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IraqSide:Media
Daily Column
Iraq Papers Tue: US Embassy Opens
Iraqi Papers "Requested" to Under-Report on Gaza?
By AMER MOHSEN 01/05/2009 7:15 PM ET
Az-Zaman
Az-Zaman
In the presence of President Talabani and John Negroponte, the brand-new $700 million US Embassy building has been officially opened in the Green Zone. For the last five years, the US Embassy was located in the Presidential Palace of Saddam Husain, which was returned to the Iraqi government with the beginning of 2009 and the entering into effect of the SOFA treaty.

Al-Jazeera said that this will be the largest US Embassy in the world, with the Embassy spokesman indicating that over 1200 employees will staff the new offices, representing 14 Federal agencies.

Meanwhile, Az-Zaman dubbed Monday “the day of explosive devices in Baghdad,” with a series of explosions (at least five) reported throughout the city. Fortunately, the death toll is relatively low with only one reported killed and two dozen injured in the attacks.

The Baghdad edition of Az-Zaman highlighted recent statements by Vice-President Cheney admitting that false intelligence led the Bush administration to invading Iraq, which prompted an independent Iraqi MP to demand that these statements be used as evidence to pursue reparations from the United States for the destruction and damage wrought by the war and the invasion.

Interestingly, the MP in question is apparently refusing to divulge his identity, but has told the paper that the SOFA treaty does not preclude reparation demands, indicating that no articles in SOFA state such a thing. The mysterious MP added that no serious talk of reparation is taking place in Baghdad because Iraqi officials “are uniquely focused on their narrow personal and political interests.”

A notable feature of the mainstream Iraqi press today is the suspicious absence of news of the ongoing war in Gaza from the front pages. While Iraqis are bombarded by continuous TV coverage of the war on satellite channels, and while virtually all Arab papers have their headlines occupied by reports from the Gaza strip, papers such as Az-Zaman and government-owned As-Sabah have virtually eschewed the matter in their front-page coverage. As-Sabah relegated the war to a report on page 5, while Az-Zaman (whose international edition has been dominated by Gaza news since the beginning of the war) has dropped the issue completely from its Baghdad edition.

In other news, al-'Arabiya quoted officials in Karbala as saying that over a million visitors have flocked to the city in anticipation of the 'Ashura celebrations, including 55,000 foreigners (mostly from Iran, Pakistan and Arab countries.) After a deadly bombing in Kadhimiya on Sunday, Iraqi security officials are taking stringent precautions during the celebrations. Az-Zaman said that women will not be allowed to enter the Kadhimiya shrine in Baghdad on the last two days of 'Ashura (the busiest ;) a measure that is apparently meant to prevent further bombings. Women have been increasingly used in suicide missions as of late, as well as males dressing as women to avoid searches and benefitting from the long black cloaks ('Abayas) to hide their explosive devices.

Al-Hayat, reporting on Maliki’s recent visit to Tehran, relayed statements from his meeting with Ayatollah Khamena'i, who “warned al-Maliki from the friendship of Americans,” as the paper put it. Khamena'i said after the meeting that “Americans have no real friendships, even with their closest allies in the region... with the presence of Americans, the Iraqi people will not rest.”

Also in al-Hayat, the paper said that the project to turn Basra into an autonomous region (along the lines of Kurdistan) is still lacking the necessary signatures required to place a referendum on the matter. According to the head of the independent elections’ commission, Faraj al-Haidari, only 23,000 signatures have been received so far, while 140,000 are needed.

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