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Daily Column
Iraq Papers Sat: Sadr Calls for Attacks
For the First Time in Years: 'Ashura Passes Peacefully
By AMER MOHSEN 01/09/2009 12:39 PM ET
With the Arab media dominated by the Gaza war and the Iraqi media absent for 'Ashura, original reporting from Iraq has been unusually scarce. An important headline in Az-Zaman, however, noted that Shi'a leader Muqtada al-Sadr joined the calls of insurgent factions to “strike the Americans in revenge for Gaza.”

Al-Sadr called the US “Israel’s main partner” and demanded that Israeli embassies in the Arab world be closed. A surprising position came from the pro-US Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki, who also called for cutting all Arab ties with the Hebrew state “both public and secret.” Al-Maliki dubbed Israel “the murderous regime.”

Aside from short disparate statements, the Iraqi government has largely been silent on the Gaza question, avoiding to side with any of the Arab camps – the “moderate” or the “radical.” Maliki’s words yesterday should be seen as a reflection of the sympathy of the Iraqi public with the Palestinians of Gaza.

In other news, the fact that 'Ashura’s celebrations in Karbala this year went with no serious security incidents was noteworthy enough to occupy the front page on Az-Zaman. The early days of 'Ashura were marked by a lethal bombing in Baghdad, but the busiest days of 'Ashura’s culmination, in Karbala, went with no incidents; despite the presence of hundreds of thousands of visitors from various political and ideological leanings.

Meanwhile, Pan-Arab al-Hayat discussed a thorny question: the dossier of detainees in US prisons. Quoting judiciary sources, the paper affirmed that US troops will begin handing over Iraqi prisoners to the Iraqi authorities at a rate of 1500 per month, starting in February. Iraqi officials said that the authorities do not have precise figures on how many Iraqis are currently under US custody, but estimated that around 16,000 detainees are imprisoned in three US bases in Basra, Baghdad and Suleymaniya.

Previous to the signing of SOFA, Iraqi officials intimated that Iraqi prisoners will be released or handed over to the Iraqi authorities immediately. But like many of the pre-SOFA promises, that does not seem to be the case. The Iraqi Minister for Human Rights, Wujdan Mikha'il, said that closing the detainee’s dossier will be “a long process, involving complicated measures.” US forces’ spokesman, Munir Hashwa, said that “all the detainees ... will be handed over to the Iraqi forces, but over stages.”

Also in al-Hayat, the paper said that the competition between different blocs to appoint a new Parliament Speaker is heating up. The Sunni IAF front, which claims that it – alone – has the right to name a candidate to the post, is yet to make a nomination; and several candidates are emerging from other parties.

'Allawi’s Iraqi List, alone, has two candidates from its ranks: Mosul’s MP Usama al-Najeefi and Mahdi al-Hafiz – who is Shi'a. In 2005, a deal between the ruling parties divided the high posts of the state among sectarian blocs: the Shi'as got the Prime Ministership, the Kurds the Presidency and the Sunnis were left with the post of the Speaker. Non-IAF Sunni factions, however, have been calling for a break with this sectarian custom, with the leaders of the Dialogue Council announcing that they do not oppose a non-Sunni candidate. Usama al-Najeefi, however, stated that his nomination is the official position of the Iraqi List, and that Ayad 'Allawi has been lobbying for him with the other parties.

Al-'Arabiya, meanwhile, stated that the IAF will be meeting on Saturday to announce its formal candidate, which will likely receive the support of the Shi'a I’tilaf and the Kurdistan Coalition; which means that other candidates will have to rely on the votes of the “opposition” parties within the Parliament.

Lastly, the Lebanese al-Akhbar daily announced that Iraqi archeological sites that have been turned into military outposts for US forces will be gradually handed over to the Iraqi government. US Ambassador Ryan Crocker visited US troops based near the site of Ur, and said that the ancient city will be turned over to the Iraqi state “in the coming months.”

Ur, discovered by British archaeologists in the early 20th century is one of Iraq’s historical treasures, containing 16 royal tombs and the ruins of the ancient Sumerian capital. For many Iraqis, a building on the site is considered to be “the house of Abraham,” a belief fueled by the biblical story claiming that Abraham originated from Ur. The site and Ur’s Ziggurat suffered major damages in recent years, archeologists, say, with the ancient mud walls suffering cracks due to the movement of heavy vehicles and insurgents’ missile – aimed at the US base – often missing their target and hitting the ancient buildings (2100 B.C.)


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