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Daily Column
Iraq Papers Wed: T-72s for Iraq?
Biden Calls for Reconciliation in Kirkuk, Angry Words Between Maliki and Barzani
By AMER MOHSEN 01/13/2009 6:41 PM ET
Az-Zaman quotes “military sources” who claim that the Iraqi government is attempting to procure over 2,000 T-72 tanks from an unnamed Eastern European country. The paper described the Soviet-era tanks as “outdated” and said that the military sources are warning that financial corruption could be embedded with the deal. The paper did not specify the alleged source of the tanks, but made hints towards Poland when it said that the country in question has had prior involvement in Iraqi arms deals that were plagued by corruption and bribes.

Poland does produce a modernized version of the T-72, whose earlier models were widely employed by the Iraqi Republican Guard; but the new Iraqi Army has already placed orders for American M1 Abrams tanks, albeit in small numbers. Az-Zaman’s sources claim that the large deal aims at equipping six armored brigades, an expansion plan which – if true – is extremely ambitious. The paper was extremely critical of the deal, focusing on dated design of the tank and its inglorious service with the old Iraqi Army.

In other news, the Iraqi Press is busy covering and interpreting the visit of Vice-President elect Joseph Biden to Iraq. Government-owned Al-Sabah took Biden’s statements during his meetings with Iraqi politicians as reassurances that the new administration will not abandon its “commitments” towards the current Iraqi government. The paper, as well as pro-Talabani al-Mada, also focused on Biden’s commitment to the SOFA security deal and his insistence to see its articles through.

Az-Zaman, on the other hand, saw a big significance in Biden’s decision to make Kirkuk his second stop after Baghdad. The paper reported that Biden had a closed meeting with Kirkuk’s leaders in which he handed the attendees a letter “from the administration of President-elect Obama expressing its special interest in the province.”

Meanwhile, al-Hayat reports that – for all of Biden’s calls for “national reconciliation” – political tensions between the factions of the government remain unabated. A new round of aggressive statements took place between PM al-Maliki’s office and Kurdish leaders regarding the issue of federalism and the powers of the central government. According to the pan-Arab paper, Maliki was enraged by a threat made by Kurdistan’s President Mas'ud Barzani, asserting that Kurdistan will secede if Maliki insisted on his demands to amend the constitution.

Al-Maliki’s attempts to increase the role of the central government have been faced with stiff opposition from Kurdistan’s leaders, who insist that the current Iraqi constitution enshrines the federalism of Iraq and gives primacy to the federal entities (such as Kurdistan) over the central government. Al-Maliki’s position is that the central government should remain more powerful than the federal entities, and charges that some Kurdish leaders are attempting to intentionally “weaken the central government.” Maliki also argues that some articles in the current constitution were “hastily written” and need to be reviewed to temper the constitution’s federalist penchant.

As a result, a long-awaited visit by Maliki to Kurdistan remains unconfirmed. In recent weeks, President Talabani visited Maliki in Baghdad in a reconciliation effort and invited the Prime Minister to return the visit in Kurdistan, meet up with Barzani and end the lingering tensions between the executive and the Kurdish elite. Barzani’s threats of secession have, according to al-Hayat, made reconciliation difficult at the present time.


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