This afternoon there was a discussion on a program at the new Iraqi satellite TV channel, Al-Fayhaa, and they interviewed the state minister for provinces affairs, Mr. Waa’il Abdul Lateef. It’s worth mentioning that this newborn channel (which is run by Basrawis and based in the UAE) is attracting big audience in Iraq although the transmission goes only for few hours every day. This is mainly due to the daring nature of its programs and the freedom provided for the participants (mainly Iraqis calling from inside and especially from the south) to voice their opinions in the channel’s discussion programs. The people running this channel are obviously open minded with a clear patriot spirit along with high level of objectivity.
The discussion in today’s program was about the situation in Najaf and related events in other Iraqi cities and the calls coming from inside Iraq were a lot more telling and informative than most news reports we get from other channels and the phone calls together with information provided by the minister clarified many points that were considered dark spots for the public opinion. For example, the reason why people in Sistani’s office refused to receive the keys of the shrine was because Sistani’s office found out that many ancient artifacts were stolen from the shrine, and they refused to take responsibility of the shrine until the missing pieces are returned. It’s well known, and as the minister stated that the Mehdi army (or people saying that they are members of Mehdi army as the minister said) stole many priceless ancient artifacts from the safes inside the shrine, as well as huge amounts of cash.
Another reason that I think is behind Sistani’s decision is that Sistani wants the government to take responsibility for protecting the shrine while Muqtada’s assistants insist that they (Mehdi Army) do that or that an armed group that belongs to the Hawza should be formed to carry out this job. It’s obvious that Muqtada want the treasure to remain under his custody and Sistani knows that if it’s left in the hands of the Hawza, Sadr’s followers would terrorize them and get control again, this time indirectly.
Back to the discussion, the minister asked his host to broad cast some pictures from the latest press conference for the minister of defense where he showed pictures for guns and ammunition boxes (made in Iran) smuggled to Iraq and confiscated by the IP and the ING. With pictures for some Arab and non-Arab fighters. The minister confirmed also that those foreign fighters together with gun men from Muqtada’s militias released hundreds of criminals and suspects from some prisons in Iraqi southern cities and supplied them with guns and money to use them as paid fighters.
The host and many of the Iraqis who participated in the discussion showed their impatience with the “double standards of the government” and the host was very direct and forward in his questions especially when he criticized the “awkward attitude” of the government in managing the crisis in Najaf and the “shy statements” for some of the high officials in the governments saying that they tend not to call things with their real names using flexible statements when firm ones are needed and that they hide whenever troubles happen.
The host asked the minister about the credibility of some news reports that were talking about Iyad Allawi planning or threatening to resign. The minister confirmed that these reports are far from being true and that Allawi is determined to continue with his mission to the end. Yet he (the minister) agreed that there are some parties in the government that are using double standards when dealing with Sadr, and he named the Islamic parties on both sides. He said, “It’s a shame that we are still appeasing terrorists when we should have learned something from the past. It’s this kind of appeasement that made someone like Saddam control Iraq for 35 years and claim himself as the only leader and the legendary hero that Iraq cannot afford to lose”.
It’s also worth mentioning that the “House of She’at” is calling for a general strike tomorrow as a sign of protest against the “bombings and military operations in Najaf”. I’m not sure how many people will respond to this call but I’m sure it’s not going to be a major one.
The host, together with many Iraqis who called, showed disappointment in the government’s performance. The host went as far as saying, “We understand that people of Najaf and Basra are afraid to speak their minds and oppose Sadr in public fearing revenge from his followers, but are you, officials of the government afraid of him too? Or are you afraid of Iran? I say this because most Iraqis seem to think that Iran is moving Sadr behind the scene”. Then he added, “When are you going to get the minister of defense and the minister of interior out of the fridge? When are they going to do their job?”
In the end, and despite all the worries and fears, I felt optimistic when I saw a TV channel and many Iraqis support their government’s effort to go on with the democratic process, yet they were so critical of the way it (the government) has been dealing with Sadr’s issue. There’s a sense of enormous impatience among the majority of Iraqis especially those who live in areas were Mehdi Army is functioning.