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US Papers Tue: Minority Representation Protest
Christians and Muslims march together: Arab League Ambassador Arrives in Baghdad
By DANIEL W. SMITH 10/07/2008 01:55 AM ET
Very little Iraq coverage today, but there are stories filed from Baghdad by the Times, the Post, and the Journal.

From Baghdad
Erica Goode and Stephen Farrell of the New York Times report that about 75 Christians and others gathered at a church in Baghdad on Monday to demand that the Iraqi Parliament reinstate a section of an earlier version of the provincial elections law that ensured political representation for Iraq’s minorities. That provision, which allowed for 13 provincial council seats for Christians and two seats each for Yazidis and Shabeks, was dropped before Parliament approved the elections law on Sept. 24. It has had a chilling effect on the moods of Iraq’s Christians in particular. “We have a question mark at this point about why our government is rejecting us,” said Thair al-Sheekh, a priest at Sacred Heart Church in Baghdad. “I think it is the first time our government said that they don’t want the Christians to stay here. This is what we understand from this decision.”
The organizers of the protest said that they were pleased with the turnout and happy that several tribal leaders and other Muslim representatives from a council in the Karada neighborhood came to show their support. But some participants said that they were disheartened by the relatively small size of the gathering. Many Christians stayed away out of fear of bombings or other violence, they said.

“My friends are afraid, and they said I was mad to come here,” said a 50-year old woman who identified herself as a high school physics teacher but requested anonymity to avoid reprisals.“But I don’t care about death,” the woman said, adding that she came to stand up for her religion and her political rights.

Marwan Arkan, 20, said that the situation for Christians in Iraq was still perilous. Last week, he said, he was kidnapped by gunmen as he walked to Sacred Heart Church, where he works. The kidnappers held him for three days, he said, beat him and finally let him go, for reasons that were unclear to him. “I thought that they kidnapped me because they wanted to reach our priest, but why did they do that?” Mr. Arkan asked. “Did they want to threaten us?” He said that when Parliament dropped the provision for minorities from the provincial elections law, “they canceled us from Iraq, as if someone had kicked you out of your house.”

The law, passed on Sept. 24, still requires the approval of a three-member presidential panel led by President Jalal Talabani before it can take effect, clearing the way for elections to be held in most of the country early next year. In passing the law, Parliament set aside the most contentious issue it faced, how to resolve a bitter dispute among Kurds, Turkmens, Christians and others over control of the oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk.
The Washington Post’s Mary Beth Sheridan covers Arab League ambassador to Baghdad Hani Khalaf arriving in Iraq’s capital on Monday, in what she calls the latest sign of progress in the Iraqi and U.S. effort to ease this country's diplomatic isolation.
The U.S. government has urged the Sunni-dominated Arab governments in the region to reestablish ties with Iraq's Shiite-led government. Many have been hesitant because of violence here and concerns that they could appear to be endorsing the U.S.-led invasion of 2003. In addition, some nations are wary about the close ties the Iraqi government has developed with Iran.

Khalaf, an Egyptian diplomat, told reporters before leaving Cairo that he would try to promote reconciliation in Iraq. Violence has declined here sharply in the past year but is still at staggering levels. "We need a more active Arab role in Iraq," Khalaf said. His arrival ended an embarrassing gap in representation by the Arab League, which groups 21 predominantly Arabic-speaking nations and the Palestinian Authority. The previous ambassador, Mukhtar Lamani, wrote a scathing article after he quit about "the contrast between the enormous suffering I saw daily in Baghdad and the persistent indifference evident in the Arab League meetings in Cairo."
"The Iraqis look forward to a larger role by the Arab League in Iraq as well as positive and good relations with the Arab countries," Bassam Sharif, said a lawmaker from the Shiite Fadhila Party.

To see the statement by the UN's Special Representative for Iraq, Stefan de Mistura, criticizing the decision of the Iraqi Parliament to strike Article 50 from the provincial elections law, click here.

Brett Stephens of the Wall Street Journal writes a piece called “There's a Job to Finish in Baghdad: The question now is how good we want Iraq to be.” In it, he makes the case that a stable Iraq is in fact within reach, and that things are sometimes better than many news sources might make one think. He begins with an observation from the aftermath of a mosque bombing, the kind of story that tends to suggest sectarian tensions are not a thing of the past.
The attack was one of two that day against Shiite targets, which the New York Times duly reported under the headline "Baghdad Suicide Bombers Kill 2 Dozen in Attacks on Mosques." The Times added that "many in the crowd immediately said they suspected American involvement," although it added that "they displayed no obvious signs of hostility to a group of American soldiers who remained at the scene for some time."

Taken at face value, the story suggests just how "fragile and reversible" things are in Iraq, to use what has now become a stock line. Not reported by the Times, however -- or anywhere else in the Western media, as far as I can tell -- was the identity of the guards who prevented what could have been a much deadlier attack. One of them, Hamid Mansour Hassoun, was a Sunni. The other, Mohammed Nouri al-Rubaie, was a Shiite. Their joint sacrifice is a testament to everything much of the world thought Iraq could never be.
Stephens continues with more points to illustrate the improving security situation in Iraq, as well as positive political developments. U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker is often quoted, as in the following.
Will Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki sign a status-of-forces agreement? "I'm certain he is for an agreement," says Mr. Crocker. Does Mr. Maliki want the U.S. out by 2010, as he seemed to indicate around the time Barack Obama was in town? "I was in the meeting with Maliki and the date 2010 was never mentioned."

...As for whether Mr. Maliki's government will run roughshod over the interests of Sunnis and Kurds, Mr. Crocker notes that "as fractious as Iraqi politics are . . . there is an understanding that at this stage of political development a 'dictatorship of the majority' would be a highly dangerous thing." Exhibit A is the election law, wrangled over at such length that for a while it seemed an emblem of the government's inability to achieve "political reconciliation." The law was approved by a unanimous vote last month.

Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, no Iraq coverage.


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