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Daily Column
US Papers Tue: A Show of Maliki's Strength
Under "Abu Isra’s Shadow", Hill Tapped as Ambassador, Heavy Metal Refugees
By DANIEL W. SMITH 02/03/2009 02:00 AM ET
Today, we have some descriptions of how Iraq’s political map is being redrawn, as sense is beginning to be made of election results. Also, a new US ambassador to Iraq is named, Montadar al-Zaidi’s shoe-throwing fad continues to catch on, Heavy Metal from Baghdad moves to the states, and John R. Bolton waxes democratic.

From Iraq
On page one of the Washington Post, there appears an article by three Post heavyweights - Sudarsan Raghavan, Anthony Shadid and Ernesto Londoño – who report on preliminary election results, which are looking kindly towards candidates allied with al-Maliki .

It is dense, but intelligent writing. With an opening sentence like “Iraq appears headed toward a reapportionment of power that favors the emergence of a strong central government, with supporters of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki showing strong returns in Saturday's elections, according to early tallies seen by election and party officials,” casual readers aren’t likely to make it very far. That isn’t necessarily to its discredit, though, as political analysis which delves further than the issue of Shi’a vs. Sunni is welcome.

Dawa officials say they will now control as much as 55 percent of the seats on the Baghdad council. "The results of the election show that Iraqis support a strong central government and good local governments," said Dawa’s Muhsin al-Rubae. "These results reflect the confidence of people in Maliki."

Maliki fared well in the south too, appearing to have beaten Hakim’s Supreme Council in most provinces, and with Basra going to the secular party backed by Iyad Allawi. As has been pointed out frequently, the big religious parties are losing popularity, with lack of services provided being commonly cited as a major reason (not to mention years of sectarian violence). Al-Maliki has stepped away from religious rhetoric for the time being. The two “independent” parties that Moqtada al-Sadr endorsed have actually ended up doing fairly well in places like Najaf, Babil, Dhi Qar, and Maysan.

The two main battle fronts are likely to be Anbar province in the west, where rival Sunni factions duke it out for dominance, and Ninewa province in the north, where Arabs and Kurds don’t quite see eye to eye on everything.

Sam Dagher and Steven Lee Myers of the New York Times offer a similar roundup of the state of things, but with tighter and more vibrant writing. We pick up in Ninewa, where we left off.
In Mosul, the seat of Nineveh Province, the presumptive victory of Sunni Arab nationalists reflected a determination by majority Arabs to push back what they see as hostile encroachment by minority Kurds since the fall of Saddam Hussein. These Arab groups, disenfranchised from power, have embraced Mr. Maliki’s calls for a strong central state, which have put him on a collision course with Kurds.

Many believe that empowering Arabs again in Mosul would also reduce much of the violence that remains, particularly because the winning Arab coalition, Al Hudba, is believed to be in communication with insurgents, mostly members of the former ruling Baath Party.
Dagher and Myers hit Basra and the rest of the country as well, and make an interesting observation about the public’s disaffection with religious parties in relation to lack of services provided, and how Maliki has somehow escaped blame for this lately.
Though Mr. Maliki has been prime minister since 2006, many did not blame him for the poor state of municipal services. Entire streets and alleyways in these neighborhoods are still flooded with sewage and festering heaps of garbage.

“God willing, we will get better services if his list wins,” said Rasul Hani, 18, who voted for Mr. Maliki’s slate. Using Mr. Maliki’s nickname, he added, “We will count our blessings for as long as we remain in Abu Isra’s shadow.”
Stateside
The Post’s Glenn Kessler reports that Assistant Secretary of State Christopher R. Hill, will be nominated as ambassador to Iraq. He wasn’t the first on the list of many to succeed Ryan C. Crocker, who has just retired from the position.

Hill is a consummate dealmaker, but he does not speak Arabic, and his expertise lies in Europe and Northeast Asia. He was ambassador to Poland, Macedonia and South Korea and also was a top negotiator to the Dayton peace accords that ended the Bosnian war in the mid-1990s.

Hill won plaudits for his efforts in the face of opposition from within the Bush administration and the often frustrating negotiating tactics of the North Koreans. But he also was criticized for appearing at times too eager to strike a deal, or too eager to court the news media.
Perhaps as a sign that he can overcome the latter criticism, the story has no quotes by Hill, as he did not respond to a phone call or e-mails by Kessler.

Ben Sisario in the New York Times writes of Baghdad Heavy Metal band Acrassicauda’s journey to America as refugees and of their backstage meeting with Metallica’s James Hetfield, who presented them with one of his guitars. The band was featured in the 2007 documentary, “Heavy Metal in Baghdad.”

Sisario’s article is engaging. He portrays the band members in a likable way, while using their surreal journey as a foil to describe some of what Iraq’s more than two million refugees who have left Iraq since 2003.
“That’s for keeping the faith,” Mr. Hetfield said, adding as he disappeared with his entourage down a corridor, “Write some good riffs.”
Form Across the Pond
In an obvious reference to Iraqi news correspondent Montadar al-Zaidi’s celebrated act of head-of-state shoe-throwing, John F. Burns in the New York Times and an uncredited Wall Street Journal news roundup report that a protester at Cambridge University threw an athletic shoe at the Chinese prime minister, Wen Jiabao, during a speech he gave at the university on Monday.

Opinion
New York Times op-ed contributor and former controversial US ambassador to the UN John R. Bolton writes of the Iraqi election, calling it “a major success for both that country and the United States.” He decries the lack of celebration of the election in the media, and those pesky surge-denyin' lefties. The estimated 51% doesn’t realy jive with his opening statement that there was a “strong voter turnout”, but the elections were actually peaceful, as he also says.

Iran’s ambitions can be kept in check by such an election, he argues, and calls “fundamentally wrong” the theory that Iran would be less of a global threat, had the US not invaded Iraq.
Long before the American ouster of Mr. Hussein, Iran was supporting terrorist groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza and the West Bank. It was seeking hegemony in Syria and Lebanon, and was well along in its clandestine program to acquire nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. After Mr. Hussein’s conviction and execution, Iran increased efforts to advance its radical brand of Shiite Islam in Iraq. But the success of the election should substantially retard those efforts.
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