Sunday, April 30, 2006

No one wants the interior ministry now!

When (Jawad) Noori al-Maliki appeared as a strong candidate for becoming Iraq's new PM we wrote 'Jawad who?' because we knew very little about the man's background, qualifications or visions for Iraq and we still know little until this moment and it really came as a surprise to us (in not a bad way) that he was able to win the support of the US and UK a well as the satisfaction of other parliamentary blocs or at least their conditional acceptance.

It is fair to say that his nomination did bring many positive changes in the political situation in Iraq and he was able to calm the tense atmosphere between the blocs that used to exchange all kinds of nasty accusations weeks ago, he was able to calm this tension with his announced plans for disbanding the militias and choosing nonsectarian, independent people for filling the defense and interior posts, actually it's sort of funny that blocs that used to fight for the interior ministry are now trying to avoid this responsibility and are running away from presenting their nominees for this ministry!

I can understand this because now these blocs realize that being in charge of security will mean having to confront the militias sooner rather than later and this confrontation isn't expected at all to be an easy one.
In fact at the moment it seems that the two security ministries that were the core of the disputes between the different blocs in the parliament are going to be among the first to be decided and will not require more than acceptable nominee(s) from the UIA and this doesn’t appear to be a potential source of disagreements.

I will try to stay cautiously optimistic, because yes, there are several positive sign indicating that the political process is about to get through the neck of the bottle but I also believe that one man cannot change a lot by himself unless the others give a hand and I hope Maliki is going to learn from the mistakes of his predecessors and invest this knowledge for Iraq's interest and his own.

In a very interesting development, it seems that a woman finally has a chance to assume a powerful position in the cabinet; Salih al-Mutlaq the leader of the other secular bloc in the parliament (11 seats) told al-Sharq al-Awsat that he supports giving one of the deputy PM posts to a woman, namely Safiya al-Suhail from the Iraqi list (Check out this post about her background from Gateway Pundit) explaining that "Safiya al-Suhail is more competent than many of the men in the parliament…".
The reason why I think al-Suhail has a good chance is because one of the two deputy PM posts is the share of her bloc, so if she gets the support of the bloc and if Allawi decides to find another place for himself we might be able to see a woman in one of the most powerful places in the government, but of course this also would need that Islamists in large blocs do not vote against her, and here I think they will hesitate to vote against her for fear from being accused of discrimination.

The other factor that might clear the way for al-Suhail towards this office is that Allawi will probably get an equally important office; right now there are talks about ongoing negotiations to redraw the outlines of the 'political council for national security' which we talked about several times in entries prior to the meeting of the parliament. The negotiations include appointing Allawi as head of this council which-if formed-will become the top decision-making entity when it comes to security.

Anyway, most politicians predict it won't take more than a week or ten days to present the formation of the cabinet; I do not trust what their instinct tells them but I trust mine and what I hear and see tells me they could be right this time.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Disbanding the militias.

Most people agree that one of the most critical and complicated challenges our new government will have to deal with is the issue of the militias that are affecting the life of Iraqis on daily basis and are arguably representing the main security breach, and I also believe that these militias have become a burden even on their political affiliates who are becoming less and less in control of the militias especially on crisis times.

Everyone is calling for disbanding these militias and to integrate them into government security forces, but the facts on the ground are decided by a number of factors that makes this proposed dismantling and integration process more complex than it may appear for the first time.

The first factor is the status of the government security forces which are not ready yet to handle the security demands and this fact makes some trends in Iraq consider the presence of these militias necessary for passing this stage and this factor was recognized by the new PM himself when wondered how would he ask people to disarm when the government is not yet able to provide security; this may seem reasonable for the people who are part of-or close to-these militias but I as a citizen who doesn't carry a weapon disagree with this take because in fact what I see here is that security is breached mostly by those armed groups whose arms do not seem defensive to me at all.
I can never find justifications for possessing mortars, missiles or land mines, these are not defensive weapons and I can only see them being used in disrupting security in the attacks that kill civilians everyday in Iraq.

This is why I see that using the inability of the government forces to provide security as a pretext for keeping militias is unacceptable at all because as the official forces grow, we see that militias grow simultaneously and not the other way around thus I'm cautious of statements that use this factor to justify keeping the militias intact.

The second factor that might obstruct the process is the difference in opinions about the mechanism of integration; while some call for integrating militias into the official security forces (an option backed by Ayatollah Sistani) we hear other parties that insist on avoiding this route and suggest integrating them into the civil institutions.
I personally prefer the second mechanism because if members of these militias became part of the security forces they will certainly not contribute to stability and will only do more harm than good to the reputation of the police and army because a conflict in loyalties will be inevitable in my opinion.

The other factor that needs to be dealt with is the rejection of some parties to the whole idea; this includes groups like the Mehdi militia who describe themselves as an "ideological army" and not a militia. Actually I do not know where this classification came from and I view it as a mere linguistic maneuver that changes nothing from the facts on the ground. The other group is the militias affiliated with al-Qaeda and these are involved in major crimes and had burned the ships behind them so to speak.
This is why I think a major confrontation with such groups is not unlikely in the near future especially if the disarming is to be proceeded with soon.

The new government has a good chance that must be seized and invested especially that the MNF shares the same interest in getting rid of these militias since all withdrawal plans of the MNF are so connected to the level of stability that is inversely proportional to the power of the militias.

The biggest challenge will be in Baghdad and surrounding suburbs but good results can be achieved through a well studied, long-term plan that focuses on cordoning and searching districts one at a time, activating the anti-terror legislations to arrest and prosecute everyone that possesses unlicensed weaponry. And it would be a good idea to offer a suitable deadline for voluntary disarmament; this measure can probably be tested first with personnel of the former army, security forces and republican guards as most of these still have weapons or are aware of the whereabouts of weapon caches. These people still receive payments from the government as a replacement of the salaries they used to get, so these payments can be used in a weapons-for-money kind of trade, this way they can be told to hand over their weapons or at least sign an agreement to cooperate with forces that will do future searches.

When the deadline expires, I suggest dividing Baghdad into sectors and thoroughly search one sector at a time and announce that everyone found possessing illegal weapons will be detained and prosecuted under the anti-terrorism laws; I think one professionally-conducted practice like this (with an announced plan for more to come and publicly announced results) will motivate other districts to come forward and give up their weapons.

This mission will require a lot of planning, time, effort and money to accomplish but it is of top requirement for building stability and rule of law and can prepare the atmosphere for the next steps of building the institutions of the nation.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

We talked a lot about the government, but what about the opposition?

I once read someone saying that although Iraqis went through democratic practices they are yet to establish democratic governance. I don't recall how I reacted first to this statement but I guess I felt a bit offended at that time, but later I began to see a lot of truth in these words…

It is fundamental that for a healthy democracy to function it requires two basic elements, these are a democratically elected government and an active, responsible and constructive opposition and so far, Iraq has more or less fulfilled only the first element but not the second.

Opposition is normally practiced by either the representatives of the parties that were less fortunate in the election or directly by the voters themselves and this includes those who voted for both the ruling party and the parties that ended up in the opposition.

Although there's a growing role for civil society organizations and groups in Iraq in making the voice of the people heard, we cannot count on the people for taking their role in the opposition for a number of reasons the first of which is fear and intimidation and the last is not the fact that the whole idea of democracy is totally new to us and it will take years before our people absorb its basic concepts.
And also with a unity government you cannot count on the non-homogenous coalition of ruling parties for doing the job of the opposition as each party is bound by the big deal through which this kind of government is to be formed.

But it is not an option to let the government act as it likes without checks and balances
Thus in this particular case it becomes the responsibility of the more liberal parties to stay out of the government and function as opposition and be the watchdog we need to make sure the government is functioning as it should be and we must find a mechanism through which malpractice can be corrected without having to wait for 4 years to elect a new government.

I am not expecting any of the parties that get their power from their corresponding sect or ethnic group to become the opposition, actually such parties are preferred to be part of the government at this stage because marginalizing any of them can lead to catastrophic outcomes; it's the sectarian and ethnic identities of such parties that made a unity government a necessity but actually I think a name like 'civil war-preventing government' is more reflective of the case than a 'unity government' because let's face it, Sunni, Shia and Kurds will not be suddenly united if they formed a government together but it's more accurate to say that forming this kind of government can help stop the country from falling into civil war.

I believe the best candidate for this job right now will be the Iraqi list which I personally had voted for as my representative in the parliament and I would rather see my representatives be strong in the opposition rather than se them weak in a government formed to preserve sectarian and ethnic balances, but I do not want them to repeat the experience of inactive opposition they exhibited during the past interim government through 2005; I hope to see the kind of opposition that adds to the right and expose the wrong and protect the rights of all the people and not only the segments that gave them their votes.

Moreover, I tend to view this as a good opportunity for secular, nonsectarian trends like Allawi's to gain trust and expand their public base, they cannot make huge achievements by working in a government like the one Iraq's about to have, yet they can gain more power for the more secular, liberal trends by exposing the disadvantages of the governance system we are going to have for the next 4 years.
This applies also to other liberal and secular parties including those that did not win seats in the parliament. I hope they move to join forces in a constructive opposition and seize the chance produced by the current situation to improve their positions; the majority of voters gave their votes to sectarian blocs out of fear from being overshadowed by rival groups but the same voters are frustrated by the incompetence of their representatives and their inevitable inability to bring the magical solutions many voters were dreaming of and this makes this an excellent opportunity for the liberals to present themselves to the voters as an alternative.

I realize that a lot of what I said above is regarded commonsense for many of you who live under real, well-established democracies but in a country like Iraq, in a nation struggling to find its way to democracy, these arguments-and more-need to be made.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Soccer, a Jewish conspiracy!

Wondering what Muqtada thinks of soccer?
Here's the answer in his own words. (Right click then 'save target as' to download, opens with real media player).

No, I wasn't smoking anything when I translated the video; this is how the "nationalist young cleric" normally speaks!


"Actually my father-bless his soul-did not spare an effort in this regard but it wasn't only him who forbid these things so to speak but it's sharia in general that forbids these things that distract worshippers from their worshipping and distract people from remembering Allah.

Habibi the west made things for us that distract us from our completion, uh, what did it put for us? Made us run after a ball habibi…that is like 'eat gargary'* habibi.
What does it mean to see a man, big tall and broad and…Muslim, runs after a ball?

Habibi, you, er, the goal that is the, the 'GOAl' as they say, if you want to run after it, run after a high goal habibi, go you behind high goals that complete you, not those that lower you. Run after a goal, put it in your mind; everyone draws a road for himself to take and to reach for the satisfaction of almighty Allah.
This is one, the second thing and more important from that; we find that the west, and especially Israel…er, habibi the Jews, have you seen them play football? Ever seen them indulge in games like other indulge and the Arabs indulge?

They left us to waste time of football and other things while they left it…
Ever heard the Israeli team, something be upon it, damn be upon it, reached for example or took the world-cup? Or even America habibi! Except for some other games…
They let us waste time on it…singing, football, and and and smoking and stuff and satellites in forbidden things are used and so on; they left us to do forbidden things and they mostly turned to scientific things and thingy things.

Why habibi? Are they better than us? No, we are better than them.

This is possible, more than that, to another point, there are games favored by the religion, do them, I mean, must you run after a ball!? Why not go swimming? Swimming is encouraged, horse riding, fencing, so and so, these are games you can indulge yourself in; just like that distracts, these distract as well.
Running! Run! Sport! Move your legs move your head move stuff, all organs move. Why everyone runs after a ball habibi?

These are mentalistic things that can be done, and those are non-mentalistic things that cannot be done…."

*gargary is some kind of local lollipops shaped like animals.

Monday, April 24, 2006

At least this time there's a deadline.

The political atmosphere was fluctuant in Baghdad today just like the weather was, from sunny to dusty to rainy except that the political one is still carrying heavy clouds that I hope these will be gone soon and take away the violence with them.

After the 128-day long fighting over the top government posts, another political fighting has begun over the rest of the cabinet posts but the only good difference this time is that the PM has a definite deadline of one month to present the final formation.
Preparations began yesterday with meetings in Erbil and Baghdad; in Erbil Talabani and Masoud Barzani met with Khalil Zad to discuss the next stage and during this mini summit, Talabani sent an indirect message to the blocs that did not get a share of the 7 posts were distributed on Saturday alluding to the willingness to see these blocs have a role in the cabinet.

This message was obviously addressing the Accord Front of Salih al-Mutlaq who publicly expressed his contempt with the process through refusing to give votes during the parliament's session and also to the Iraqi list of Allawi whose leaders (Allawi and Yawir) were absent on Saturday and authorized their fellow member of the list Mehdi al-Hafidh to negotiate with other blocs which indicates that this bloc is not serious about being part of the government and I think will accept a role only if granted the desired posts which are believed to include deputy PM for Allawi, defense minister for Hachim (former speaker of the National Assembly) and two public service ministries, and members of the bloc expressed that giving the deputy PM post to Allawi will prove that the distribution was not along sectarian and ethnic lines.

But the question here is; at whose expense this is going to happen, the Kurds? Or the Sunni? Or maybe they will resort to appointing 4 deputies to the PM instead of 2 like some suggest; one for each of the Kurds, Sunni, Allawi and al-Mutlaq?

The disputes are not only limited to the space between the blocs but also moved to the inside among members of the same bloc and this gets more pronounced in bigger, multi-party blocs to be the toughest inside the UIA according to people I talked to who are close to some of the blocs. And we've heard statements from some parties within the UIA saying they are looking forward to keeping the ministries they filled under Jafari's government, for example Fadheela Party wants to keep the oil ministry while the Sadrists want to keep the public service ministries they held like the education, transportation and health ministries and in general the UIA insists on getting at least one of the two security ministries (defense and interior) saying that this point is nonnegotiable, and here comes the name of Qasim Dawood as the most likely candidate. New Sabah has a good report on this topic.

Another dispute is expected to rise between the Sunni and Kurds, this time over the foreign ministry which the Kurds want to keep while the Sunni Arabs think of it as a key post through which they can bring Iraq back to the Arab medium which is regarded by the Sunni Arabs as their strategic depth.
I also got to hear that Adnan al-Dulaimi is upset about not personally getting a presidential post…looking at all these points that need to be resolved I tend to believe that forming the cabinet will take the entire 30-day deadline and not 10 days like some politicians expect.

Meanwhile, seven car-bombs struck in Baghdad today and I noticed that they all targeted police patrols and some vital state locations and not marketplaces or mosques; some suggest that this is the usual violence that accompanies every session of Saddam's trial but I see that these attacks and their nature (non suicidal) represent a message of dissatisfaction with the shape of the new government (and I'm not accusing the political parties here) and probably this is why they waited for one day to send this message at the first weekday after the weekend to make it clear that this was directed against the government.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Iraq's parliament meets.

(3:30 pm)

-The session as going to begin at any moment now.

-A member of the parliament said there's a technical problem with the A/C system in the convention center that is causing the delay. The session was planned to begin at 3 pm.

-Official spokesmen of political blocs sent written notes to the UIA in approval of the nomination of Jawad al-Maliki for PM according to UIA member Hasan al-Sineed.

-Members of the parliament are entering the convention hall and I can see that Ambassador Khalil Zad is here too.

(3:40 pm)

-The atmosphere looks friendly and Jafari is taking a tour greeting, hugging and shaking hands with many of the top politicians as well as the American ambassador.

-The speaker of parliament by age Adnan al-Pachachi prepares to announce the beginning of the session.

(3:50 pm)

-Adnan al-Pachachi orders bodyguards of all MPs out and summons all MPs who had not been sworn in during the first session to repeat the oath.

(3:55 pm)

-Pachachi opens the session and says choosing speaker of parliament and his two deputies will be through direct secret voting.
He asks for nomination to be submitted in a written note and says the names on nominees shall be announced in 15 minutes.

(3:57 pm)

-Someone surprises the parliament by nominating Salih al-Mutlaq for speaker of parliament but al-Mutlaq stands up and syas he "does not wish to be part of a sectarian distribution of governemnt posts" and withdraws the nomination.

(4:05 pm)

-Voting papers are distributed to the 266 present members of parliament.

(4:08 pm)

-Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, the only nominee for speaker of parliament-upon request by some MPs-introduces himself and gives a short biography; he's a medical doctor, served in the military and ranked up to Major in the former army, thrown in prison by Saddam for opposing the Iraq-Iran war, has good ties with the Islamic Kurdistani movement, sentenced for death under Saddam's regime but the sentence was changed to 15 years in prison (through paying bribes as al-Mashhadani admits).
I have to admit it, the guy has a history in struggling against Saddam and enjoys a good sense of humor!

(4:30 pm)

-Counting the votes showed that al-Mashhadani won the post of speaker of parliament by 159 votes out of 256 actual voters with 97 papers left empty.

(4:50 pm)

-Nominee of the UIA sheikh Khalid al-Atiya for 1st deputy speaker of parliament gives a short biography Studied religion in Najaf, arrested three times under Saddam's regime, degrees in literature from Cairo and Lebanon, lectured in Oxford University as head of the Islamic studies institution 2000-2004.

-Aarif Tayfour nominee of the Kurdish Alliance for 2nd deputy speaker of parliament also introduced himself to the parliament, a lawyer and a leading figure of the KDP, fought the Ba'ath regime since 1973, escaped Iraq and stayed out for many years and returned after the 1991 uprising.

(5:20 pm)

-The two deputies won the necessary votes and Pachachi hands over the leadership of the parliament to the new speaker and deputies.
Mahmoud al-Mashhadani gives a short speech and asks the blocs to submit their nominnees for the presidency council "in one package".

The only slate submitted is that of Talabani for president and Aadil abdul Mahdi and Tariq al-Hashimi for deputies.

(5:50 pm)

-Some important points from Mashhadani's speech:

1-We will not let sectarianism lead the people of Iraq to internal fighting.
2-Consitution is the reference but this constitution is amendable and subject for improvement when necessary (indicates a desire to amend some articles).
3-We will not allow the marginalization of any group or segment of the people.
4-The legislative authority will not be an obstacle in the face of the executive authority but rather a watching eye.
5- Building and reforming the armed forces on basis of loyalty to the nation.

-Some objections to the speech:

1-Secretary of the communist party objected the use of words like "cutting the hands and tongues of aggressors" saying that "there shall be only rule of law in Iraq". This objection was applauded by most Mps but al-Mashhadani explained that he used those words only as a metaphor.
2-A Kurdish MP complained from the speech of Mashhadani which did not include the terms "democratic and federal united Iraq".

(6:00 pm)

-Talabani and his two deputies have won the vote by 198 votes out of a total of 255 actual votes with 57 papers left empty.
Talabani, Abdul Mahdi and al-Hashimi sworn in as members of the new presidency council of Iraq for a full 4 year term.
Talabani prepares to give a speech.

(6:10 pm)

-Talabani thanks the forces of the liberation in his speech and officially annouces Noori Kamil al-Ali (aka Jawad al-Maliki) as the nominee for new PM of Iraq.
Talabani also thanked Jafari for ending the deadlock and asks him to give a speech.

(6:20 pm)

-Session adjourned to an undisclosed date and thus voting on the PM is also not taking place today.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Jawad who?

If you listened to what our top politicians said in their press conference yesterday you'd first get a feeling that a solution for the government-formation crisis is imminent, but taking some time to think about the origins of the crisis makes me hesitant to turn that feeling into belief.

As you might already know, Jafari declared that he is willing step aside if the UIA made the call and now the hot candidates for filing the PM post are Jawad al-Maliki and Ali al-Adeeb who are members of Jafari's Dawa Party and the strange thing is that so far, none of the blocs that opposed Jafari's nomination commented in any way on the new candidates although there's less than 24 hours left before the parliament is to convene again.

I'm asking myself here, why should we expect Jafari's opponents to agree on al-Adeeb or al-Maliki? I mean the opposition to Jafari was originally based on disagreeing with his attitudes and on the accusations of being sectarian, incompetent and corrupt. And if that is how the head of the Dawa Party is viewed then it is also expected that other members of the same party are viewed in no better way especially that these members had been showing unimpressive attitudes in their statements over the time we knew them.

As a matter of fact, I see that no logical reason can make the Kurds, Sunni and secular blocs accept the new candidates and it actually confuses me that these blocs have remained silent except for brief optimistic remarks as if the problem was personal with Jafari and not with his attitudes which are naturally expected to be shared by his party members.

It seems now that deals are made and agreements are reached on all of the top nine posts except for one president-deputy post which both Tariq al-Hashimi and Ayad Allawi are running for and I expect this issue to be resolved soon and Allawi will most likely withdraw his nomination and probably move to nominate himself for deputy PM which is a post he can can easily get and be more effective at.

However, the question remains that; will the real problem be solved by this agreement on the top posts?

I guess not because if any of the two new candidates gets to be the new PM, Iraq will–in my opinion-continue to descend for the next four years in the same way it's been doing since the interim government was installed last year. And after all, the UIA's decision to replace Jafari with al-Adeeb or al-Maliki is a solution designed for preserving the brittle unity of the UIA and not for the creation of a unity government because they know very well that the rest of blocs were hoping to see Abdul Mahdi replace Jafari and maybe the UIA is twisting arms with this new nomination and betting on splitting the lines of the anti-Jafari mass thinking those would not be willing to prolong the deadlock by refusing the new candidates.

Will we see a surprise in tomorrow's session? Will the deadlock remain? Could it be that the Kurds, Sunni and secular blocs are just trying to trick the UIA into approving a presidency council and get the dispute to the parliament to overthrow the UIA's candidate(s) and force their own candidate?
This is what we'll find out tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Kill us, but you won't enslave us.

Last week we stopped writing for a while and we apologized to our readers saying that we lost a close friend but we didn't want to give more details as we were overwhelmed by an exceptional situation and a huge shock. We also were afraid from writing more about this subject for security concerns but now I think I must share this with you as it's part of the pain and suffering my nation is going through.

Last week our little and peaceful family was struck by the tragic loss of one of its members in a savage criminal act of assassination. The member we lost was my sister's husband who lived with their two little children in our house.
He was a brilliant young doctor with a whole future awaiting him, the couple were the top graduates in their branch of specialty. They had to travel abroad to get their degrees and the war started while they were there but months after Saddam fallen they decided to come back to help rebuild the country and serve their people.
We welcomed them with all love and care, we would sit and talk everyday about our hopes and dreams for a better future for the new generation and for their two little children. We realized that time is needed before they could have a secure and prosperous life and we were satisfied with the little we could make because we believed in the future.

He was not affiliated with any political party or movement and spent all his time working at the hospital or studying at home and he was dreaming of building a medical center for his specialty to serve the poor who cannot afford going to expensive private clinics.
We didn't know or anticipate that cruel times were waiting for a chance to assassinate the dream and kill the future.

It was the day he was celebrating the opening of a foundation that was going to offer essential services to the poor but the criminals were waiting for him to end his life with their evil bullets and to stab our family deep in the heart.

Grief and pain is killing me everyday as I hold my dear nephews, my sister is shocked beyond words while my parents are dead worried about the rest of us.
We are trying hard to close the wound, summon our patience and protect those still alive while we look forward to the future that we hope can bring peace for us.

The terrorists and criminals are targeting all elements of life and they target anyone who wants to do something good for this country…They think by assassinating one of us they could deter us from going forward but will never succeed, they can delay us for years but we will never go back and abandon our dream.
We have vowed to follow the steps of our true martyrs and we will raise the new generation to continue the march, these children of today are the hope and the future.

What a difference between those who work to preserve life and those who work to end it…it's terrorism and crime and there are no other words to describe these acts.
They will keep trying to steal life from us and we will keep fighting back and we will keep exposing them but not with bullets and swords, we never carried arms and we will never do because we are not afraid and because we are not weak unlike those cowards who know no language but that of treason.
April will always be there to remind us of the sacrifice and remind us of the dream we fight for.

My God keep safe the Iraqis and their friends who stand with them in their noble cause, peace and prosperity may seem far away but we will get there and I hope our sacrifices be a bridge to a better world.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Another "a few days" requested, more obstacles emerge.

A few more days they asked for which they claim are necessary to complete the negotiations but in fact it looks like yesterday added new problems in addition to the already existing deadlock represented by nominating a new PM and it seems that creating problems has become a trait of the political blocs in a sequence of reactions that make accordance seem far from reach at this point.

The new problem emerged as the UIA rejected the Accord Front nomination of Tariq al-Hashimi for speaker of parliament without stating why and so did the Accord Front by rejecting the Iraqi List's nomination of Allawi for vice president. In the latter case the rejection was made for probably power-related reasons because the Accord Front would not let the two deputy posts go to two men from other blocs, thus they presented their candidate Adnan al-Dulaimi.
Four months after the elections and the only single post out of the top nine that has been agreed upon is the president's which no one is running for except Talabani and even this post is threatened by a possible reactionary objection that can emerge at any minute.
While for the remaining 8 posts, the most likely candidates are:

For vice president (2):
Ayad Allawi and Hachim al-Hasani from the Iraqi list, Salih al-Mutlac from the Dialogue Front (whose brother's body was found today after being kidnapped two weeks ago), Adnan al-Dulaimi and Mahmoud al-Mashhadani from the Accord Front and Aadil Abdul Mahdi from the UIA.

For deputy speaker of parliament (2):
Fouad Ma'soum and Aarif Tayfour from the Kurdish Alliance and Hussein al-Shahristani and Humam Hammoudi from the UIA.

For deputy prime minister (2):
Barham Salih, Noori Shawees and Aazad Berwari from the Kurdish Alliance, Mehdi al-Hafidh from the Iraqi list and Khalaf al-Ilayan from the Accord Front.

For speaker of parliament: Tariq al-Hashimi, rejected by the UIA. (Also had his brother assassinated last week and I'm afraid these two assassinations will have a negative effect on the process).

For Prime minister: Well, you know the story.

Yesterday was a long day and carried many signs for a long stalemate; until late evening Jafari was saying he accepted to step aside in return for withdrawing Abdul Mahdi's nomination but he changed hi mind later and didn't even wait for the morning to make the announcement which given an idea of the state of restlessness and impatience.

A leading figure in the UIA on condition of anonymity confirmed the above news to al-Sharq al-Awsat putting the blame on the Dawa Party for this political crisis, but I personally think that all the blocs are to blame for it.
The irresponsible attitude they're showing leads to the conclusion that reaching a solution and the one big deal that covers all nine top posts will be obstructed by objections on the smaller details. This frustrating situation pushed some politicians to seek and speak of emergency solution plans like the 'National rescue government' reportedly proposed by al-Hakeem that speaks basically of forming a new interim government where Abdul Mahdi becomes prime minister for one year to be followed by new general elections to elect a new parliament.
Another alternative was proposed by Ayad al-Samerra'i member of the Accord Front and spokesman of 'Maram'. This one suggests that the current "political paralysis may push the Kurds, Iraqi list, Accord and Dialogue fronts and whoever wants to join us from the UIA to work out a solution to get out of this crisis" obviously alluding to his bloc's willingness to work with the SCIRI and other UIA members who oppose Jafari but not with the Dawa or the Sadrists.

The few days they asked for are not a lot of time, yet a few days can suffice if the will to reach a solution exists among the blocs and this is the question that Iraqis are concerned about right now.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Breaking the deadlock, or approaching a new one?

The political situation is still an utter mess with the blocs themselves not knowing what they're doing or what they want…well, maybe some of them do but in general they're all basing their movements on reactions rather than a clear work plan.

Less than 24 hours before the parliament is scheduled to convene again and there's no agreement on the top 9 government posts and I think the chances for resuming the session is hardly around 50% that's if and only if the blocs present an agreeable list of 6 candidates president, chairmanship of the parliament and their deputies.
The premiership as you already know is another whole story; some parties within the UIA still insist that Jafari is the only candidate for this post while others leaked news about a deal to replace Jafari with another candidate also from the Dawa Party and here the names are either Jawad al-Maliki or Ali al-Adeeb and both of them have no better chances than Jafari had in gaining acceptance from other blocs and the official nomination of either one will probably move the process back to the first square and will make future negotiations even harder than what we've been seeing for the past 4 months.

Just now I heard from al-Arabiya news that the blocs failed to agree on the presidency council because of the names that emerged as candidates for the deputies posts; the names included Salih al-Mutlaq, two members from the Accord Front and surprisingly Ayad Allawi and Aadil Abdul Mahdi and these latter two were unexpected (and to a certain degree not preferred) to come here because Allawi had been long expected (and wanted) to become deputy PM while seeing Adul Mahdi's name here indicates that he isn't considering rerunning for premiership which supports the possibility of nominating someone from the Dawa Party and this can bring a deadlock even worse that what we already have; al-Maliki and al-Adeeb are far less accepted than Jafari.

Schools and universities told their students today not to come tomorrow and there are unconfirmed news that a daytime curfew will be imposed tomorrow to provide security during the meeting of the parliament, that's if they are going to meet.
The number of agreements that must be reached before the parliament can convene varies from one statement to another; some say that at least the presidency and parliament chairmanship must be decided today before going to the parliament and if this is the case the session will most likely be postponed, while other officials say that agreeing on the chairmanship alone is enough and the presidency can be decided tomorrow or in a later session.
Regardless of which threshold is the actual one, none has been reached as of now and no deal of any sort has been announced in this regard.

This is how things inside the 'green zone' look like but outside its walls or out in the 'red zone' like many call it now the concerns are different, mostly staying alive is what people care about…
The security situation had been steadily deteriorating since after the elections and the Samarra mosque bombing and Baghdad has become more dangerous a place than it used to be.
Makeshift barricades that block entrances and inner streets are now a common sight all over Baghdad, and these are part of protection plans implemented by the so called 'popular teams' or 'neighborhood watch teams' but in fact these teams are not so popular or people-based as they consist of trends that reflect the demographics of any given district; in one neighborhood the teams are led by the Mehdi militias while in others by former Ba'athists.
These protection plans in addition to street blocks include putting more lights on the streets and in some neighborhoods you find fluorescent lights fixed on electricity and phone posts in front of each house. The expenses for this extra lighting is collected from the residents and the lights depend on private generators for electricity instead of the national grid that provides only 4 hours of power a day.
The plans also include night patrols and checkpoint that usually appear after sunset and are manned by young guys mostly under 25 who walk around the blocks or sit at crossroads for a few hours beyond midnight.
In some neighborhoods you'll be asked to either take duties in these patrols or pay 10,000 dinars each month "to support the watch teams" and the number rises to 15,000 in areas dominated by the Mehdi militias.

I personally do not feel safer with these teams around me because they represent yet another form in which the phenomenon of militias is being rooted but people here consider it a better alternative for the poor performance of the police and other interior ministry forces. And of course we frequently hear about clashes caused in many cases by misunderstanding between locals and government forces at night; after the people were told not to obey the police unless accompanied by the army or the MNF during night raids, those watch teams became suspicious of police patrol after night falls and they would set off alarms that are usually false about a suspected raid by the interior ministry commandoes.
Many such clashes took place recently especially at Aadhamiya, Hay al-Aamil and al-Doura and people tell contradicting rumors about the casualties but all indicate that large battles have happened.

Baghdad's residents are managing their daily life with great difficulty and each delay in forming the government makes the situation even tenser and people more worried and people of course have different attitudes; there are always those who expect the worst to come and there are those who still have hope that this mess must reach an end, however they all agree that the situation now is bad by all standards and the accusation fingers mostly point at politicians who are being blamed for this exacerbating crisis.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Sorry for disappearing without leaving a note, but we suddenly found ourselves dealing with the totally unexpected loss of a close friend.

Thanks to all of you who sent emails asking about us and I apologize for not answering them all. We will be back in a few days.

Friday, April 07, 2006

The reason why they chose 'Buratha'.

A new massacre has struck Baghdad when three suicide bombers attacked the Buratha mosque in Baghdad this afternoon. "More than 70 people were killed and more than 150 were injured" a doctor from Baghdad's medical city told me in a phone call.

A closer look at the targeted mosque makes me think that the ramifications of this massacre can possibly be much worse than the immediate death and pain this terror attack brought, the Buratha mosque is not an ordinary mosque, it has a special religious value for Shia Iraqis as it's thought to be one of the places where Imam Ali stayed and prayed. But that's not the most important thing because this mosque is of considerable political significance, the preacher in this mosque is Jalal Addin al-Sagheer, a cleric from the SCIRI who was the first SCIRI member to publicly urge Ibrahim al-Jafari to withdraw his nomination for office.
This mosque is one of the headquarters of the SCIRI and its clerical wing in Baghdad, even that Abdul Aziz al-Hakeem's son Ammar al-Hakkem preaches occasionally in this mosque when sheikh Jalal is not available.

A military confrontation between the Sadr militias and the American (and possibly Iraqi) army is imminent and it's the Sadrists themselves who are pushing in this direction and preparing their forces for a battle they want to have to disrupt the political process and drag Iraq into an irreversible state of civil war.
There are powers in the region that want this to happen, primarily Syria and Iran but I think they realized that a Sadr Vs. US battle is not enough and can only result in a big defeat for Sadr without reaching their desired objective of ruining Iraq.
So, it is logical to think that Iran and Syria would try to drag as many Iraqi parties as possible into this battle and the first candidate they would choose would be the SCIRI, the powerful Shia party that is not getting along well with Sadr and has recently sided with the Kurds, Sunni and secular powers in calling for Jafari to step away and even considering forming a united political front with them.
Another possible theory is that this attack is a warning message to the SCIRI that they must stay friends with Sadr, support Jafari and abort any plan to form a unity government with the Kurds, Sunni and secular parties.
If either theory is correct, the attack is aimed at stopping Iraq from having a government and prolonging the instability for as long as possible.

Let's also take a look at the planning for the attack that is very well studied too, the suicide bombers did not start striking during Friday prayers when the place is usually heavily guarded and security personnel are at high alert but the first strike came more than 15 minutes later when an attack is less expected and after guards felt they accomplished their mission in protecting the worshippers during the main ceremony to be followed by the other two bombings that took advantage of the state of panic created by the first bombing. This in addition to the use of disguise has of course made the breach easier to make.

The attack was no doubt carried out by al-Qaeda but the target was chosen from the powers across the borders.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Baghdad's short on papers…but not for too long.

Some readers questioned the authenticity of our Tuesday report about a ban on newspapers imposed by the terrorists in Baghdad and I do not blame them because they have the right to have doubts since no other news sources confirmed our story as of now.

So, I took the time to make a few phone calls until I got a confirmation for the story from a senior Baghdad journalist who writes for one of Iraq's most read newspapers. He asked me not to reveal his name or the name of the paper he writes for.
The journalist had this to tell me:

The story began a long time ago when certain papers were banned in Ramadi namely al-Sabah and Azzaman.
Later-that's four or five days ago-the 'Khalid' bookshop in al-Rabee' Street in Hay al-Jami'a was attacked with an explosive charge. This bookshop is considered one of the distribution points for newspapers in the western half of Baghdad.
In the eastern half of Baghdad the threats took two forms, the workers in distribution offices in Bab al-Mu'addam found death notes all over the street in the early morning while they were trying to open their offices and shops while in the Aadhamiya district, death notes and threats were delivered in a more personal manner to the bookshops owners.

There's also this post from a new Iraqi blogger (also a journalist) that talks in detail about the same incident of 'Khalid' bookshop.
I have also learned today from a man who runs one of the biggest distribution businesses in Baghdad that the overall distribution of newspapers through his office has fallen by more than 40% this week.
He also handed me a copy of one of those death notes which you can see here: (I know, but I didn't have the time or desire to translate this hatred talk)

There seems to be some good news coming though, this man told me that they are expecting the distribution averages to recover as soon as next week as "more people in the trade are making the decision to defy the threats".

The solution; is it in Baghdad or in Najaf?

Right now there are more signs that indicate the political blocs will resort to the parliament to solve this political crisis over choosing a leader for the new government and this inclination is getting more momentum after it was backed by president Talabani a few days ago to which Jafari responded by saying that he accepts the challenge and that he's ready to accept its results but also warned that the presidential post is also liable for the same possibility in case he (Jafari) is voted down.

Of course the situation will be more difficult for Jafari if this is to be solved in the parliament than it was during voting on his nomination inside the UIA but this is what more and more parties are pushing for after talks have failed.

This coincides with renewed talks about a possible formation of five-party political front from the SCIRI, PUK, KDP, INA and the Islamic Party to make some form of a national rescue front to control the crisis and try to convince their allies within their corresponding blocs to join this new political body to form a bloc big enough to form a government; for example the SCIRI may try to approach some of the independent members of the UIA while the Islamic party may be able to attract a few more members from the Accord Front to get the number of votes required to appoint a prime minister.

Obviously this whole idea is not a common occurrence among other mature democracies but it still can stand as a reasonable alternative to end this deadlock.

But still, this idea will be opposed by some clerics who fear this could lead the UIA to disintegrate, namely Ayatollah Sistani whose office lately "inquired from members of the UIA about the latest statements made regarding the issue of Jafari's nomination and told them to unite their lines and keep the UIA in one mass and to preserve the votes and rights of the voters.."

The SCIRI is trying to reassure the concerned parties that this internal conflict inside the UIA will not lead the bloc to break up but Sistani's concerns that are based on what he hears suggest that what he had been told of about the nature of the conflict inside the UIA is true. Actually it seems that that the battle for the premiership has traveled to Kerbala and Najaf that recently have been witnessing tense security situations, a friend of mine from that area informed me that everyone is on high alert after a dispute erupted between the clergies in the two cities and that this dispute is being fueled by complaints raised by tribes from a power monopoly practiced by some Najafi families. In fact this is an old struggle for power that has surfaced again. Fear from this conflict was expressed by the governor of Najaf who recently said that "the conflict in Baghdad is reaching Najaf and we expect there will be more unrest here".

We don't know what the battle in the parliament is going to look like but it certainly is expected to be decisive and better than the daily sterile exchange of warnings and accusations.

But then again I do not believe Ayatollah Sistani-with all due respect-has the power to solve the bigger crisis even if he is able to make the Shia parties reach agreement among themselves; the bloc he supports has 46% of the parliament and this is not a majority and even if he represents all the people who voted for that 46% that won't be enough because it's the parliament that represents the people and a fatwa cannot bring a solution for our problems.

I believe the solution lies in practicing democracy and productive discussion and if some parties decided to use force and take the battle to the streets they must expect to lose because those with this aggressive confrontational mentality do not represent a majority either and they will not find many to follow them.
The Sunni parties had tried the hard way and they used force against others and the result was a disaster for those parties and their leaders admit they were wrong and now they realize how much that method cost them. Now I hope the others and especially the Shia parties can learn from this and be smart and avoid falling in the same mistake.

With slow steps and with having to deal with many risks and challenges there are many Iraqis who are trying to build a state of law and institutions. They need time and they need support.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Baghdad without newspapers.

I am addicted to reading newspapers, part of it is because of the little work I need to deal with at clinic. There are four or five of us dentists in the clinic on the average day and we rarely treat more than three patients per day which means I can spend a whole week without having patients to take care of and this leaves us with plenty of extra time to waste while we're there.

So we started reading newspapers and my colleagues count on me for bringing the papers that have become an essential part of our morning, actually I started to even feel uncomfortable on weekends and days off because I don't get to practice this news-delivery role; I usually wake up late on such days and do not get my adored dose of papers that give me entertainment, information and I have even become a part of my work; as a blogger of course, not as a dentist.

Sunday and Monday were my days off this week, so this morning I stopped by the little sidewalk bookstore like I do on every workday, greeted the keeper who recognizes me as a devout reader of his papers now and asked for the usual package that usually consists of 4-5 papers; al-Sabah and al-Mada are a must, then a choice of two or three of al-Mashriq, New Sabah, al-Bayina al-Jadida, Baghdad, al-Mu'tamar, al-Dustoor…..

Me: what have you got for me today bro?
Papers guy: What are you looking for? No papers anymore my friend
Me: What? Why?
Papers guy: Don't you know? Oh, you didn't show up in a few days…well, we stopped selling newspapers.
Me: got that, but why?
Papers guy: they have threatened the 'borsa'.

Trying to connect 'borsa' to the papers but couldn't find a connection. From my background as an ex-shopkeeper the only 'borsa' I know is the exchange and imported cigarettes market in al-Kifah Street in the back of Shourja.

Me: what has the borsa got to do with the newspapers?
Papers guy: how come? That's where all the papers come from.

Here I realized that he was referring to that tortuous alley west of the Bab al-Mu'addam bus station where print houses drop their parcels of newspapers to be distributed to retailers in Baghdad and the rest of the country.

Me: who threatened them?
Papers guy: the death notes were signed by the mujahideen; they said that they will kill anyone who continues to print, distribute or sell newspapers.

He then showed me one of those notes; the ban includes virtually every paper but basically "papers that promote Safawi [Persian] Shiasm, blasphemous secular ideas and democracy…".

I had a hard time trying to swallow what I read, why newspapers? What's going to be next? Will they try to stitch up our mouths and chop our tongues off?!

Those pen-hating cowards are afraid of the words written in our newspapers and they tried to paint their new anti-free speech campaign with a sectarian dye to make it look as if they were only after Shia and secular papers but in fact they are against everything that does not approve and praise their sick mentality.
Yes, I may not agree with what many of those newspapers do, and a few of them even sound offensive or disgusting to me for one reason or another but I cannot accept seeing them silenced in such a way and I am for their right to speak freely exactly the same way I want this right for myself.

Strange though that no one uttered a word about it as far as I know, even the papers themselves mentioned nothing about this threat on their websites and neither did any of the other local media outlets…maybe there has been a threat against that as well? I don't know right now but I'll try to find out.
This is one more time that makes me feel happy we have the internet and the means to use it.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Endgame for Jafari.

Chances for a peaceful resolution of the current political crisis are getting thinner as some of the involved parties keep refusing to show any flexibility in handling the talks with other powers.

This originates from the fact that the differences between those rivals come mostly from sectarian and/or ethnic basis and not from disagreeing on this or that platform; the idea filling their heads is the ideological difference between the Sunni and the Shia. Actually this had become visible in the statements made by those parties, we hear them say 'our territories are under threat' or 'my sect is under attack' to the extent that speaking of Iraq as a whole has become a formality not fit for local consumption.
And I think this makes reaching a solution in a peaceful way very unlikely at this stage because the two sects were built on a fight over power in the first place and every turban whether 'white' or 'black' can't stop thinking of that thousand year old difference and they think that any accordance between them will essentially mean no more power for turbans.

I have learned that politics is 'the art of the possible' and the 'art of finding solutions' but most of these men here are not politicians in the first place and they would not shy from threatening with the power they possess to impose their view on others, and I must point out here that 'power' here does not mean votes, electoral weight or the advantage of one's platform over others' but rather the power of armed militias that answer to those parties.

Politicians within these blocs will not be able to leash the angry turbans; most of them do not have the power or the guts to do so, and even if one of them decided to oppose the turbans, he will make a legitimate target of himself for the wrath of the clerics and their militias.
The situation today looks more congested and tenser and new statements are coming by the hours now, not by the days for the seriousness of the case.

As we expected a couple of days ago, more public calls are coming from inside the UIA asking Jafari to step down and more UIA members have added their voices to Mr. Dawood's voice trying to convince Jafari to change his mind and accept the necessities of this stage, namely JalalAddin al-Sagheer from the UIA and a few senior members of the Fadheela Party.
The pressure is mounting from outside as well as we can clearly see from Rice's and Straw's visit to Baghdad whose words carry a strong message that says 'Enough is enough Jafari'. Although Jafari was not addressed in name it was clear there is now way the UK or US will accept him. The couple said their countries wish Iraq chooses a strong leader who can lead a unity government and be accepted by all the Iraqi parties and I believe neither is a quality of Jafari.
I also want to say that I rally am pleased with secretaries' words when they said:

Indeed, the international partners, particularly the United States and Great Britain and others who have forces on the ground and have sacrificed here, have a deep desire and, I think, a right to expect that this process will keep moving forward.

Although these words came a little late but late is better than never and I hope the Iraqi leaders understand this message, our destinies are tied together and what happens in Iraq will not be limited to this land but will have effects on the rest of the Middle East and I think some firm remarks said in the right tone can be enough to make the political and religious peacocks realize their actual size.

On the other hand it seems that the radical elements have made up their mind to enter yet another confrontation, after putting redlines on some blocs and rejecting any discussion concerning replacing Jafari, today according to al-Arabiya TV, the Sadrists have issued a warning saying they will withdraw from the political process if Jafari is replaced by another candidate.
By doing this, they are even opposing the majority opinion of the UIA as it's been made public that major powers inside the bloc gave Jafari a 3-day deadline as a last chance for him to try to convince the other blocs with his program and win their acceptance, otherwise he must step down.

Of course this doesn't mean the Sadrists will withdraw to sit at home and watch others form a government but it means they will fight those who oppose their vision.
In fact lately I've been hearing some Sdar followers say they predict a large-scale offensive to target Sadr city and the Mehdi Army soon and that the ranks of the Mehdi Army are kept at full alert to respond to any such offensive.

The situation at this point can be summed by the following:

There is a majority of politicians from various trends who want to avoid a confrontation and willing to reach a deal to form a government; those are not working hard enough though.

On the other side there are militias supported by some parties within their corresponding blocs who think they can enter an armed conflict against the rest and come out victorious.

Politicians recognize the great price that everyone will have to pay if such a terrible possibility becomes reality, there will be no winners in this conflict and every involved party will have to shoulder a share of the losses, the shares may vary though.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

The critical 50/50

Today we witnessed the first public call from inside the UIA for Jafari to step down.
Qassim Dawood from the independent bloc inside the UIA that has some 20 members urged Mr. Jafari to withdraw his nomination saying that "many f us in the UIA see that we must choose a prime minister for the country and not a prime minister for the UIA…"
This call (which I expect will be followed by similar ones in the near future) shows a growing awareness among some politicians of the critical situation and dangers imposed by the hardliners.

The chances to see a solution are fluctuating up and down reflecting the daily map of events and the intra and inter partisan disputes and right now I see that chances split 50-50 between solution and a confrontation.
The reasonable politicians within the parties know very well that there will be no future for them or for the country if a balanced government is not formed soon in Baghdad but the hardliner clerics in these parties have a different vision based on the dream of building a religious state or dying doing so. Of course this sounds insane for the guys in suits but for the turbans this represents the choice of the holy ancestors; either victory or death. They do not care about this life and they seek to satisfy God thinking that this is the only right path as they conclude from their confused reading of a confused history.
This vision will push them to fight fiercely to build their version of the 'kingdom of God'.

Clerics like tyrants tend to bet on the 'street' and to have wrong estimations of how far this 'street' is willing to follow them in their fantasies; they think-just like Saddam convinced himself-that the people will explode like a raging volcano to fight for Allah and protect the faith but this is not true as history proven in more than an occasion and most of the 'soldiers' will seek shelter from harm except for a minority of enthusiasts (fanatics) who will fight until the last man.

I think the coming days will show a stiffer attitude on the end of the religious hardliners and this includes both Sunni and Shia and we will also be hearing more tense and inflammatory statements that will focus more on rejecting the American presence, not only in the form of the calls to deport or replace the ambassador like the ones we heard during Friday prayers but I'm afraid some clerics are preparing to declare Jihad as the American presence represent the major obstacle facing their dreams of a religious state.

Such declaration will no doubt find support from regional powers that are interested in seeing Iraq and America fail especially that America's failure in presenting a good example in Iraq will make America think a thousand time before trying to repeat the experiment anywhere else in the region.
Some of those fanatics think this is the best time for them to seize the ground and move to next step of action and those do not put defeat in their considerations as death too is part of victory and there are more than a few verses in the Quran that makes them think this applies to them and that death or 'martyrdom' is another form of victory. Anyway, the white bearded old cleric will not feel anything for the death of the young he misleads, on the contrary, it is they who should be grateful for him for showing them the path to heaven.

Clerics are gathering and charging their followers with hatred to prepare them for a war; hatred towards anything that does not belong to their old school and this may also include provoking these followers against moderate politicians who will be denounced as cowards and betrayers of the faith.

Naturally most politicians do not want this land to be their grave but it won't be easy for them to resist the pressure or stay away from the fire. I really think that clerics are leading us to a real disaster and it is time for Iraqis with brains and influence to put an end for this madness of the clerics. I don't expect this to be an easy task but just as the religious succeeded in uniting themselves, the liberals must do better to overcome their differences and show more efforts to rescue their country from an imminent disaster.

Forming a unity government and activating the constitution to stop the spread of fanaticism and control the militias cannot be done overnight but doing this as fast possible can greatly reduce the chances of the radical Islamists to manipulate the situation and I am asking the wise politicians of Iraq to start working now and to remember that their differences must not stop them from confronting a greater danger that threatens all of them without discrimination.