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US Papers Sun: Rocket Kills 2 at UN Compound
Al-Sistani Raises Concerns About Security Pact
By DANIEL W. SMITH 11/30/2008 02:01 AM ET
Not too much about Iraq in the Sunday papers. The Times and the Post have one story each from Baghdad, and one opinion piece each about positive developments in Iraq and how they should be handled by President-Elect Obama.

From Baghdad
Katherine Zoepf reports in the New York Times that a rocket fired into the Green Zone here about 6:15 a.m. Saturday struck a spot near the United Nations compound, killing two contract employees and wounding 15 others, according to a spokeswoman for the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq.

“They were all employees of a catering company supporting the United Nations facility,” Ms. Nabaa (the quoted official) said. A senior Iraqi official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation was developing, said the rocket was believed to have been fired from Sadr City. The incident brings back bad memories.
On Aug. 19, 2003, a suicide bombing at Baghdad’s Canal Hotel, which was then headquarters for the United Nations in Iraq, killed 23 people, including Sergio Vieira de Mello, who was at that time the United Nations secretary general’s special representative in Iraq. Since then, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq has moved its headquarters to the Green Zone, which houses the most senior American and Iraqi officials and institutions.

Rocket attacks on the Green Zone have become relatively rare recently, and it was not yet known whether the United Nations was the specific target.

Also on Saturday, Mayor Sajid al-Anbaki of Salam district, an agricultural area east of Baquba in Diyala Province, announced the discovery of seven mass graves in the village of Botoama. ... The bodies are believed to belong to people killed by Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, which dominated the area in 2006 and 2007. Over the last few months, 120 bodies have been found in and around the village, dating from 2006.
“Citizens inhabiting the area reported uncovering dead bodies near the village and when security forces headed to the site, they found seven mass graves and picked up 31 corpses.” He said that about 50 were expected to be found.

Sudarsan Raghavan and Saad Sarhan of the Washington Post write that Iraq's preeminent Shiite spiritual leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, has expressed concern about the country's security agreement with the United States, saying it gives the Americans the upper hand and does not do enough to protect Iraqi sovereignty, an official at his office said Saturday.

The highly influential cleric was tirelessly courted by the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in the weeks leading up to Parliament’s vote on the agreement. Always publicly pushing for Iraqi unity, al-Sistani’s blessing was given, on the condition that it was accepted by a wide majority of Iraq’s different populations.
Sistani, whose words carry great weight in Iraq, did not reject the pact outright and indicated that he would leave it to voters to decide its fate in a national referendum to be held by July 30. His comments will almost certainly bring pressure on the Shiite-led government and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to fulfill their promise to hold the vote.

The agreement, approved by Iraq's parliament Thursday, calls for U.S. troops to withdraw from towns and cities by next summer and from Iraq by the end of 2011. It also calls for Iraqi oversight of American forces; U.S. troops could be prosecuted under Iraqi laws for serious crimes committed when they are off duty and off base although the United States retains the power to determine whether a service member was off duty.

The pact required a simple majority of 138 votes in the 275-seat parliament for approval. Lawmakers said 149 members endorsed the security agreement, 35 opposed it and 14 abstained. Seventy-seven members were not present.

The official from Sistani's office said the margin had not satisfied the Iranian-born cleric, who had said any deal should have the support of all Iraqi parties to be legitimate. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because of custom and the sensitivity of the matter. ...Sistani, the official said, considered parts of the agreement "a mystery" -- especially those pertaining to the legal jurisdiction of U.S. forces and the mechanisms to control U.S. troops' entry into and exit from Iraq.

Sistani said the pact provided "no guarantee" that Iraq would regain sovereignty and questioned whether Iraq's assets would be protected under it. He also said he fears that Iraq's government is too weak to implement the agreement and will buckle to "American pressure," the official said.
Iraqi officials were not available for comment on Sistani's remarks.

New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman begins an op-ed called “Obama’s Iraq Inheritance” with the recent legal adventures of outspoken Iraqi parliament member Mithal al-Alusi, and says that the outcome bodes well for Iraq. Iraq’s highest court told the Iraqi Parliament last Monday that it had no right to strip one of its members of immunity so he could be prosecuted for an alleged crime: visiting Israel for a seminar on counterterrorism. The Iraqi justices said the Sunni lawmaker, Mithal al-Alusi, had committed no crime and told the Parliament to back off.

That’s not all. The Iraqi newspaper Al-Umma al-Iraqiyya carried an open letter signed by 400 Iraqi intellectuals, both Kurdish and Arab, defending Alusi. That takes a lot of courage and a lot of press freedom. I can’t imagine any other Arab country today where independent judges would tell the government it could not prosecute a parliamentarian for visiting Israel — and intellectuals would openly defend him in the press. See Iraqslogger’s recent extended interview with al-Alusi here)

According to Friedman, there is real political and cultural progress in Iraq, justifying the invasion, and handing Obama an opportunity that he can either “play smart” or not. Freidman thinks he will.
He has to avoid giving Iraqi leaders the feeling that Bush did — that he’ll wait forever for them to sort out their politics — while also not suggesting that he is leaving tomorrow, so they all start stockpiling weapons. If he can pull this off, and help that decent Iraq take root, Obama and the Democrats could not only end the Iraq war but salvage something positive from it. Nothing would do more to enhance the Democratic Party’s national security credentials than that.
The Washington Post’s editorial page also makes the argument that progress within the Iraqi government bodes well for Obama’s future, and also says it is good for President Bush’s legacy. Their example of progress is the passing of the security agreement on Thursday by the Iraqi parliament.
That those politicians were willing to publicly support three more years of American troops in Iraq just weeks before a hotly contested provincial election was another sign that the new democratic system is gaining its footing. Legislators gave themselves an out by requiring a national referendum next year that could allow Iraqi voters to advance the American withdrawal date by a year. But that flinch is less significant than the willingness of the government and parliament to stand up to pressure from Iran, which lobbied heavily against the Iraqi-U.S. accord, as well as to the domestic opposition of the Sadr movement.

The Bush administration worked patiently and tirelessly to negotiate the new agreement, which will have the effect of removing Iraq from United Nations supervision on Jan. 1. Having all but destroyed his presidency through mismanagement of the war, Mr. Bush can now fairly argue as he leaves office that his successor will inherit an Iraqi mission that has been stabilized both militarily and politically. That's not the same thing as the "victory" Mr. Bush has often spoken of; Iraq could still unravel if its leaders or the Obama administration act unwisely.
Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, no Sunday Editions.

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