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Daily Column
Iraq Papers Mon: The Farewell Visit
Gates Shocks Gulf Arabs by Proposing Iraq's Admission into GCC
By AMER MOHSEN 12/14/2008 7:49 PM ET
The surprise visit by Defense Secretary Robert Gates to Iraq was followed by President Bush himself arriving unannounced in Baghdad, a farewell visit to the country that witnessed the grandest and most tragic project of his presidency. Both visits were riddled by mishaps: Gates recommended (to the surprise and dismay of Gulf Arabs) that Iraq become a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council, and Bush’s visit to Baghdad will likely be immortalized by the photo of the departing President skillfully ducking the shoes hurled at him by an Iraqi journalist, Montazar al-Zaidi.

Al-Zaidi screamed “dog” at the US President, shortly after Bush shook hands with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki following the formal signing of the SOFA document, and - according to witnesses - shouted “this is the goodbye kiss from Iraqis,” before aiming his footwear at the President. According to journalistic sources in Baghdad, al-Zaidi (who works for al-Baghdadiya channel and was reportedly abducted by gunmen in 2007) was dragged by security personnel to an “unknown location;" Iraqi blogger Raed Jarrar quotes contacts in Baghdad who said that al-Zaidi was severely beaten following the incident. After his arrest, al-Baghdadiya channel issued a statement calling for the release of its reporter.

The shoe-throwing incident dominated the headlines of Arab and Iraqi papers, with few exceptions. Pro-Talabani al-Mada, for example, kept the incident away from the headlines. Al-Quds al-'Arabi, on the other hand, did not content to relay the news on the top of its front-page, but also fronted with an op-ed article by the editor-in-chief, 'Abd al-Bari 'Atwan, entitled “a fitting farewell to a war criminal.”

According to al-Jazeera news channel, the secretary general of the Gulf Cooperation Council, 'Abd al-Rahman al-'Atiya, went on record to rebuff Gates’ statements on Iraq joining the GCC. Al-'Atiya said that “conditions are not yet ripe” for Iraq joining. The GCC was formed as an alliance between the smaller states in the Gulf, and has historically excluded the two largest countries, Iraq and Iran, from membership. There have been attempts at expanding the Council in recent years, with Yemen’s induction, but Iraq’s introduction would radically change the balance of power within the GCC and would likely be faced with stiff Kuwaiti resistance. It is unclear whether Gates consulted with Gulf Arab diplomats before making the statements.

Also in al-Jazeera, Iraqi National Security Adviser Mouaffaq al-Rubai'i was quoted making strong statements against Syria. Iraqi policy towards Damascus has been extremely volatile since 2003, oscillating between expressions of friendship and cooperation and hurling accusations of terrorism at the Syrian regime. Yesterday, al-Rubai'i said that Syrian policy is “contradictory and unwise,” complaining that Syria “hosts the Saddamists and those who support Saddamists with though and plans, and (Syria) hosts conferences that call for the felling of democracy in Iraq.” Al-Rubai'i was referring to Damascus becoming a refuge (along with 'Amman, Yemen and other Arab countries) for ex-Ba'this and the active remnants of the banned Ba'th party. Al-Rubai'i called on Damascus to “take a political decision” regarding these individuals, “restrict their movement” and “freeze their assets” in Syria.

In other news, US and Iraqi officials are already backtracking on the promises made before the signing of the security agreement. According to al-Hayat, the June 2009 date for the withdrawal of US forces from Iraqi cities will not be respected. The London-based paper quoted Gen. Odierno as saying that American “non-combat forces” will remain in Iraqi cities after the SOFA-mandated date “to support Iraqi security forces, and provide aid and training during the transition period.”

Az-Zaman, lastly, reported that the Iraqi Oil Ministry has decided to resume business with a Korean oil company after it accepted to cancel contracts it had signed with the Kurdistan Regional Government. The contracts, signed by the KRG independently from the central government, led to a protracted conflict between the Oil Ministry and the Kurdistan Government. One of the measures adopted by oil minister Husain al-Shahrastani was to sever all connections between Iraq and oil companies that would deal unilaterally with Kurdistan. SK Energy finally conceded and sent the Ministry a letter announcing that it will not deal with any parties in Iraq except the federal government, “within the laws of the Oil Ministry.”


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