According to Az-Zaman, a major figure in the Iraqi List, MP Usama al-Najeefi, said in a press conference yesterday that “the testimonials of local residents powerfully confirm that elements of the Iraqi Army were responsible for the bombing ... they may have misestimated the power of the explosives.” The anti-government version claims that Iraqi government forces were seen entering the house where the blast occurred an hour before the explosion; a spokesman of the Iraqi Security Forces countered by saying that Iraqi troops did indeed enter the house in question, only to find that the perpetrators had it filled with explosives prepared for detonation, prompting the soldiers to leave the scene and warn local residents. It should be noted that Najeefi’s accusations appeared in Az-Zaman’s International Edition, and were not reported in the local Iraqi print of the newspaper.
In Mosul itself, al-Hayat and al-Jazeera announced that skirmishes have begun in the Northern city in what could signal the beginning of the “decisive battle” that, according to PM Nuri al-Maliki, will aim at uprooting al-Qa’ida from Ninenveh, one of the last bastions of the extremist group.
According to al-Jazeera, clashes and firefights were heard in a Mosul neighborhood known for housing al-Qa’ida elements, while five US soldiers were killed in an explosion that targeted their patrol in the city. Meanwhile, al-Hayat said that Iraqi troops, supported by armored units, are trickling in into Mosul to aid government forces in the anticipated battle.
In other news, Kull al-‘Iraq said that a “large” fire broke out in the Central Bank headquarters in Baghdad yesterday, “causing material damages.” The fire and its causes, the paper said, will be investigated by a commission that was set up immediately to investigate possible sabotage behind the incident.
Az-Zaman said that 44 fire engines participated in fighting the fire, which, the paper added, did not affect the main safe where the bank’s liquidity is stored. Az-Zaman quoted eye-witnesses who opined that the fire was probably accidental, caused by an electric short-circuit, since the incident occurred minutes after the electric current returned to the area, shortly after midnight.
On the other hand, the International edition of the same paper pointed to a completely different hypothesis, with a headline indicating that the Central Bank fire "consumed dossiers indicting officials with corruption."
Az-Zaman (Iraq edition) said that Ayad ‘Allawi’s Iraqi List may be returning to the cabinet, in tandem with the Sunni IAF bloc, after receiving an invitation from the government. Regarding the anticipated cabinet reform, a pro-government MP, Haydar al-‘Abbadi, said that PM al-Maliki may reduce the number of Ministries to 20. Al-‘Abbadi added that al-Maliki is still deliberating whether the cabinet should be fully restructured, or whether the reform should be limited to filling the empty ministerial seats. If the former option is to be adopted, al-‘Abadi said, the new cabinet could be announced within a week.
Lastly, al-Hayat reported that, following an assassination attempt that targeted a high-level aide to Ayatollah al-Sistani, new, stringent security measures have been adopted to protect Shi’a clerics in Najaf and Karbala.
According to the paper, Najaf’s Police chief explained that “intelligence tips” have warned the Iraqi police of impending attacks against high-level Shi’a clerical figures, which prompted the new measures. ‘Abd al-Mahdi al-Karbala’i, Sistani’s representative in Karbala, narrowly escaped an assassination attempt last Friday, and some observers link these attacks to the recent confrontations between the Iraqi government and dissident Shi’a groups in the South in early January.