samedi 25 août 2007

"Out with the old, in with the old" by Nermeen Al-Mufti

The "new" coalition government in Iraq looks the same, only more sectarian, suggests Nermeen Al-Mufti
Will the quadripartite coalition that brought together the Higher Islamic Council of Iraq, Al-Daawa Party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) put the country back on track? Sceptics note that most of the governments formed in Iraq since the occupation were led by those same groups, so what else is new? Apart from those who form the new coalition, few in Iraq seem optimistic. Some officials from the Shia community, even from Al-Daawa Party of Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, lashed out at the new coalition.

Iyad Allawi, whose Iraqi List withdrew from Al-Maliki's government, is sceptical. Allawi was excluded -- by an Iranian veto -- from the consultations of key Iraqi parties. He told The Washington Post that the current Iraqi government was doomed despite the "cosmetic" measures now taking place. Allawi said that reconciliation cannot take place under Al-Maliki's "sectarian" regime, calling for a state of emergency to be declared in Baghdad and other turbulent areas. Izzat Al-Shabandar, a parliamentarian for the Iraqi List, said that "the quadripartite coalition that was formed last week is a pre-emptive measure aiming to undermine efforts to form a non-sectarian government."

Within Al-Daawa, supporters of Ibrahim Al-Jaafari failed to endorse the new coalition. Only Al-Maliki's supporters within Al-Daawa back the coalition, an associate of Al-Jaafari said. Mazin Makkeya of Al-Daawa (Tanzim Al-Iraq) said that the new coalition is "sectarian and racist."

Nadim Al-Jaber, secretary-general of Al-Fadila, said that the quadripartite coalition was "stillborn and cannot achieve the goals it has set for itself". Other Iraqi parties will be trying to "create a counter-coalition," he added. "Kurdish parties signed this agreement because they want the central government to remain weak. That's what the Kurds want. The failure to include the Islamic Party in the coalition makes the coalition sectarian and racistâ" Al-Jaber noted.

The Iraq Turkmen Front issued a statement saying that "the parties to the coalition are part of Iraq's problem, part of the stifling political crisis. So they cannot be part of the solution."

The Sadr Group, which was excluded from the consultations that led to the coalition, is now seeking to form a rival coalition, said parliamentarian Nasser Al-Saeidi.

Omar Abdel-Sattar, parliamentarian for the Sunni Accordance Front and a key figure of the Islamic Party, noted that the party stayed away from the coalition because of its sectarian nature. "We were opposed to joining the coalition because the formation of such fronts wouldn't resolve the crisis but only exacerbate sectarian and factional divisions. The quadripartite agreement would keep in government the same people who failed to offer the Iraqis anything of substance," Abdel-Sattar said. He predicted that more rival coalitions and fronts would be formed, noting that "efforts are underway to reconcile the Accordance Front, the Iraqi List, Al-Fadila Party, and the Sadr Group." Abdel-Sattar noted that the Islamic Party is keeping an equal distance from all political parties and not inclined to take part in any new front.

Tarek Al-Hashimi, Iraq's vice-president and secretary of the Islamic Party, has met with the leaders of the quadripartite coalition. A source close to Al-Hashimi said that attempts were made to persuade Al-Hashimi to withdraw from the Sunni Alliance Front, but he refused. Salim Abdallah, parliamentarian and spokesman of the Islamic Party's Political Bureau, told reporters that the Islamic Party received no invitation to meet with the leaders of the quadripartite coalition, but Al-Hashimi attended the meeting at the last minute. The meeting "focused on finding a new way of collective decision making and looked into government performance, security reform, and the matter of the detainees," Abdallah added.

Top Shia cleric Ayatollah Al-Sistani is now a fierce critic of Al-Maliki. A source close to Al-Sistani said that the cleric was "very disappointed with the government performance and with the parliament, especially with those politicians who used his support as a stepping stone for key political posts in the government and who control decision making in parliament." The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Al-Sistani told his aides that certain politicians "used my name to control the government and the parliament" and proceeded to drive the country into disaster. Al-Sistani was quoted as saying that they "filled my face with pus" the same words Imam Ali, the fourth caliph, used in reference to his opponents.

President Bush criticised Al-Maliki in his weekly speech, noting that the Iraqi government failed to do its job. US Ambassador Ryan Crocker also maintained that "the Kurdish-Shia coalition couldn't resolve Iraq's problem on its own."
Dr. Jenan Ali, an expert in Iraqi politics, told Al-Ahram Weekly that "the quadripartite coalition is not a front of the moderates, as it is trying to present itself, but is an extremist sectarian and racist coalition with narrow partisan interests and special agendas." Ali added that "the Kurds are trying to impede the amendment of Article 140, a controversial article of the constitution that would allow them to annex Kirkuk and control 17 percent of Iraqi oil revenue."
The Shia parties that joined the coalition are not representative of all Shia and their only purpose is to keep Al-Maliki in government at any price, she added.

Meanwhile, living conditions continue to deteriorate in Iraq. The recent bombings in Singar, which killed 500 of the Yazidi community, cast a shadow on the country. Commentator Talal Barakat wrote that "before levelling accusations, it is necessary to investigate properly and to ask ourselves: who benefits from such incidents?"

Iraqi satellite channels repeatedly aired a video of a visit by vice-presidents Al-Hashimi and Adel Abdel-Mahdi to a detention centre run by the Iraqi Interior Ministry. The report shows hundreds of detainees in narrow metal cages covered with white plastic sheets. Most of the detainees said that they hadn't appeared in court. Among the detainees was a crippled man arrested for being a "terrorist sniper." Another was an elderly man, who could barely talk, also detained for being a "terrorist." A man was shown weeping as he recalled the killing of his four sons in front of his eyes prior to his detention on charges of "terrorism." Tens of thousands of detainees are believe to be held in detention centres operated by the interior and defence ministries and the government of the north. According to unofficial reports, Iraq has 48,000 detainees at present. But the Interior Ministry only admits to 3,200 detainees. The failure to release the detainees was the reason the ministers of the Sunni Alliance Front resigned from the government.

Vice-President Al-Hashimi promised the detainees that he would seek their release, noting that more than 200 detainees had been released so far. Al-Hashimi described the detention as "disgraceful for all of us." And yet he told the detainees that "people outside are not doing better than you. You're lucky, at least you have security here. People outside are afraid for their lives." Reuters quoted Brigadier General Gomaah Zamer, the warden of the detention centre appearing in the video saying that the centre, which held 2,279 inmates, was opened a month ago to relieve the pressure on other crowded prisons across the country.

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Previous article by Nermeen Al-Mufti:
Al-Maliki's days are numbered

Nermeen Al-Mufti interviews two families who have lost everything and ponders the fate of PM Al-Maliki who also looks like he might lose all as the Iraqi political process implodes

Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki is a man with few friends these days. Many blame him for the current political crisis triggered by successive resignations of major political groups from his cabinet. Six ministers of the Sunni Accordance Front have left the cabinet. This was followed by the resignation of the justice minister, the withdrawal of the five pro-Sadr ministers, and the boycott of the cabinet by the four ministers of the Iraqi List. One man, however, seems to support Al-Maliki. Iranian President Ahmadinejad, speaking the day after meeting the prime minister, said that "critics of the Iraqi government are corrupt." Al-Maliki refused to comment on that remark, but other politicians were incensed.

Iyad Gamaleddin, a parliamentarian from the Iraqi List, said that "Iraq is an independent country and no one has the right to interfere in its affairs. The government and the opposition are all Iraqis and outsiders have no right to interfere in our politics." Several parliamentarians said that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's statements were a "violation" of Iraqi sovereignty.

Some analysts, however, were more sceptical. Jenan Ali, a professor at Baghdad University specialising in Iraqi affairs, said that "the outrage [over Ahmadinejad's statement] is farcical, for Iraqi sovereignty has been shattered by the occupation forces and by regional interference. President Bush says that Iran is a destabilising force in Iraq. But some Iraqi politicians maintain that Saudi Arabia and Syria are also destabilising Iraq."

Last week, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1770, which called for the Iraqi constitution to be amended for the sake of reconciliation among all Iraqis. Commenting on the resolution, Ali said that "Resolution 1770 is an indictment of Al-Maliki. The fact that President Bush approved that resolution indicates that there is a chance the occupation forces may leave the country after all."

As political parties continued consultations aimed at breaking the deadlock, the Iraqi prime minister went on a visit to Ankara and Tehran. The Kurdish administration in the north was displeased by Al-Maliki's promise to expel the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) from the country. "The government of the Kurdistan Province rejects categorically any military operation targeting the PKK in our areas, and we had an agreement to this effect with Al-Maliki before he left for Turkey."

Other politicians criticised Al-Maliki's visit to Tehran, noting that it came on the day some Iraqis still celebrate as a day of "victory" over Iran. The newspaper Al-Zaman quoted Al-Maliki as saying in a news conference that he didn't know when the eight-year war with Iran ended.

Speaking at a news conference in Baghdad, Al-Maliki said that "a meeting on the level of political leaders would be held on my request to introduce necessary reforms to the political process." Al-Maliki added that a preparatory committee has been working on the agenda of the meeting and that several "strategic issues" would be discussed.

As for the Accordance Front's withdrawal from the cabinet and the conditions the AF set for returning to cabinet meetings, Al-Maliki said that "those requests would be considered, and some may be implemented in keeping with the provisions of the constitution." He noted, however, that some requests were "impossible" to meet.

Speaking at a news conference in Baghdad, AF leader Adnan Al-Deleimi accused Shia militia and "death squads" of displacing and murdering Sunni families in some parts of Baghdad. He called on Arab leaders to intervene. "Your brothers are coming under the worst types of injustice and persecution, unprecedented in the old or new history or Iraq. They are coming under a Safawi [Iranian] assault aiming to uproot the Sunnis from Baghdad. Cemeteries have no more room for our dead. There are more than 80,000 detainees in the prisons of the government and the occupation forces. People are thrown in prison just for being Sunni," he said.

Sheikh Ali Al-Hatim, a clan leader in Al-Anbar, said that he and other members of the Anbar Salvation Council were considering candidates for the cabinet seats vacated by AF ministers. "Those posts should be filled with alternative candidates," he said, adding that the AF didn't represent Iraq's Sunnis or do much for them." Meanwhile, Badr Hadi Al-Amiri, a parliamentarian for the Shia Alliance Block, said that the current crisis was "acute and real".

Commenting on the Iraqiya Block, which former interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi is putting together, MP Osama Al-Nojeifi, who represents Iraqiya in the parliament, explained that the project aimed at cementing national unity and getting the country away from sectarianism. "Unlike the Kurds, who have their own project and emphasise Kurdish nationalism in their statements, the National Iraqi Front urges national unity among all Iraqis," Allawi said.

Kurdistan leader Masoud Al-Barzani arrived in Baghdad Saturday night for talks with President Jalal Talabani ahead of a meeting of the leaders of political groups and independent figures, which is scheduled to take place within days. According to well-informed sources, Iraqi leaders will ask Al-Maliki either to resign or to accept a four-way leadership of himself, President Talabani, vice-presidents Adel Abdul-Mahdi and Tareq Al-Hashimi. Allawi will not attend the meeting because Al-Maliki did not send an invitation to him due to an Iranian veto .

A source close to Al-Maliki said that the prime minister may have to appoint Sunni ministers in order to keep the government going. His other option would be to form a government of parliamentary majority, which would include the Unified Iraqi Alliance, the Kurdistan Alliance, and independent parliamentarians.

Political analyst Alaa Al-Hodeithi voiced fears that a government of parliamentary majority may give Kurdish leaders a chance to impose their conditions on Al-Maliki. The Kurds want a referendum on Kirkuk before the end of the year, something that other Iraqis, especially the Turkmen, oppose.

The cities of the south, especially Al-Basra, are experiencing a new surge of violence as rival militia try to control oil field and the harbours. The governor of Al-Diwaniya, 180km south of Baghdad, was killed by explosive charges planted by "unidentified" perpetrators. The governor was a key figure in Badr forces and had fought against elements of the deposed regime before 2003. His police chief and six of his bodyguards were killed in the same attack.

The flood has begun
About two million Iraqis had to leave their homes because of sectarian fighting. Some now live in makeshift camps. Others have moved to rented flats or live with relatives and friends. They feel forgotten, not only by their own government but by the international community.

Abu Amna, an Iraqi Sunni, had to flee his hometown of Khan Bani Saad in the turbulent Al-Diyali Governorate. He now lives with relatives in Baghdad. This is his story:
"My family and 40 other Sunni families have received threats. We were a minority amid a Shia majority. The strangest thing is that the man who threatened me was my childhood friend, a man who appears in the photos of my wedding. I couldn't believe that the ethnic and sectarian division that took place in Iraq would affect our long-time friendship. We lived our whole lives together, never asking which sect we followed. The threatening letter came in an envelope thrown at our doorstep. We were asked to leave the area within 24 hours. We decided to leave, but my father refused to abandon a home that he spent his younger years saving money to build. So my mother sent my sisters to my uncle's house in Baquba. We, three brothers and their families, decided to go to Baghdad to live with relatives. I live in the house of my uncle, who is also my father-in-law. My two brothers found no work or accommodation in Baghdad, so one of them took his family to Kirkuk and the other went to Baquba to be near relatives. My mother insisted on staying with my father. He was killed in front of her eyes less than one month after we left. The friend who shared my childhood, the friend with whom I went to school and who was my playmate, now lives in our house. I still remember the last night I spent in the house where I was born, where my daughter and son were also born. That night I didn't speak with any member of the family. I was walking around the house committing its details to memory, wondering if I would ever see it again.
"My brother who went to Baquba started working with my uncle in the market. My other brother who went to Kirkuk worked as a taxi driver. I started working as a driver using my own car. I work but I am always in fear, although I carry several forged identification cards and use them according to the area I am in. I always work in the areas I am familiar with because my licence plates are from Diyali, so I always get stopped at checkpoints. I face suspicions because I come from a turbulent city and have no immigrant papers. I can't get immigrant papers because Baghdad already has too many immigrants. So I don't dare ask for a ration card or to get my residence changed from Diyali to Baghdad. My brother who went to Kirkuk has immigrant papers. He received assistance in the form of one blanket and a single-bed mattress, although he has a family of five. He, like hundreds of thousands of immigrants, doesn't have a ration card and has been waiting for over 10 months to receive new identification papers."

Abu Amna doesn't care much for the political crisis. He said that anarchy killed his father, destroyed his country, and massacred his dreams. The political crisis is merely a symptom of the anarchy introduced by the occupation forces. He adds: "Everyday before I leave the house, I pray and I kiss my children and wife as if I am kissing them for the last time. No Iraqi who leaves his house in the morning knows if he shall return or not. We are not heroes to be working in these conditions, but we have to live so long as life goes on. I wonder who will help us return to our home, our life, and our dreams. Who will help us live, even for one hour, without fear?"

Abu Ammar is a Shia journalist who was driven out of his house in Al-Ghazaliya, a turbulent Baghdad neighbourhood that has been walled off. This is his story:
"Everyone knows that I spent eight years building my house. We, the Sunnis and the Shias, lived in amity side by side. My Sunni neighbour used to guard the building material that would remain stacked for months at the building site. When I and my family moved in, Sunni families kept bringing us food for a whole week, every single meal, despite the severity of the blockade. About 10 months ago, a letter was posted at my door asking me to leave the area, or else. I didn't pay much attention, for the neighbours know me well and they know also that I am against the occupation and write in support of the unity of Iraq regardless of race and ethnicity. At noon the next day, someone knocked at the door. I opened to find six masked men asking me to leave the house immediately and without any of my belongings. I wanted to argue, but one of them said that no arguments were allowed and that I had to leave the house with my family immediately. They allowed us to take our clothes and personal belongings and nothing else. When we were about to leave, a family walked in to live in the house. The father asked me for forgiveness and permission to live in my house. I refused. 'How can I agree to being kicked out of my house so that you may move in?' He told me that a group of my own sect kicked him out of his house. 'This wasn't my fault,' I said. 'It is not your fault and it is mine, someone has taken my house,' he said.
"We were split among relatives. My six children went to live with uncles in Al-Kadhimiya. My wife went to stay with her brother, also in Al-Kadhimiya. I move between my sons and my wife to make sure they are fine. I am thinking of leaving Iraq, but where to? Iraqi immigrants are suffering from difficulties either in neighbouring countries or in other places. I miss my home. I miss the smile that I left behind at one of its corners. I miss my library and the archive that I put together in 30 years of working as a journalist. I miss the night gatherings with the neighbours, who still call me to make sure I am fine. I haven't changed my ration card, and I can't risk going to Al-Ghazaliya to get the monthly ration. I wrote a lot about the immigrants' crisis and their hard life. And yet, we who live in rented places or with relatives are better off than those who have to live in camps whose children can't go to school. I don't expect much from a world that is watching our pain in silence. I don't care whether Al-Maliki's government continues or not. No official is thinking about the Iraqis. They all think of themselves. They think of how to save Bush, who has a report to submit to the congress in mid-September."

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