Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The trial just got interesting.

I was just about to leave home to work when I heard a big bang…
Uh, oh…I won't be able to reach the clinic today, I told Mohammed.
The explosion was probably less than a mile away so I knew the roads around us would be soon blocked. And minutes later I found they were.

I decided to go back to bed but then I heard that a new session of Saddam's trial was scheduled for today. Recalling the past few sessions, I thought that was a good idea to watch while lying on the couch as it would soon bore me to sleep.
But soon I discovered I was wrong in my assumption…

Today's session of Saddam's trial which is the thirteenth can be considered a session of truth, not that the judge or the prosecution team did any better but mainly because of the amount of evidence that was revealed today.

The session began as usual and as expected with lots of exchanged yelling and whining from defendants, the judge and the defense team until the prosecutor turned the tide when he began presenting loads of documents that prove the guilt of Saddam and his gang, especially his half-brother Barzan and the chief of the infamous revolution court Awad al-Bandar.
Barzan had been denying any connection for the intelligence service (Mukhabarat) he headed with the Dujail massacre claiming that the intelligence was solely responsible for watching non-Iraqis and had nothing to do with internal cases like Dujail where the suspects were Iraqis.

However, the documents uncovered today showed that Barzan was personally deeply involved in following up the case and "interrogating" the suspects and their families.
The documents were presented in chronological order in a way that literally stunned Saddam and Barzan who barely uttered a few words during the more than an hour-long presentation.
Dozens of documents that look authentic and carried the signatures of Saddam, Barzan and other criminals were displayed; the earliest ones go back to as early as 2 days after the assassination attempt with the latest dated 7 years after that showing all stages of the massacre from interrogation to sentencing the 148 resident of Dujail to signing and approving and executing the death sentence to finally following up a couple of prisoners who mistakenly were let out to be later recaptured and executed.

The documents revealed some unbelievably terrifying facts about the Dujail massacre; can you imagine that when orders were given to execute the 148 "convicts" the prison authorities executed only 96 of them. Why?
Because the remaining 48 "convicts" had already passed away during "interrogation"!!
What kind of interrogation was that killed one third of the suspects?!

The people I spoke to during and after watching the session were pleased with the way the trial went this time. Today's session wiped away the bad impression many of us had about the last few sessions where the trial looked like a circus by all standards but today things were different and we were able to see a reasonably professional trial that relied on much more facts and much less rhetoric.
Actually no one had to say anything, the papers spoke for themselves and for the horrendous crimes of Saddam and his fellow criminals.

Again, I'm glad they choose this case to begin Saddam's trial with; it's probably the only case that can be supported with so many documents unlike many of the later crimes that were conducted after verbal orders.

Prepare for going back to your hole Saddam, but this time, nobody is going to pull you out.

Monday, February 27, 2006

The shrine crisis…words that need to be said.

Life is coming back to normal in Baghdad and marketplaces and offices are open again after being shut for 4 days. Although there were a few security incidents today people are mostly looking at these as part of the usual daily situation and not related to the latest shrine crisis.

But, what can we learn from this lesson and how can we make benefit from it in avoiding similar problems in the future.

It's not a secret who was behind the attack on the shrine and I am sure that who did it were the Salafi/Wahabis whether Iraqi or foreigners and with external support from parties planning to disrupt the political process in Iraq.
The reason I believe it's the Salafis who did it comes from their own ideology which considers all mosques built upon tombs as places of polytheism and infidelity and thus must be destroyed. This also applies to Sunni shrines like Abu Haneefa and al-Gailani; Salafis consider the Shia and the Sufis their worst enemies and they commonly refer to them in their speech with the term "tomb worshippers" or Mushrikoon Quborioon in Arabic.

It's worth reminding that this is not the first time Salafis try to destroy the shrines in Iraq; their armies invaded Iraq back in the 19th century and burned the shrines in Kerbala and Najaf before the Ottoman empire repelled them and stopped them from reaching Baghdad where they were planning to destroy the shrines of al-Kazum, Abu Haneefa and al-Gailani (Shia, Sunni and Sufi respectively).

Followers of other sects would not dare do something like this because they fear the wrath of the imams; our culture has many stories about the supernatural powers possessed by the deceased imams. These stories planted fear in our hearts from even talking badly about them, let alone blowing up their tombs!

This leaves only one faction that justifies and pushes for destroying these tombs and this is the Salafi ideology.
Of course there are some who invest this ideology for political causes and here we come to the second beneficiary who stands behind the first beneficiary who carried out the attack for ideological reasons.

This second beneficiary is the parties who would like to see the new Iraqi state fall apart and who are scared of the idea of a democratic, stable Iraq next door as such a neighbor would transmit the democratic infection to their peoples. This includes more than one neighboring country; one provides logistics and training, the other provides media support while another one endorses the remnants of the Ba'ath regime who lost a lot of their privileges when Saddam was toppled.

Now that we have outlined the identity of the perpetrators depending on motives, interests and ideology we can move on to talk a little about the reactions to the atrocity which has a lot in common with the reactions to the Danish cartoons (I'm comparing the reactions here, not the actions that triggered them). The two reactions are similar in two aspects a) Overreaction and b) Exploiting the atrocity to serve political causes.

As a person who lives in Baghdad I've been following the situation from the early hours after the attack; on Wednesday morning I was on my way to work when I heard the news on the radio and I began watching closely to probe the feelings of the common people. People were at work as they always are, clerks behind their desks, grocers looking after their goods and municipal workers picking trash from the streets and I haven't noticed any unusual feelings among the people I came in contact with. In general life was normal until noon in the Shia majority district of Baghdad and there were absolutely no signs of a crisis of any sort. But on my way home I saw the men in black take to the streets after Ayatollah Sistani issued his fatwa (I wish my Shia brothers bear with me and read to the end).

Ayatollah Sistani issued a fatwa on Wednesday that sounded peaceful and normal from the first look but if you look closer at each word you will find that the "safety valve" became the igniter this time.

Two years ago the shrine of Imam Ali in Najaf was attacked and although this is the holiest shrine for Shia Muslims the incident wasn't met with that much angry reactions instead we heard soothing statements like "these are mere stones and we can rebuild them and make them even better than before".
This time things were different because the political situation is different; the Ayatollah called for nationwide protests (and not to attack Sunni mosques) and a week of mourning. Now let's examine the part that said "do not attack Sunni mosques"…the sentence openly accuses the Sunni of being behind the attack or why would their mosques be mentioned in the first place?

In the government statements the term "Takfiri terrorists/Saddami Ba'athists" is the one commonly used but in the Ayatollah's fatwa this was replaced by "Sunni".
This fatwa which is sugar-coated with tolerance and restraint is actually pointing at the perpetrator that we-should-not-punish-because-we-are-merciful.

So…the protests were not spontaneous like clerics want us to think; in fact the only spontaneous protest was the one in Samarra itself!
I live here and I've seen the whole thing. The demonstrations in Baghdad began after the fatwa and I saw how shop keepers unwillingly closed their shops when the men in black with their arms and loudspeakers ordered them to do so "in the name of the Hawza" and I saw the sad look on the faces of people abandoning their only source of income for a time that could go indefinitely.

One might ask why would Iraqis obey such orders?

I say, Imagine yourself standing in front of your shop watching the police retreat from the street while angry men with arms come and order you to leave your shop and join the "spontaneous protests"!
Believe me you will find no other choice but to join the mob or face the risk of being considered an infidel traitor.
I'd also like to point out the provoking language that was used in the calls for many protests. In one example I heard in person, the guy holding the mic said "today they attacked your Imam's shrine and tomorrow they will take your women, so rise up".

The reactions and protests were far from spontaneous like clerics claim they were. The protests were organized and under supervision of commanders who have clear goals and those commanders were intent on provoking a reaction that carries clear signs to the Sunni, secular and moderate parties that succeeded in applying substantial pressure on the UIA and won the US on their side.

So those radical parties were looking for a justification for a planned crisis to bring back to attention the centuries-long suffering of the Shia and they wanted to gain more support for what they consider legitimate political demands from giving the impression that they are the only targets for terrorism.

So, this was planned to prepare the atmosphere for putting the blame on others and sending a message to the other parties that "we cannot contain the anger of the street forever and you have to listen to us and answer our demands if you want us to prevent a catastrophe".

However, it seems there are also some positive outcomes from this incident and its aftermath; the first one in my opinion was the performance of the Iraqi army which had a good role in restoring order in many places. Actually the past few days showed that our new army is more competent than we were thinking.
But the latest events have also showed the brittle structure of the interior ministry and its forces that retreated before the march of the angry mobs (if not joined them in some cases) and I think the statements that came from the meetings of our politicians pointed this out so clearly when Sunni politicians said they wanted the army to replace the police and police commandos in their regions and this indicates growing trust between the people and the army.

The other positive side is represented by the line we've seen drawn between clerics and politicians.
In spite of the attempts of clerics to look like as if they were the defenders of national unity with all their meetings, joint prayers and hugs, the political leaderships got a sense of their growing danger and the meeting at Jafari's home (which al-Hakeem didn't attend) showed that the government is keen to keep the country intact and the government systems as functional as possible to contain the crisis. This meeting indicates that politicians have realized that those clerics whether Sunni or Shia are the origin of the problem and are ready to coup on even their political allies which made the politicians more aware of the danger imposed by clerics on the project of building a state ruled by the law.

Clerics will not stop and they will carry on with their plans and I suspect they will launch the next phase of their plan soon after they received instructions from Syria (the Muslim scholars) and from Iran (the Sadrists).
The objective of the second phase will to move the conflict from one on the streets to a conflict with America. That’s not my personal opinion, but it's what clerics themselves are saying including Muqtada who returned from Qum in Iran to organize a joint Sunni-Shia demonstration against the occupation!!

Now the government has rise to the level of the challenge and proceed to take the most important and critical step and disband religious militias of all sorts and limit the influence of clerics-of any sect-in the decision-making process.
I think this is the best time for the new government to tackle this issue as the government now has all the factors that make such a move legitimate and necessary.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Curfew extended in Baghdad and three other provinces.

The defense minister in a press conference currently on Iraqi TV gave statistics to correct what he described as "exaggerated media reports" about civilian casualties and attacks on mosques since the attack on the Samarra shrine:

Mosques attacked/shot at without damage: 21 not 51
Moderately damaged: 6 not 23
Mosques destroyed totally: 1 not 3
Mosques occupied by militias: 1 not 2 (evacuated later).
Civilians killed: 119 not 183

It was also announced that day-time curfew in Baghdad and three other provinces (Salahiddin, Diyala and Babil) will continue for another two days.

More from the press conference:

In the same press conference, the interior minister said "we are not going to show tolerance towards those who cause violence anymore, those who felt like doing something have done what they done but we will accept no more of this" obviously referring to those who let their anger push them to violence.

The defense minister added that they are working in the government on activating the counter-terrorism laws which includes "arresting anyone who's found guilty of provoking violence".
And added "We have put the armored units of the Iraqi army on high alert and these units (one division+) will be deployed to the streets one we see a real need for that".

More updates:

-Head of the Accord Front, Adnan al-Dulaimi says the government should be stricter in enforcing the law and suggests prolonging the curfew as the best measure to control the situation.
Al-Dulaimi also asked the Shia clergy to restrain their followers and called on the Sunni to remain calm and refrain from violence.

-PM Jafari orders the security forces to enforce a ban on public carrying of arms by unauthorized personnel.

-Study in schools and universities will be suspended until March 5th.

-Improvised barricades can be seen in a number of Baghdad neighborhoods (I've seen some in my neighborhood too) to stop outsiders from entering these neighborhoods.

-An advisory council has been formed from leaders of political blocs and top Iraqi figures to help the executive authority in containing the crisis.

-Sistani calls on tribes to protect the shrines in a meeting with tribal leaders of Najaf.

-The Iraqi army's armored division prepares for deployment and performs successful maneuvers with live monition for the first time.

-At least one Sunni mosque was attacked in Zayona district of Baghdad this afternoon and 5 worshippers killed in the attack while two other small shrines were attacked in Tuz Khurmato and Mada'in.
There were also rumors about an attack on the Sunni's most sacred shrine of Abu Haneefa, Zeyad has a first hand account on this one.

-The Sadr trend holds two meetings with Sunni leaders; one on the clerical level with the Association of Muslim Scholars and the other on the political level with the Accord Front.
A couple of joint press releases were made after the meetings in which the two parties made calls for unity among Iraqis and condemned all kinds of attacks on mosques and civilians.
In both cases the US and Iraqi authorities were blamed for the escalating situation.
Ironically, these are the very two factions believed responsible for the greatest deal of the violence in the past few days!

-According to Naseer al-Aani, spokesman of the Accord Front, the Front is now ready to consider resuming the negotiations for the new government after the government showed "good signs of cooperation" regarding the demands of the Front.

It is hoped that this step will help relieve the stressful condition but of course this requires that all the concerned parties commit to their promises.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

In the aftermath of the shrine attack...

Today is a day off in Iraq, emergency situation now officially declared with extended curfews 8pm-6am.

Sistani has been calling for restraint and calm but it seems that some Shia factions are not listening to him but instead they are listening to their direct references or acting on their own.

Spokesmen of the Islamic Party and Muslim Scholars claim more than 120 mosques have been blown up, set ablaze or came under small arms and RPG fire including the Um al-Qura mosque which is the HQ of the Association of Muslim Scholars which came under several drive-by shootings.

Radio Sawa reported a short while ago that the central morgue in Baghdad received some 80 bodies of people who were killed with gun shots since Wednesday afternoon.

In our neighborhood the Sadr militias seized the local mosque and broadcast Shia religious mourning songs from the mosques loudspeakers.
In several other cases, worshippers were turned away by "gunmen in black" who surrounded the closed mosques. Other mosques are encircled by razor-wire to stop anyone from approaching them.

The sense in the streets and the statements given by some Shia clerics suggest that retaliation attacks are organized and under control and are focusing on mosques frequented by Salafi and Wahabi groups and not those of ordinary Sunnis.

Looking at the geographic distribution of the attacked mosques, I found they were mostly in areas adjacent to Sadr city forming a line that extends from the New Baghdad district in the southeast to al-Hussayniya in the northeast.

The Association of Muslim Scholars is accusing the Sadrists in particular, actually it's not only the Association that accuses the Sadrists, most people here in Baghdad point out the role of Mehdi army of Sadr in carrying out most of the attacks.
The Association is trying to remind Sadr of the their times of solidarity during the battles in Najaf and Fallujah yet they are condemning his message to his followers in which he called for keeping up and escalating the "protests".

Baghdad looks more alive today but in a very cautious way, traffic in the streets is heavier than it was yesterday but still way below normal.
There's some kind of shopping frenzy because people are trying to be prepared if the worst happens; people are stock-piling small reserves of food, cigarettes, bottled water…etc especially after they heard some of the roads to/from Baghdad are closed and vehicles were turned away.

The Sunni political leaders were invited to a meeting with the UIA suggested by president Talabani but they refused to join the meeting saying the government has to condemn attacks on their mosques as well before they consider ending the boycott.
Talabani responded positively to their demand and gave a short statement to the press half an hour ago and condemned all attacks on worshipping places of all kinds.

The situation is still very tense but the good thing is that the Sunni have not returned the attacks and I hope the Shia have satisfied their vengeance by now because I don't want to even think of what can happen if this situation lasts longer than this.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Holy Shia shrine bombed in Samarra.

As if we didn't have enough problems already!

The quality of the target and the timing of the attack were chosen in a way that can possibly bring very serious consequences over the country.

The situation in Baghdad is so tense now, it wasn't like this in the early hours of the morning as it took a few hours for the news to spread but on my way back from clinic I saw pickup vehicles with loudspeakers roaming the streets calling on people to shut their stores in the name of the Hawza and join the protests after the noon prayer to condemn the attack on the holy shrine.

Ayatollah Sistani reacted quickly to the escalating anger by issuing a fatwa that forbids his followers from "Taking any action against Sunni sites" obviously to discourage his followers from carrying out retaliatory attacks on Sunni mosques.
Sistani has also demanded a 7 day mourning and to consider it a week off but the government so far has announced only a 3 day official mourning.
Muqtada cut his tour in Lebanon and is heading back to Baghdad, he called on his followers from Beirut to "have self-control and refrain from violence".

Right now there's heavy deployment for the police and other security forces with more frequent checkpoints that are stop-searching cars more often than they usually do.
Sporadic gunfire is heard in different spots in Baghdad but no one knows for sure if the firing meant clashes or mere angry shooting in the air.

From where I'm sitting now I can hear both Sunni and Shia mosques are condemning the attack through their loudspeakers.

I believe there are foreign terror groups behind this attack and I don't think local insurgent would do such a thing, simply because this particular shrine had been in Sunni territory for a thousand years and the residents of Samarra had always benefited from the movement of religious tourism and pilgrimage.

Things look scary here in Baghdad and I hope there won't be more updates to report as I can't see a positive thing coming out of this.

Update 4:30 pm

It seems that I have no choice but to point out a few important updates that I found from the local media as well as my personal observations:

-President Talabani promises to make rebuilding the shrine his personal responsibility and to donate the required money from his own.

-Head of the Sunni endowment sheikh Ahmed al-Samarra'I announces that he will allocate 2 billion dinars (~1.4 million $) for the rebuilding of the shrine from the treasury of the Sunni endowment.

-Huge demonstrations in many of Iraq's provinces including Samarra and Mosul where thousands of people condemned the attack.

-The top 4 Shia Ayatollahs hold a meeting at Sistani's home to discuss the situation.

-The Association of Muslim scholars and the Islamic Party condemn the "criminal act".

-Retaliatory attacks on reportedly 29 Sunni mosques and the Accord Front warns from the consequences of such violent reactions.

-Jafari in a press conference calls for national unity and the leaders of the UIA hold a meeting. A press release is expected to come soon.

-The Iraqi TV opened the phone lines to receive the reactions of the audience to the attack and hosts Sunni clerics and politicians in an attempt to relieve the tension.

-Baghdad is in undeclared emergency situation, shops closed and streets nearly empty.

-Tight security around the shrine of Abu Haneefa in Aazamiya district of Baghdad, this is considered the top shrine/mosque for Sunni Muslims in Iraq.

-Masked gunmen attack Shia protestors in at least one neighborhood in western Baghdad and armed clashes in Ghazaliya and Hay al-A'amil.

-People exchange phones calls with their relatives and friends to check on them and discourage them from leaving their homes.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The UIA playing the victim!

Our politicians realize that we're not going to wait forever for them to form a government, neither is the world so they have increased the frequency of their meetings and statements in the hope that this can accelerate the process.
Whether they will succeed in this effort to save time or not is unclear yet but anyway, at least they are doing something!

Yesterday there has been a meeting for the leaders of Iraq's major political blocs and the American ambassador in Kurdistan that we heard of only today. Nothing leaked from this meeting but what's noticed about it is Jafari's absence who probably had to remain in Baghdad to meet the British foreign minister who arrived yesterday.
But actually the interesting thing is that-and according to Abbas al-Bayati of the UIA-is that the American ambassador and the leaders of the UIA didn't actually meet although they were all in Kurdistan, al-Bayati explained "the ambassador didn't show up during our meeting with the Kurdish alliance but he was there during the meetings between the Kurds, the Accord Front and Allawi".

Jafari in a joint press conference with Jack Straw in Baghdad responded rather harshly to Khalil Zad's statement of yesterday. Jafari said that he would not accept being told what to do, in reference to Zad's advices which Jafari described as "interference with Iraq's internal affairs".

Straw was there in another press conference that we saw on TV today but this time with Talabani who didn't lash out at Zad but instead rejected the Iranian call on the UK to pull its troops out of Basra and said "This matter can only decided by the Iraqi government and we need the British troops to remain in Iraq until we have enough well-trained Iraqi troops to replace them".

The prominent Kurdish politician Fouad Ma'soum told al-Bayina newspaper (which speaks for the Da'wa party) about the some interesting findings regarding the latest 3 meetings between the UIA and the Kurdish alliance. Ma'soum mentioned that the representatives of the Fadheela part didn't show up in any of the 3 meetings from which he concluded that Fadheela is not getting along well with the rest of the UIA members.
Ma'soum added that he asked the UIA if the redline on Allawi's bloc was adopted by the Sadrists only, to which the UIA delegation reportedly responded by saying "No, this attitude is adopted by the entire bloc".

Both the political editor of al-Bayina in today's op-ed and Mowaffaq al-Rubai'I in an interview on the 1st page denounced Khalil Zad's warning tone and considered it a chapter of "an international and regional conspiracy against the Shia aiming at marginalizing the Shia who had been oppressed for decades after decades".
The editor went on saying "the Shia represented by the UIA are committed to their national principles and are not willing to compromise on these principles…one fatwa from Ayatollah Sistani is enough to make the earth tremble beneath the feet of the American occupiers…".

It's really strange to see such overreaction on the part of the UIA, I mean just because they've been asked to avoid appointing people with sectarian inclinations in sensitive cabinet posts like the interior and defense it doesn't mean one should respond like this while the UIA's reactions to the real interference from Iran were so shy and diplomatic?

When are we Iraqis going to stop playing the victim role at every appropriate and inappropriate occasion!

Monday, February 20, 2006

Update on Iraq's political scene.

The negotiations between the political parties here have reached a complicated stage as they have stopped by a number of certain points they couldn't reach an agreement on.
The negotiations in the past few days took two dimensions, one between the Kurds and the Shia and the other between the Kurds and the United Council for National Work (UCNW for short).

The Shia were optimistic about their talks with the Kurds although the latter voiced their concerns regarding three points; the participation of Allawi's bloc, the issue of Kirkuk and the proposed National Security Council (also known as the Council of Elders) which the Kurds seem very enthusiastic about as they see in it a solution that satisfies all the concerned parties.
The Shia on the other hand are skeptical about it out of fear that this council would undermine their dominance in the parliament and stop them from passing the legislations they're looking forward to.
The Shia explained their objections to this idea by saying that it might be in conflict with the jurisdictions of the parliament and the articles of the constitution.

In fact I see that creating such entity with the proposed structure will serve to limit the ambitions of the UIA and offer equal shares to the different factions in the decision-making process.

The negotiations between the Kurds and the UCNW which were backed by the American ambassador seem to be more productive at least in approximating their points of view as the involved blocs in this case are closer to secularism which relatively makes them more flexible.

The interesting and powerful statement made today by the American ambassador is considered supportive to the political line of those blocs.
Khalil Zad connected investing in Iraq and providing financial support with the presence of a nonsectarian government in Iraq and said that the only solution for Iraq lies in building a government of national unity that includes everyone and diminishes the danger of sectarian polarization that's been endangering the future of the country. This is of course a clear message to everyone that America is not willing to stand by religious parties that are trying to connect Iraq's future with the crazy dreams of Iran.

Also today, Jafari visited Ayatollah Sistani in Najaf (to get the blessings) and it looks like the UIA isn't going to make a single move without going back to their big boss.
Jafari said that Sistani stressed on the importance of accelerating the process of forming the government and on choosing competent people to fill the posts of the government.
I really don't know why Jafari made this visit if that was all what Sistani had to say! Everyone knows that competent people should be in the government and this had better happen fast…etc
I think the real purpose behind the visit was to stop the UIA from breaking apart and to get a decree from the Ayatollah that forbids the components of the UIA from leaving the bloc.
Jafari also stressed that the UIA is strong and united and that rumors about cracks between the lines of the Shia are not true.

However, the truth can be seen in the contradicting statements given by representatives of different parties within the UIA; the SCIRI and Da'wa strongly support federalism while Fadheela and the Sadrists strongly oppose it, also some say that Allawi's bloc is a redline while others have an opposite opinion.

The general feeling here is that chances to form the government within the constitutional timetable are getting less by time.
The press here is talking about the possible emergence of a bloc larger than the UIA and it is believed that this idea appeals to the Kurds but the idea is facing a big technical obstacle that is gathering the 183 votes required for electing a presidential council. All that can be gathered now is only 145 and to reach the 183 threshold they will need to break the unity of the UIA and persuade about 40 of its members to join the new bloc. Of course this is a very difficult thing to do.

The Kurds now are openly saying that they are willing to be part of this plan on one condition that the UCNW manages to attract 40+ members from the UIA according to a member of the UCNW who spoke to al-Sabah on condition of anonymity.
The same al-Sabah report mentioned that Salih al-Mutlaq told the Washington Post that he can manage to do that through influencing the Fadheela and the independents-who collective comprise nearly 1/3 of the UIA-and convincing them to join the new proposed large bloc.

In another development, I just heard that UK's foreign minister has arrived in Baghdad to discuss the political process with the Iraqi political leaders.

In my opinion, the government cannot be formed without all the rivals taking part in it and both the UIA and UCNW will need to make some concessions to reach a compromise.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

They say in love and war everything is allowed.

The Iraqi and American authorities had been trying several ways in dealing with the local insurgents including offering amnesty for those who drop their arms, offering more reconstruction funds for the hot spots and opening the doors for the sons of those areas to join the Iraqi security forces.
But al-Sabah published a report this morning about an alleged big change in the American strategies towards the local insurgents:

Instead of talking to the leaders of the militant groups in the western regions of Iraq, US forces now are trying to arrange for disarming the insurgents through talking to tribal sheikhs and community leaders.
It seems the new strategy includes providing the sheikhs with huge amounts of money to be distributed to great numbers of insurgents to persuade them to stop the violence since they say that they had to resort to violence because they were in need for money. A source with close ties to the insurgents told al-Sabah.

The source revealed that American forces are receiving good feedback which encouraged them to increase their support to the mediators to get more insurgents under the umbrella of this program, and mentioned that the US forces have so far distributed approximately 20 million $ out of 250 allocated by the US authorities for this program.


The source said that politicians and well known figures from Anbar helped in the distribution of the money provided by the Americans and those mediators confirmed to the Americans that Anbar will be among the most stable provinces in Iraq by next August claiming the strategy is successful.
According to sheikhs and local leaders, the American forces are now convinced that there are many insurgents who use violence as a way to make money. The sheikhs also said that the previously dangerously violent villages and suburbs that are home for many of the former regime's security forces have become considerably safe now because the money they got from the Americans encouraged them to drop their arms.

It is not possible at the moment to verify the credibility of this report since I couldn't find it elsewhere but anyway I think it's worth stopping for a minute to think about.
One might say that paying the insurgents to stop the violence means submitting to the pressure of the terrorists and that doing this is useless because they will keep asking for more every time they run out of it. And that makes sense.

But let's look at it from another angle (again assuming the report is accurate) according to the report the insurgents (at least many of them) are paid mercenaries fighting for money and when thinking about the possible sources for this money I can only think of Syria and Iran.
So who's capable of investing more in Iraq, the US or the fading regimes in Iran and Syria?
I think that if it's possible to buy the loyalty of local insurgents with money then we should consider this as an option. Neither the Mullahs nor Asad will be in power few years from now so we won't have to keep paying them for a pretty long time.
Iraq needs this time, if we can end the violence with money a year earlier than we can do with force and politics then it's probably worth it.
More important, fighting the insurgents/terrorists is costing Iraq and America a lot of blood and billions of dollars every month.
So if we can find a less costly way to accomplish the same objectives, do you think we should take it?

However, there's at least one earlier occasion where Jafari and Khalil Zad promised to allocate hundreds of millions of dollars for the reconstruction of Anbar so maybe this new program represents the 2nd part of a broader deal.

And let's not forget that a similar plan was adopted by the US and Iraqi authorities a year or so ago when people of Sadr city were paid millions of dollars to surrender their weapons, so if that was considered a right move, then doing the same in Anbar should be considered equally right especially that violence in the west is costing us much more than the violence of the Sadr militia was/is.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Iraq wants to join the NATO!

The senior advisor in the Iraqi defense ministry Mohammed al-Askari told the press today that the ministry is looking forward to seeing Iraq become a member of the NATO and that the minister Sa'doun al-Dulaimi, the chief of staff and the higher commanders are planning to propose this plan to the new government once it's seated.
Al-Askari told al-Hurra TV tonight that the chief commanders in the ministry had been discussing this subject with great interest for a long time and that:

If al-Dulaimi gets a second term he will be working hard to convince the parliament about the necessity of joining the NATO as this falls in Iraq's strategic interests….the recent changes in the Middle East region and Iran's intentions to pursue nuclear weapons is encouraging us to move in this direction.

And added:

We have got to think of a suitable deterring capability to protect Iraq from aggressions and we think being part of the NATO will provide Iraq with the best protection it can get because the NATO represents the base for peace and security in the world.

When asked about a statement given by the minister some time ago about Iraq's plans to equip the new army with Russian weaponry al-Askari responded:

We had no choice but to depend on Russian weapons for the time being because our army personnel are familiar with those weapons and cannot switch to western and American weapons overnight. We have suffered from the disadvantages of Russian weapons and that's why we have plans to switch to American weapons on the mid and long term.

Thank God we still have leaders in Iraq who have a logical vision for the future and a rational understanding for the changes in our world.

What a difference between someone who wants to stand by Iran and someone who dreams of joining the NATO!
I hope we can get more of the latter and get rid of the former…

Friday, February 17, 2006

And they say they don't interfere with Iraq's internal affairs.

Iranian foreign minister Manoucheher Mottaki calls on Britain to pull its troops out of Basra because those troops are "destabilizing the city".

This is totally unacceptable and it is a deliberate interference with the internal affairs of Iraq.
Whether or not Iraq is sovereign, independent, weak or whatever, Basra is an Iraqi city and under no circumstances should Iran feel it has the right to interfere with Iraq's affairs.

Who is this man to ask Britain to pull out its troops when the elected Iraqi government asked all coalition countries to keep their troops in Iraq?!
Do I need to remind Mottaki that these troops are here by a request from Iraqis and that their presence is in accordance with UN's security council resolutions?

Maybe a few British soldiers did some bad things and beaten up some Iraqis but bruises don't kill, it's Iran's revolutionary guards and secret services thugs who are assassinating Iraqis and destabilizing my country, so SHUT UP MULLAHS.

By the way, I wonder how would Mottaki respond to this report?

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The UIA faces the threat of being outnumbered.

It looks like the real negotiations between the political powers have just begun with great pressures on the politicians to contain their differences and start building the state especially with escalating public contempt about the delay in forming the government.
There's also pressure from the international community in this regard; today the security council urged the Iraqi politicians to form the government as soon as possible and to make it a government that represents the entire Iraq spectrum.

Yesterday and today, the political scene here was marked by intensive meetings some of which are considered very important and can possibly bring some new facts to the scene.
First was a meeting between the UIA and the Kurds which focused on the "Allawi issue". The UIA as usual stressed on respecting election result and considering it the main criteria for distributing cabinet posts with emphasis on the interior ministry.
MP Sherwan al-Waili from the UIA said that they will not give away the interior ministry and mentioned that their bloc will not accept altering the constitution and wants to reactivate the deba'athification.
Al-Waili used a milder tone when asked about their attitude towards Allawi and his list and said "we don't have redlines on the entire bloc but we have reservations on certain persons".
But then added "the UIA sees no need to invite the Iraqi list and we think we can manage with only the Accord Front and the Kurdish alliance" and explained this by saying that giving Allawi a role in the government will most likely confuse the work of the government. Al-Waili also said the UIA refuses the way Talbani used when he voiced his warning from excluding Allawi.

On the other hand, the Kurds kept their position and insisted on the necessity of including everyone especially Allawi and on the need to form a "board of elders" that will serve as a watchdog over the performance of the government.
After the meeting, Kamal Muhiddine a leading figure in Talbani's party said "we're smelling attempts of power-monopoly…we insist on including Allawi not as a political maneuver but because of a real desire to include all parties and discourage them from cooperating with external powers which can endanger the entire political process".

The other important meeting was the one between Talbani, Barzani, Adnan al-Dulaimi and Allawi in the presence of the American ambassador. In this meeting they stressed on the need to form a national unity government.
Not much leaked from this particular meeting but by following several local media sources one can find that this meeting was relatively successful in maturing the idea of establishing a new alliance that is bigger than the UIA in order to nominate another PM other than Jafari.

We've been hearing whispers about this idea in the past few weeks but yesterday Nadeem al-Jabiri of al-Fadheela spoke openly about it in a statement that was published today on the main papers in Baghdad when he said "the other components of the parliament have the right to form an alliance and if this new one becomes bigger than the UIA then we will have the right to nominate a new PM". Al-Jabiri spoke seriously about this option and confirmed again that his party (16 seats) will not support Jafari's cabinet incase this cabinet refused to adopt his proposed national rescue project which basically aims at treating sectarian tensions and forming an inclusive government and apparently this doesn't match the vision of many UIA members.

A lot of the Iraqi politicians said that this option is not far from possible; Khalaf al-Ilayan from the Accord Front said it's possible to form such a large bloc with the participation of the Kurdish alliance under the umbrella of the "united congress for national work" which already has the Iraqi list, Accord and Dialogue fronts in it.

Interest in this direction is growing by the day, the Sunni and Allawi have formed a team from their leading figures to do further negotiations with the Kurds in a series of meetings that will soon follow the first meeting in order to change the idea into facts on the ground.
As a matter of fact, these negotiations have already begun and will also discuss a number of articles in the constitution that the UIA wants to keep unaltered.

Frankly I believe it was the UIA itself that complicated the situation by choosing Jafari and insisting on imposing their vision on the rest of the political powers and this has pushed those political powers to use the same pressure game and in an equal magnitude because after a stage of talking about the 80-seat Maram now they are talking about uniting in a bloc that outnumbers the UIA if the Kurds decided to join in.
Moreover, if the Fadheela went on with their threats and left the UIA to join the other camp, this will leave the UIA in a very difficult position.

Statements and quotes in this post are taken from today's editions of al-Sabah, al-Mada and al-Mashriq newspapers.

Update 10:35 pm

According to Radio Sawa, president Talbani just said after a meeting with Aadil AbdulMahdi that "The political map in Iraq is about to change and each party will be reevaluating its position and the coming few days will reveal the results of this reevaluation".

When asked about the nomination of Ibrahim Jafari, Talbani said "Being nominated doesn't mean that he's been appointed, it still requires the approval of the parliament".

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Who's selling and who's buying?

Just found this disturbing report regarding some worrisomely big weapon bazaar in Qurna, the largest town at the center of the triangle formed by Basra, Nasiriya and Amara.
Qurna is located 6 kilometers from the Iranian border, population around 100,000 with a strong presence for Sadrists and there's a story running among thr locals that their town was the spot where Adam first landed at on earth after he was expelled from heaven.


I've been to Qurna many times during my internship in the northern suburbs of Bsara and I heard a lot from the locals about the huge weapon business in the area but it seems that with time, the quality of the business had grown wild; at that time, they mostly sold pistols, ak-47s and grenades. By the way the latter are a famous fishing tool in Iraq!
But now there are a few more exotic items on the menu:

Residents said the trade was not confined to small arms. They said smugglers openly put for sale mortars, rockets and landmines.

Those weapons are certainly remnants of the Iraq-Iran war. Says who? Says the dealers themselves!

The source of the weapons is not known. The smugglers say the weapons are remnants of the 1980-1988 Iraq-Iran war.

But some former military personnel think that's not the case:

Recently, new weapons were being brought to the area. Residents, who served in the former army, said they had not seen such weapons before.
“Some of these (smuggled) weapons were not used by the former army. They are new to us and look modern. Some of the items on show fall under the heavy weapons category,” a resident said.

So the question is, if those were weapons sent by Iran to the militias to help them carry out attacks on coalition forces like many of us already think, why would the militias sell the weapons?

The only explanation I can find is that Iran is sending enough weapons and munitions to the extent that the militias can feel well armed and at the same time make some good bucks.
But again, this theory brings up another question, that is who is buying the excess weaponry?
I can think of the tribes as a likely potential customer for grenades and even for mortars since I know from spending a whole year over there that there had been times when tribes used mortars against each other during some nasty conflicts but who is buying the landmines? Any suggestions?

Monday, February 13, 2006

The United Iraqi Alliance...Isn't really that united. (updated)

As expected, the UIA's decision to choose Jafari to become the new Prime Minister has caused a feeling of disappointment and in some cases serious worries among the rest of the blocs.

The first and strongest reaction came as early as last night from Jalal Talbani who was clearly upset by the result of the vote and said that "refusing the participation of the Iraqi list is just like refusing the participation of the Kurdish alliance…I tell those who say that the participation of the Iraqi list is a redline that to us, not giving the Iraqi list a role is a redline".
As you may already know, the Sadrists in the UIA who are supporting Jafari have publicly voiced their opposition to giving the Iraqi list a role in the new government, Baha al-Aaraji said on al-Hurra TV today that they "have nothing against the members of the Iraqi list but we are against Dr. Allawi in person…".

I personally think that the certain parties in the UIA have pushed things to the edge by insisting on Jafari while they know very well that all of the other blocs would be displeased by this decision.
Actually I believe that the unity of the UIA itself is on edge after this vote; the leaders of the bloc insist the decision to resort to voting does not undermine the unity of the UIA but I think it is very obvious that when 63 members voted for one guy and the other 64 voted for another it indicates serious divisions inside the bloc whose name (the United….) doesn't seem to fit anymore!
By the way, I don't know if you have noticed this or not, but Risaliyoon who are a small Sadrist bloc took part in the voting despite the fact that they're officially not members of the UIA which makes one stop to think about how much power the Sadrists really have inside the UIA.

I agree that it is theoretically their right to vote in the way they deem best for them but doing this at this critical point of Iraq's history indicates serious shortsightedness because they know that this would no doubt complicate the process of forming the government.
The power to make decisions must not be concentrated in one hand, that's what everyone agrees on, including the UIA, yet they have allowed themselves to do this by ignoring the other political powers and insisting on choosing Jafari and apparently those who voted for Jafari have no idea of what their choice can bring upon them and upon Iraq.

Right now, it seems that there's an inclination among the Kurds to vote against Jafari when he proposes his cabinet, and it is also very expected that the Iraqi list will do the same especially that the conflict with the UIA in general and the Sadrists is going on the personal level now.
This leaves the UIA with only two options to try if they want Jafari's cabinet to win the trust of the parliament: a) Use the relatively good relationship between Jafari and the Accord Front to persuade the Accord Front to split from its alliance with Allawi and al-Mutlaq and this way they will get the 51% they need. Or b) Make some huge concessions to the Kurds by offering them greater representation in the cabinet and accelerating the implementation of article 58 concerning the Kurds' rights in Kirkuk.

Both options are not impossible to do but the current mood indicates that the UIA is going to face a very tough task trying to work out a solution.

Update: February 14

The cracks between the various components of the UIA keep getting bigger.
Today al-Hurra quoted the head of Fadheela Party Nadeem al-Jabiri as he said:

If the new government refused to adopt our proposed charter of national rescue our party will not be among the supporters of Jafari's government…

The internal charter of the UIA had not been approved yet so there's nothing to prevent us from separating from the UIA if we choose to do so…

The charter of national rescue mentioned by al-Jabiri is basically a pledge proposed by the Fadheela Party and it stresses on forming an inclusive government that doesn't marginalize [or put redlines on] any segment of the people or the Iraqi political spectrum.
This new attitude of Fadheela seems to be another reaction to the Sadrists' opposition to giving Allawi and his bloc a role in the new government.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Iraq's new PM decided...

The UIA chooses Jafari to become the new Prime Minister.

The voting that took place a short while ago gave 64 votes to the Da'wa candidate Jafari and 63 votes to the SCIRI candidate AbdulMahdi.

Earlier observations on the conditions within the UIA predicted that each of the two candidates had ~55 secured votes leaving approximately 20 votes undecided. Those remaining 20 votes represent the Fadheela Party that until Friday had its own candidate.

Jafari had the support of the two wings of the Da'wa Party as well as that of the Sadrists while AbdulMahdi had the support of the SCIRI and the independents within the UIA.
Knowing that Jafari and AbdulMahdi got 64 and 63 votes respectively indicates a division among the members Fadheela Party over whom to support after their candidate withdrew his nomination and apparently the votes of Fadheela were split equally between Jafari and AbdulMahdi.

There is a theory that the UIA decided to make Jafari win in a compromise to avoid an internal conflict over the chairmanship of the UIA because the charter of the UIA states that chairmanship of the bloc and that of the cabinet cannot be granted to the same party, which means al-Hakeem wouldn't be able to keep his position as head of the bloc if AbdulMahdi was chosen for heading the government.

It is unclear how other parliamentary blocs are going to react to the results of this voting. Both the Kurdish alliance and the Accord Front expressed publicly more than once that they would prefer AbdulMahdi over Jafari.
The Accord Front now is part of a larger bloc that has 80 seats in the parliament after they allied with the Iraqi list and the Dialogue Front and it is believed that the latter two share the same attitude towards Jafari and AbdulMahdi.

Even though Jafari won the vote inside the UIA, he still needs to win support of the parliament by 50%+1 of the 275 votes.
The Kurds and the United Congress for National Work (the Sunni+Allawi) collectively have 133 votes and if joined by the Kurdistan Islamic Union who has 5 votes they will have a total of 138 votes which is 50% of the parliament seats which means that their votes are essential for the cabinet to be approved.

Choosing Jafari will most likely complicate the process of forming the government and longer negotiations will be needed if the UIA wants to convince the others to accept and support Jafari's cabinet.

It's worth mentioning that the Accord Front at an earlier time asked the UIA to let them take part in the voting since they (the UIA) will eventually have to get the support of other blocs for their candidate. But the UIA refused this suggestion.

As far as I know, there's no clear constitution text on what to do if the cabinet fails to win the required number of votes.
Anyway, it is still kind of early to discuss this possibility and it is better to wait and see how the rest of the blocs are going to react.

Friday, February 10, 2006

The final results made official and grants women their right share…

For the past few days Baghdad was shrouded in black in a mood that revives the holy tragedies of the Islamic history of Iraq as if there's insistence on reliving the past over and over again and especially on living in the agony of the of a past that is centuries old.

For many Iraqis, the wheel of time had stopped 14 centuries ago and it seems that it is the past not the present that is more influential in the lives and mentality of many Iraqis.

The day before Ashura I couldn't reach my workplace and the taxi driver had to turn back after the first block we faced, the driver turned to me and said "if al-Hussein whom we mourn comes back and looks at our condition, he would be mourning us".
Remembering the past and learning from its mistakes is a good thing but drowning in the sadness of the past to distract one's self from the problems of the present is not wise at all especially when you hear slogans like this one:

Every day is Ashura and every land is Kerbala…

This is one of the most common slogans repeated by Shia Muslims in Iraq nowadays and it clearly tells people to believe that their own suffering, no matter how big or tragic cannot be as big or worth caring for as al-Hussein's.
I am not against the Shia faith but I feel that religious Shia parties are exploiting the faith of the common people to keep them busy with a past that is long gone and distract them from their own troubles.

Government offices too have turned into Husseiniyat [Shia worship places] with black flags and black signs in a scene of systematic sucking up to religion.
This has also infested the security forces especially those belonging to the interior ministry, the day before Ashura I saw a convoy of some 20 vehicles of the 2nd commandos brigade all flying black flags and religious symbols. If not for the color of the vehicles, I would've thought they were pilgrims.

Anyway, thank God the day passed without adding another tragedy and went without any significant security incidents.

Life paused not only on the street level, the mourning has crept into the political life too as the largest parliamentary bloc suspended all talks and activities until the ceremonies were done with. However, religious speeches during Ashura included political signals and spoke of federalism as an earned right for the Shia and of Deba'athification as a priority that must not be subject to compromises, according to a few preachers I heard on TV.

Internal talks within the UIA to choose their candidate for heading the government were suspended and are not supposed to be resumed until Saturday.
This lack of official statements left the door open for rumors and unverifiable news reports.
For example al-Arabiya TV reported that al-Fadheela Party and the independent mass within the UIA decided to withdraw the nomination of their leaders Shahristani and al-Jabiri and are going to support AbdulMahdi in his run for office.

Al-Fadheela Party immediately responded to this report; a spokesman of the party told al-Hurra TV just half an hour ago that the former news isn't true and that al-Jabiri is still looking forward to getting the endorsement of the rest of the UIA's components to win the PM position.

Earlier today, the election commission and the electoral judicial committee announced that all objections to the final results had been overruled (as expected) and now the results are final and official which means the parliament has to hold its first session before February 25th and the parliamentary blocs can now begin with their serious negotiations.
The good news brought by the announcement was that women have secured their constitutional right in the parliament by getting even one seat more than the originally desired 69 seats which represent 25% of the 275 seats.

The Kurds, in a statement for Talabani said they'll consider the attitudes of the other blocs regarding article 58 of the constitution concerning Kirkuk as the main criterion for building future alliances.
As you may already know, the Kurds now represent the 3rd largest bloc in the parliament and not the 2nd after al-Mutlaq joined the Accord Front and Allawi in one united front with 80 seats they called "The United Congress for National Work".

Meanwhile and regarding the security situation in Anbar, it looks like that the negotiations between the tribes and the US and Iraqi authorities are progressing again after we heard reports that these talks reached a deadlock a week ago.

This afternoon sheikh Usama al-Jada'an the chief sheikh of Karabla tribes said in a TV interview that they're getting close to cut a deal with the US and Iraqi authorities; the deal includes gradual withdrawal of US forces from Anbar, freeing a certain number of Iraqi security detainees and rebuilding the police force of the province with recruits exclusively from the local population with a total of up to 11,300 men.
In return the tribes will form teams of tribal fighters to deal with al-Qaeda cells that are present inside the territories of Anbar as well as sealing the borders with Jordan, Syria and Saudi Arabia.

While foreign intruders can be seen and possibly intercepted, there's another intruder that is silent and invisible and unfortunately succeeded in passing the borders spreading fear among the people, Fayrouz has been keeping a watchful eye on this threat.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Time for a cartoon post…

I have refrained from writing about the Danish cartoons issue, not because it doesn't concern me but rather because too mush has been written about it and I didn't feel like I would be adding something new to the discussion.

However I couldn't resist commenting on some of the most unacceptable reactions by some Muslims…more precisely by some Iraqis.

We have all seen common people protesting in the streets of different countries and we heard many condemnations from governments but as far as I know, not a single Muslim government took any action, except for one…Iraq's!

We have a piece of wisdom here that says "The bird got mad at the grain field!" which as you can see means that sometimes people make stupid decisions that can harm only their own interests yet they think that by doing what they did they would harm those they're boycotting.
This saying applies to all Muslim countries in general and to our interim government in particular.
Our brilliant transportation minister Salam al-Maliki who is a Sadrist by the way announced that his ministry will suspend all projects and contracts with Denmark and Norway and said that Iraq will stop accepting any donations or offers concerning Iraq's reconstruction!
Who are they harming by doing this?
Denmark? No…they are harming no one but Iraq and Iraqis.

I give up! I have to comment on the general situation…
I swear that 90%+ of the protestors in Muslim countries have not seen the cartoons and do not know the name of the paper and when I say that I'm sure of it because I have access to the web 24/7 and I spent a really long time searching for the cartoons and couldn’t find them until a friend emailed me a link and.

You know that those cartoons were published for the 1st time months ago and we here in the Middle East have tonnes of jokes about Allah, the prophets and the angels that are way more offensive, funny and obscene than those poorly-made cartoons, yet no one ever got shot for telling one of those jokes or at least we had never seen rallies and protests against those infidel joke-tellers.

What I want to say is that I think the reactions were planned to be exaggerated this time by some Middle Eastern regimes and are not mere public reaction.
And I think Syria and Iran have the motives to trigger such reactions in order to get away from the pressures applied by the international community on those regimes.

However, I cannot claim that Muslim community is innocent for there have been outrageous reactions outside the range of Syria's or Iran's influence but again, these protests and threats are more political than religious in nature.

One last thing, even if the entire EU apologizes it won't change a thing; fanatics in our countries here had always considered the west their infidel arrogant crusader enemy and no apology no matter how big or sincere can change that.

The politics of the lambs.

The Shia Islamist, Sunni Islamist and Sunni secular, all looking to be getting along together...thanks to the lamb!
The process of forming the government here has slowed down and taken another shape; the latest meetings among the political leaders look much like meeting between tribal leaders when they try to solve a problem between their tribes.

The key is food! namely "Quzi" and "Teshreeb" and our politicians are doing a good job utilizing the effects of Quzi to push the talks forwards and reach agreements on issues that were viewed as tough obstacles…you know, people after a heavy meal of fatty lamb and rice tend to become soft and easier to convince.
Simply because a heavy fatty meal makes one try to avoid conversations that give headaches so people start looking for ending the conversation as few words as possible and perhaps-under heaviness and out of being polite to the host-even agree with things they weren't likely to agree with under normal conditions.

Also, it is part of our culture that sharing food and place strengthens the bonds among strangers and brings them closer together as if they were family.

So, it seems that feasts are going to be the shortcut that can help Iraq form a government in a shorter time than if without them.

Besides feasts, another suggestion was made to give every political trend a voice in the process.
The idea brought by Barzani-and some say by the US embassy-suggests establishing Majlis Ahl al-Hal wal Aqd which is basically a board or a "congress of the influential" where all political leaders meet to discuss different issues and work on finding solutions. This suggestion is to include even politicians who have not won seats in the parliament to avoid having any party feeling marginalized by the winning blocs.
This idea has been met by reservations from the UIA who in principal agreed to with the suggestion but with conditions like a) This congress has to be formed in accordance with the constitution, and b) Must not be able to overrule the parliament.

According to the prominent Kurdish politician Mahmoud Othman, this congress is still only a suggestion and will not necessarily become reality.
Anyway, it is interesting that for the first time we see the Accord Front, Iraqi list and Kurdish Alliance on one side while the UIA is standing alone on the other since the UIA is currently that only bloc that has reservations on this idea while all the rest expressed their support for it.

In my opinion, we should not expect any significant events before next Saturday because that's when the UIA is expected to announce their nominee for the PM position.
Until then…enjoy the smell of the lamb!

Thanks to Sooni for providing the photo.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Is it a real position swap?

A rainy weekend in Baghdad didn't stop political meetings from taking place or political statements from coming up.

Leaders of the five major blocs met again in Jafari's HQ this morning after they met at Talabani's and al-Hakeem's in the past two days.
In fact, there's little to say about these meetings which don't seem productive at the moment and I think when al-Mutlaq said these meetings are to "melt the ice" he described them in a good way.


What caught my attention recently was a statement made by the national security advisor in the interim government Mowafaq al-Rubai'I and an response to this statement from Dhafir al-Aani the spokesman of the Accord Front.

Al-Rubai'i was speaking enthusiastically about a plan to coordinate the withdrawal of MNF from Iraq with the leaders of the coalition. He said they're working on a plan to significantly reduce the number of foreign soldiers in the course of 2006 and said he expected all foreign troops to leave Iraq by the end of 2007 since "Iraqi security forces will be ready by then".

Al-Aani didn't like this statement and apparently feels that getting Iraqi troops trained and equipped isn't the main thing we need to do before the MNF can leave.
He said that "we don't want the MNF to start leaving until all militias are disbanded…".

Here I see a great change in positions from what we used to see in the past two years. And especially on the Sunni side.
None of the Shia leaders-except for the Sadr-were really interested in seeing the MNF leave soon and had been only talking about asking the MNF to leave because of pressures from the Sadrists and the Sunni Arabs.

But now we hear the same government happily announce that ending the presence of foreign troops in Iraq is near at the same time that Sunni Arab politicians began to change their tone and started to view the American military presence as a balancing factor!

What I see here is that Arab Sunni leaders have rearranged their priorities; except for a year or two after 2003 the Sunni never considered America their greatest enemy.
Their greatest enemy had always been Iran and whoever allies with her while America ranked 2nd or 3rd (that's if not viewed as an ally) and I think this is how they view things right now.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The negotiations...

For the second day in a row, Iraqi political powers have a meeting that everyone attended.
Today at Talabani's HQ in Baghdad everyone was there; Talabani, Barzani, Allawi, al-Mutlaq, al-Hakeem, al-Hashimi, Jafari and many others.
The statements that were given after this meeting were in general brief which gives an impression that these are only preparatory meetings while real talks are yet to come. But it also gives an impression that the politicians are planning to form a national unity government.
In his brief statement, Allawi said he expects a national unity government to emerge soon while Talabani said that the Kurds will not discuss details until the final results are certified.
I actually find it rather strange because everyone knows that no change is expected in the results and this certification process is a mere formality.

In the past two days there has been an escalating debate between the Accord Front and the current government; the Accord Front demanded the resignation of the interior minister and warned from civil disobedience if the government ignored this demand and today, Khalaf al-Ilayan from the Front made another demand, he said "We are asking the government to issue an order to prohibit night raids by the security forces and to include the MNF during day raids to make sure that these raids are legitimate. If the government does not fulfill this demand, we will authorize the raided districts to resist those raids".

It's worth mentioning that the Front has announced yesterday that their plans to be part of a national unity government won the support of the majority of their supporters. The Front revealed that a poll they conducted in a number of provinces with Sunni majority shown that 98% of the Front's supporters will back the plan to join a national unity government.

One last thing, the UIA were supposed to declare their choice from the new PM by today according to a former statement but this didn’t happen and it looks like this issue is going to take more time.

The Trial...

Today we watched another session of Saddam's trial and actually we have received many questions from readers about our opinion on the proceedings.
We haven't been writing on this for some time now because honestly (and this is my personal opinion only) I have lost interest in this trial because of the absolutely unjustified and needless interference from the government.

Although many of the politicians said they didn't put any pressure on the old judge, their public criticism for him and for his management of the trial suggests that there have been pressures from the government and government-affiliated powers.
I believe that the resignation of Judge Rezgar was a step backwards…
Many Iraqis want to see Saddam get humiliated by a judge who is good at yelling and cursing but I believe that the best way to give dictatorship a blow is to give Saddam a fair trial that builds the foundations of a society that runs by the law and respects human rights while serving justice.


I was thinking that if a shortage in gasoline supplies in Baghdad is worth reporting then it should also be a good idea to report that that shortage is now relatively over.
You probably already know that the government multiplied all fuel prices by 3 and in some cases by 5.
Right now the situation is like this; you go to one gas station and you find a line that is a mile long and you go to another one to see there's technically no line at all!

This is not a puzzle or something, the reason is quite simple; the former gas station sells locally produced gasoline at 40 cents/gallon while the latter sells imported gasoline at 70 cents/gallon.
So to put it simply, if you can afford to pay 70 cents for the gallon you would say that there's absolutely no problem with getting gasoline but if you can't, then you'd say that getting gasoline is a real pain in the neck.
In order to get rid of spam comments that had infected the comments section we will be using the "pending moderation" feature.
So from now on, all comments will have to wait for approval before they are displayed on the thread.
I assure you that this measure will only be used to kill the spam and we have no intention in using it to censor opinion comments.
Don't freak out when you hit "OK" and your comment doesn’t appear on the thread for it will appear once approved.
Thanks for your understanding and cooperation.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The new government...awaiting the UIA to resolve thier internal conflict.

It seems that serious negotiations among the winning blocs are yet to begin, at least this is what Iraq's political leaders are saying.
And despite the fact that Barazani came from Kurdistan to Baghdad to attend an extended meeting for all the parliamentary powers at the HQ of the SCIRI, real negotiations haven't started yet and this meeting can be considered a warm-up for the next round of talks.

Spokesman for president Talabani, Kamran Qaradaghi told al-Mashriq during a press conference yesterday that technical reasons are behind the delay, including that they are "still waiting for the results to be certified and also waiting for the UIA to announce their candidate for the PM position".
Qaradaghi also confirmed that there will be no constitutional vacuum in Iraq since the TAL is still considered valid and also because the Supreme Court has extended the mission of the interim government.

He also mentioned that the alliance of the Kurds with the UIA is likely to continue to exist in the new parliament.

Fouad Ma'soum is another prominent Kurdish politician who said that the Kurds prefer to wait until the UIA declare their candidate for the PM post and until the final results are certified before they enter any decisive negotiations with any of the other blocs and said that current talks are only for discussing generalities, not details.

The report published on al-Mada this morning pointed out that there were preliminary talks between Barazani, Talabani and Allawi in Erbil, and the meeting that was described as "important" was also attended by the American and British ambassadors.

Al-Mada reported that sources from inside the UIA told the paper that they are expecting a near agreement on nominating Aadil AbdulMahdi. But Hussein al-Shahristani, the independent member of the UIA said that he is still planning to run for office.

As a mater of fact it seems that the UIA is internally divided over this subject and it's worth mentioning that the internal charter of the UIA states that the leader of the bloc and the PM cannot be from the same component of the UIA which means that if AbdulMahdi become the PM, al-Hakeem cannot keep the leadership of the UIA since they're both from the SCIRI.

Actually it appears that an agreement has not been reached yet, on the contrary, the dispute is entering a critical stage and threatening the unity of the UIA.

Al-Hurra TV today quoted sources from the SCIRI who denied the reports that al-Hakeem is going to leave the leadership of the UIA as part of a deal to get the support of the UIA for AbdulMahdi's nomination.
Al-Hakeem himself appeared on al-Hurra today and said that the SCIRI still insists on nominating AbdulMahdi.
Also in this regard, Jafari's al-Bayina paper wrote today that al-Hakeem informed the Da'wa Party that he is willing to give them the leadership of the UIA in exchange for the PM post.

Now it is in al-Hakkem's hands to decide what to do with the UIA, by insisting on nominating AbdulMahdi and keeping his position as a leader for the bloc he is endangering the unity of his bloc especially that it is unlikely that the Da'wa and Fadheela parties will let the SCIRI get both posts.

The mysterious and interesting politician of the week was Salih al-Mutlaq who has 11 seats in the parliament. There have been contradicting reports on whether or not he is going to be part of the "United Congress for National Work" which is the name of the political body formed by the Maram powers.
According to al-Mashriq, the formal announcement of forming this new political body stressed that this new power is not aimed against any particular party and that "the door is open for everyone to join us".

One spokesman of the Accord Front included al-Mutlaq when speaking of the new body while another said that the new body consists of only the Accord Front and the Iraqi list.
Al-Mutlaq himself has been giving foggy statements about where he's standing now; he even told the media here that he is willing to ally with the UIA and especially the Sadr trend!
More interesting, the Sadrists themselves gave contradicting responses to al-Mutlaq's offer.
Some observers here think that al-Mutlaq's proposition to the UIA is actually a decoy planned to distract the UIA's attention from the actual plans of the secular and Sunni parties especially that there's a growing feeling among the public here that the Sunni and secular blocs are brewing an alliance with the Kurds (and probably the Fadheela Party too) to form the government on their own and depose the UIA.
This feeling is being fueled by statements such as the Accord Front's Dhafir al-Aani's latest controversial statement which was published on al-Sabah; al-Aani said that "the political map in Iraq is going to witness a dramatic change and the new bloc formed by the Accord Front and Iraqi list is expected to grow bigger than any other individual parliamentary bloc when another big bloc joins us".

Anyway, it seems that the SCIRI and Da'wa do have a bad feeling about the Fadheela. Today in its Op-Ed, al-Bayina paper of the Da'wa directed harsh criticism at Fadheela's leader al-Jabiri and accused him of glorifying the insurgency and of becoming al-Mutlaq's new friend and the author demanded an apology from al-Jabiri who was nearly called a traitor. I believe this language is not normally used among partners in the same bloc!

Aside from the politics fever, Iraq is facing another great challenge; bird flu is standing at the borders now after at least two deaths have been confirmed in Kurdistan.