chinese passport, Kareem said.

10 Comments:

Blogger Nibras Kazimi نبراس الكاظمي said...

December 15, 2006
Bitter Detour for Expatriate Back in Iraq
By JAMES GLANZ
BAGHDAD, Dec. 14 — Of all the Iraqi expatriates who returned to rule, rebuild and profit from their country after the invasion, none have fallen as far as Aiham Alsammarae, who was once the minister of electricity but now spends his days consumed with bitterness in a Baghdad jail as his lawyers fight multiple charges of corruption against him.
Mr. Alsammarae, an American citizen who lived in the Chicago area and built a thriving engineering firm there, is the only cabinet-level Iraqi official to be convicted and jailed for misusing money during his time in office. Four months ago, hearing that he was being accused of corruption, he walked into a Baghdad courthouse to find out if there were charges against him and was astonished to find himself placed under arrest pending trial. He has been in jail ever since.
During an interview in that jail on Thursday, Mr. Alsammarae still had the swept-back, perfectly arranged hair and obsessively polished shoes of his days in power, but he wore a shapeless zippered jacket over a beige shirt and pants rather than one of his elegant suits. Possibly in deference to his former rank, his “cell” was a converted office with a computer, a refrigerator, a potted plant, a thin mattress and other amenities — far better than what is provided to other prisoners in the jail.
But Mr. Alsammarae is bitter because, he said, the United States has left him in his hour of need to the vagaries of an Iraqi court system that in many ways is still the opaque and frightening apparatus it was before the invasion. “When somebody is giving his life to service as an American here, he should be dealt with in a different way,” he said, complaining of what he called a lack of action by the American Embassy. “If they did anything for me, I am not aware of it.”
As if to help make his point, the Iraqi justice system still had Mr. Alsammarae in jail on Thursday, several days after an appeals court overturned his conviction, on Oct. 11, on the first of the counts against him, involving payments for a single electricity generator in the southern Iraq.
An employee at the Central Criminal Court of Iraq confirmed that the 23-member appeals court had unanimously overturned the conviction but said that under Iraqi law, Mr. Alsammarae might have to remain in jail until the other charges against him were resolved.
Mr. Alsammarae’s case is caught in an extraordinarily complex web of events that include American-sponsored efforts to fight official corruption and to improve the Iraqi court system while at the same time allowing the courts to operate independently of American influence. Mr. Alsammarae also faces the burden of having long been suspected of corruption by Iraqi and American officials, and he has been the target of lashing criticism for years in the Iraqi news media.
An American official in Baghdad familiar with the case said the embassy was in fact monitoring Mr. Alsammarae’s situation closely.
“They have done everything they can to ensure his safety and fair treatment, but at the same time cannot interfere in a legitimate Iraqi court process,” the official said.
Iraqi officials were generally less restrained. Saadi Mehdi Ali, who currently serves as inspector general in the Electricity Ministry, said he had reviewed the papers on Mr. Alsammarae’s cases.
“Believe me, all the cases in which Aiham is accused, they are correct,” he said. “He is accused with facts.”
The cases involving Mr. Alsammarae began with investigations by the Commission on Public Integrity, an Iraqi organization independent of the government that was created by the United States. The commission has been praised by some officials as a much-needed breath of reform in a country long riddled by corruption, and derided by others as overzealous and politically motivated.
“It’s politics,” said Mr. Alsammarae, a secular Sunni Arab who was what he described as a midlevel member of Saddam Hussein’s governing Baath Party as a student in the 1970s. The commission and the court system have both been accused of falling under the influence of Shiite politicians and Shiite-run militias.
Mr. Alsammarae arrived in Iraq just after the American invasion in 2003, looking for business opportunities. He was originally appointed electricity minister by L. Paul Bremer III, the leader of the American occupation authority, in August 2003. He stayed on until May 2005 in the Iraqi government that followed, run by Prime Minister Ayad Allawi.
Mr. Allawi, who has previously suggested publicly that the Commission on Public Integrity may have a political agenda, said through a colleague on Thursday that he stood by those remarks.
Ali Shbot, a spokesman for the commission, which is run by Rathi al-Rathi, said that those charges were ludicrous and that the commission was investigating politicians of all stripes. He said that of roughly 90 cabinet-level officials in previous Iraqi governments since the invasion, 18 have received either arrest warrants or subpoenas.
All but a few of those officials remain at large, having fled the country or gone into hiding. Mr. Shbot said there were also active corruption cases against about 80 former officials — deputy ministers, directors general or senior ministry advisers — at least some of whom are still in Iraq. In the same jail in Baghdad’s protected Green Zone, a former deputy finance minister, Kareem Hmeed Faraj, is serving a three-year sentence.
But despite the general view that Iraqi governments have been corrupt, it is the sheer number of those cases that disturbs some officials who say they believe that politics is indeed coming into play.
“I applaud the notion of public integrity,” said a senior Iraqi official who has followed the case and who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of prejudicing the cases. “But the problem with these guys, they are highly politicized. My view is that Judge Rathi is way out of his place.”
But in a sign of the difficulties the former electricity minister faces, the official added, “I suspect that Aiham Alsammarae is a crook.”

9:05 AM, December 15, 2006

 
Anonymous yessir said...

This bias also explains why the media tends to focus on exaggerated stories of "crimes" committed by Shia militias against Sunnis, rather than focus on DOCUMENTED proof of Sunni Arab terrorism towards Shia.

Anything that is associated with the post-liberation situation (eg Iraqi court system) is treated in a much more negative light than entities associated with the Saddam-era (eg the Sunni insurgency).

11:32 AM, December 15, 2006

 
Anonymous C McKim said...

Nibras: I'm impressed with you're knowledge of Alsammarae's situation and was wondering what your source of information is concerning what is going on with him. I sent an email to Mr. Glanz concerning the very article you're talking about in this blog and was wondering where you're getting YOUR facts from...

-C

cmckim@wisc.edu

8:58 PM, December 18, 2006

 
Anonymous haji said...

Greetings. I agree in principle with your account.

To settle my curiosity, would you mind here listing several, similarly connected, powerful, shia leaders that are being held under the investigative authority of the Public Integrity Commission? I am not doubting that such examples exist, I'd just like to see some of them.

Thanks.

11:11 PM, December 18, 2006

 
Blogger Nibras Kazimi نبراس الكاظمي said...

Hi C: The information you see on Alsammarae is all 'open sourced.' While I should have put that in yesterday, the quoted part is from AP. The only thing that I know for myself is Alsammarae's role as a young Ba'athist in Britain writing surveillance reports about his fellow Iraqi students there; I've perused these files myself. Otherwise, if there is a specific bit of info you'd like referenced, then please let me know.

Hi Haji:

You seem to be suggesting that the Public Integrity Commission is targeting Sunnis. I think that the head of the commission, Judge Radhi Hamza al-Radhi is himself Sunni and from Sammarra (Alsammarae's home town), but this needs to get checked out by a hardworking reporter. What I know is that al-Radhi was a communist in the 1960s and he is very secular and non-sectarian.

Ammar Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim was one of the people investigated by the commission even though he isn't a public servant. There were allegations that he was misappropriating state land in Najaf. Plus isn't it odd that the Sunni bloc in parliament is not attacking al-Radhi and are, on the contrary, defending him? Rather he is being attacked by Sheikh Sabah al-Sa'idi...

I don't think sectarianism is THE issue here. Alsammarae is being a little self-serving by suggesting it.

The NYT (Marc Santora, Iraqi Ex-Minister Escapes Jail in Green Zone, December 18, 2006) adds this little piece of info in today's edition:

"Mr. Alsammarae was hardly kept under tight security.

"He was not even locked up in a cell. Instead, he was quartered in a spare officer’s room near the lobby of the prison. He had at least two cellphones and a computer with access to e-mail. He behaved more as a friend to his jailers than a prisoner.

"During a recent visit by a reporter and a photographer from The New York Times, Mr. Alsammarae was allowed to walk out in front of the jail and guide a tour of sorts around the facility. He went to where the cells are located and chatted with a deputy finance minister who was also in jail."

Yet again, the NYT does not mention the previous escape attempt. Shouldn't this be called shoddy journalism?

Have a nice day,

Nibras

9:01 AM, December 19, 2006

 
Blogger Bill Baar said...

Don't over look Fitzgerald's interest in Alsammareae in connection with the Rezko indictment here in Illinois and Rezko's connections with Barak Obama and our Gov. Blagojevich.

There is lots more to this story then we know yet.

3:26 AM, December 21, 2006

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, this iraqi government spokesperson, Saadi Mehdi Ali, said that all the cases against Alsammarae were "correct" and he was "accused with facts"..and yet, the cases he had been charged with in Oct 11 were overturned by the appeals court. Sounds to me that he isnt being "accused with facts" as this Mr Ali would like to have us believe.

I wonder if Mr Ali's comments against Dr Alsammarae are similar to your allegations of him completing survelliance reports in britain- completely baseless?

Given your history working with Ahmed Chalabi in the INC--and that Mr Chalabi and Dr Alsammarae are political enemies of eachother, couldn't one safely assume that you are making these allegations to settle a political score for your organization? Especially given that it's been widely reported through multiple news sources that Dr Alsammare graduated from Baghdad University, and then went straight to the US for his post-graduate degrees. Kinda puts a huge dent in that whole britain survelliance theory, huh?

11:03 PM, September 29, 2009

 
Anonymous The Real Iraq said...

I;ve read through several of your posts concerning Alsammarae, and, to be honest, looks like you have some personal beef with the guy.

According to the Chicago Tribune, he didnt go "on the lam" in october 11; but instead was taken to the US Embassy by guards specifically assigned to escort him by the US Embassy to the court for proceedings. When his life was in danger, the guards took him to the embassy-at which point his safety was ensured by the Iraqi prosecuters--and he was brought back to his detention facility. He remained there while he filed for an appeal. In Dec 2006--he was acquitted of wrong doing. So..where's the beef?

Moreover, you praise the Commission for Public Integrity like it's the best thing that's ever happened to the Iraqis, and yet, the head of the CPI was accused of corruption by the Iraqi Parliament. (http://www.upi.com/NewsTrack/view.php?StoryID=20061113-110817-5486r).

Moreover, Nebras, you are wrong to suggest Radhi is a sunni from samarra--he most certainly is not. Please check the article--he's a shiite and heavily aligned to SCIRI. Just because your readers dont know all the facts doesnt mean you have free license to make it up.

6:28 PM, September 30, 2009

 
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