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Daily Column
Iraq Papers Wed: A New Capital for Iraq
Tens of Thousands of Policemen Protect the 'Ashura Processions
By AMER MOHSEN 01/06/2009 4:39 PM ET
Al-Jazeera reported that Iraqi leaders are seriously considering a new law that would make the Green Zone into the new Federal Capital of Iraq. An official in the Baghdad City Council revealed that a law proposal is currently being drafted with the intention of separating the Federal Capital from the city of Baghdad proper; an idea that, he said, is an imitation of the Washington DC model. The administrative capital would thus have a separate budget, administration and security forces from Baghdad. The size of the “capital” is still undecided, the official added, with some proposing to include large parts of Baghdad and others preferring to limit it to the current boundaries of the Green Zone.

After control of the Green Zone was formally handed to the Iraqi state last week, major legal challenges are facing the Baghdad City Council, notes councilmember Salah 'Abd al-Razzaq. Much of the property in the Green Zone has been illegally confiscated by US forces, Iraqi leaders and foreign companies, and many of the owners are demanding to have their homes returned. The central area is still cut-off from its surrounding neighborhoods, which has had a suffocating effect over Baghdad’s urban fabric. And the newly opened US Embassy along the Kindi Street is more like a compound, composed of 27 buildings constructed over 100 hectares excised from prime real estate in central Baghdad (42 Hectares according to al-Hayat.)

Al-Hayat, meanwhile, made a comparison between the massive new Embassy compound and the old US Embassy in Iraq, located in a small building in the Karrada district. The difference in size and stature between the two locations was seen as a reflection of the differing role the US intends to play in Iraq today, compared to the last century – the first US consulate in Baghdad was established in 1889. But security concerns were paramount in the design of the new Embassy, al-Hayat notes, with small vertical windows and several walls separating the compound from the outside world – a metal mesh surrounds the building to fend rocket attacks, surrounded by a ring of concrete barriers, and, around all that, a 15-meter high cement wall equipped with electronic surveillance equipment.

In other news, Az-Zaman says that over 28,000 policemen were spirited to Karabal to protect the 'Ashura processions on Tuesday, which were attended by as much as two million visitors. To avoid the kind of clashes that took place last year between pro- and anti-government Shi'a factions (and caused, according to the paper, over a thousand casualties;) this year’s processions will be strictly apolitical, and security precautions have been heightened.

Contra Az-Zaman, the news site Elaph reported on heavy “electoral publicity” filling the city during the processions, despite repeated warnings against the politicization of the occasion and the ban on entering photos of political and religious leaders into the holy city.

A notable feature of this year’s 'Ashura is the ban on women in Baghdad’s Kadhimiya shrine (which also receives droves of visitors) after a deadly attack involving a female suicide bomber on Sunday. According to al-Hayat, the measure is causing intense protests from Baghdadi women and families who are used to visiting the Kadhimiya shrine during the final days of 'Ashura.

In other news, Az-Zaman said that the saga of choosing a new Parliament Speaker may take long to resolve. After the sacking of Mahmud al-Mashhadani, the Sunni IAF has split, which means that there is no longer a single Sunni bloc that can claim ownership of the post. Iraqi politicians have expressed opposition to the idea of appointing a personality affiliated with the Islamic Party (the IAF’s main constituent,) while the National Dialogue Council – now separate from the IAF – is promoting its own candidate, Khalaf al-'Layyan, the chairman of the party.

To make matters more complicated, the IAF has so far failed to agree on a single candidate to oppose al-'Layyan. However, the paper quoted inside sources who affirm that the largest blocs in the Parliament, the Shi'a I’tilaf and the Kurdistan Coalition, have promised to steer their votes towards the IAF candidate, which would constitute an overwhelming advantage in a Parliamentary vote.


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