Al-Mada also quoted the Iraqi Vice President, Tariq al-Hashimi, who said that Tony Blair intended to announce a schedule for the withdrawal of British forces from Iraq, but that he was dissuaded by the American President who 'brainwashed' him, according to al-Hashimi.
Meanwhile, the security situation continues to deteriorate, despite the new 'security plan' currently underway in Baghdad. Iraqi newspapers reported the occurrence of at least two suicide attacks in the city, which cost the life of 16 civilians (according to al-Mada). The American and Iraqi army forces have encircled al-`Adl neighborhood in Baghdad, and according to Az-Zaman, the residents have been effectively turned into prisoners in their district after the American and Iraqi forces blocked the roads leading into the neighborhood and called on the residents not to leave or enter the area. Az-Zaman also said that mortar shells hit the neighborhood as the American forces were besieging it.
Also, the body of a popular Iraqi comedian, Matshar al-Sudani, was discovered in Haifa Street, causing an outrage within the artistic community. As-Sabah al-Jadeed interviewed some of the colleagues of the assassinated comedian who said that many Iraqi artists are seriously considering leaving the country; Al-Sudani is one of several artists who have been killed since the beginning of the war. According to as-Sabah al-Jadeed, Al-Sudani was one of the founders of 'blue collar' theatre in Iraq (a term that refers to a theatrical genre aimed at the working class, often touching on political and social issues that are of interest to the low-income class).
An issue that many Iraqis see as scandalous is the electric situation in the country. Az-Zaman said that the electric grid in many Baghdad neighborhoods has practically 'collapsed', leaving half the city in the dark for the last week. Furthermore, Az-Zaman said that few efforts are made to repair the network, despite the billions of dollars spent on the energy sector since the invasion. In the 1980s Iraqi cities received a virtually uninterrupted electric service, but since the sanctions, an entire generation of Iraqis has been raised with blackouts being an integral part of their lives. One of the Karkh residents interviewed by Az-Zaman demanded that the electric company supplies 'no less than two hours of electric current every six hours'. Currently, many neighborhoods in Baghdad receive less than an hour of service every 7 or 8 hours, and the absence of a schedule for the blackouts makes many Iraqis feel that their areas are singled out for exaggerated interruptions.
Another issue that has been of concern to Iraqis lately is the plight of thousands of Iraqi pilgrims stranded along the Saudi borders with the Saudi authorities refusing to let them into the country. The pilgrimage season is approaching and Saudi Arabia usually requires pilgrims to enter the country using airlines. However, the Iraqi government made a special request to allow thousands of Iraqi pilgrims to enter the country by land due to the shortage in air tickets. The Saudi authorities agreed in principle, but over 5000 pilgrims have been waiting to be processed at the `ar`ar entry point for days now. Al-Mada said that 5 of the pilgrims have died so far due to the cold and hunger, `ar`ar is deep in the desert and hundreds of kilometers away from the closest major city.
Finally, Najaf has become to the third Iraqi province to have its security handed over to the Iraqi armed forces. A ceremony was held yesterday for the departure of American troops and Ayatollah Sistani who resides in the holy city of Najaf blessed the move and asked that control be handed over to Iraqis 'in all the provinces of Iraq'. Najaf, famous for the shrine of Imam `Ali also contains one of the oldest universities in the Muslim world and the world in general. The seminary of Najaf was historically seen as the prime center for the education of Shi`a clerics and almost all Shi`a high clerics today have studied in the famous seminary.