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Daily Column
US Papers Sat: Da'wa Candidate Assassinated
Post Editors Bid Farewell to Bush; Will Maliki Draw Votes for Da'wa Bloc?
By GREG HOADLEY 01/17/2009 01:57 AM ET
Today's Iraq-datelined news is led by the assassination in Babil Province of Haitham Kadhim al-Husaini, a candidate with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Da'wa Party in the upcoming provincial elections, while the Post features a front-page profile of the Iraqi PM, suggesting that al-Maliki's electoral list may gain ground in the polls. In an otherwise slow Iraq news day, Post editors issue a strangely contradictory farewell pronouncements on outgoing US President George Bush's national security policies.

Gunmen ambushed the car of a prominent leader of the Iraqi Prime Minister's Da'wa Party in Babil Province on Friday, Sam Dagher writes for the Times. Haitham Kadhim al-Husaini, a Da'wa candidate for the Babil provincial council was killed and four others were reportedly injured. The Times article says the four wounded were "other party officials," while the Post reports below that the other victims were "guards." Al-Husaini was a district commissioner in the Jabala (Jbala) sector of Babil Province whose wife and four children were killed two years ago in the intense sectarian violence that seized the mixed Jabala area, about 25 miles south of Baghdad. Dagher segues into the intensifying electoral rivalry between Maliki's Da'wa Party and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) in southern Iraq. Prominent ISCI MP (and Shi'a cleric) Jalaluddin al-Saghir on Friday denounced accusations by Da'wa supporters that the ISCI had plotted to oust the prime minister in a sermon. Meanwhile, leaders in the Sadrist current, which has not formally entered the provincial election contest with its own candidates, "urged followers on Friday to vote for two lists that it said were made up of independent candidates," Dagher writes, without specifying which lists. In Baghdad, Ali Mohammed Muslim, identified as a senior Sadrist activist, campaigned Friday in Sadr City on an anti-corruption platform.

Saad Sarhan reports on the assassination of al-Husseini in the Post, citing a local police spokesman who said that the Da'wa leader's car "was riddled with bullets," adding that the "guards fired back, but the assailants escaped."

Prime Minister Maliki's endorsement of the Da'wa-party-led "State of Law" list in the upcoming polls "has effectively turned the contest into a referendum on his rule," Amit Paley argues in a Post front-page feature. Paley cites "interviews with more than 100 Iraqis across the country" that show "broad support for Maliki," Though the Da'wa Party is historically a religious party, Paley writes that the PM's rhetoric has shifted since his days as a less prominent MP, to rely more on secular appeals, adding that Maliki's ostensible support of centralized government in Iraq has led to rifts with his erstwhile allies in the Kurdish and Shi'a political parties, and mentions in passing that "Sadrists blame him for military campaigns against them." Paley adds that Da'wa campaign aides hope to capture at least two governorates in the south, and also "believed the coalition could also win a majority of seats in Baghdad, Najaf, Basra and Dhi Qar provinces." Worth a full read for several quotes from Iraqis expressing their support for the PM and his party, although one comes away still wondering just how deeply the PM's support will run in the January elections. The notoriously reclusive prime minister did not agree to be interviewed for the article, Paley notes.

As Pres. George Bush prepares to step down, Post editors fire a parting shot with an editorial evaluating the 43rd president's national security policies. The eds both chastise the president for the 2003 war and its consequences, while oddly praising him. Bush is faulted for rifts with European allies over the invasion, the absence of WMDs, and "disgracefully bad planning," adding:

Though relations with Europe have been significantly repaired, Iran exploited the divisions in Western ranks to make mischief in both Iraq and Afghanistan -- and to advance its bomb-building.

But, as matters in Iraq now stand, there is a decent chance of a reasonably pro-American incipient democracy in the heart of the Arab Middle East. This would be a major accomplishment, and one that would cast the invasion, the failures of the early years of occupation and the painful loss of more than 4,000 American lives and many thousand more Iraqi lives in a different light than that in which they are seen by most Americans now. It would also vindicate his unpopular decision to stabilize Iraq with more U.S. troops rather than abandon it to civil war and possible genocide -- an instance in which Mr. Bush's self-assurance and steadfastness paid off.

Recalling journalist Muntadar al-Zaidi's "farewell kiss" to the American president from the Iraqi people, one wonders if President Bush will be seen "in a different light" among Iraqis in a few years' time -- or not.

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