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Daily Column
Iraq Papers Sat: Elections' Results Announced
France Asks for the re-activation of Saddam's Oil Contracts
By AMER MOHSEN 02/20/2009 5:32 PM ET
The official and final results of the Iraqi provincial elections that were held three weeks ago were released today by the Iraqi Elections’ Commission. The distribution of seats among the competing lists did not diverge much from earlier projections, but a clearer image of the new political balance in Iraq’s Arab provinces can be inferred from the results (Kurdistan and Kirkuk were excluded from the electoral contest.)

According to Az-Zaman, which was the first paper to publish the results in full, Maliki’s lists made the biggest gains in Iraq’s two largest cities: Baghdad and Basra; in the latter, Maliki’s candidates will occupy 20 out of 35 seats, permitting them to form a standalone majority. In the capital, the Premier’s list obtained 28 out of 57 seats, and in the southern provinces, Maliki garnered a plurality in all provincial councils, but one that would not permit his coalition to rule without an alliance with other forces on the councils.

Hakeem’s lists came second in most Shi'a-majority provinces, obtaining 54 seats in total (out of which, three in Baghdad and five in Basra.) A significant fall from grace for the party that, until January, controlled the majority of southern provincial councils and sketched ambitious plans for a federal Shi'a entity – which it assumed it would command.

The Sadrist-backed “Free and Independent” lists came in third place, with 41 seats throughout Iraq’s Shi'a provinces, while ex-Prime Minister al-Ja'fari did poorly; and previously influential parties, such as the Shi'a Fadhila, practically disappeared from the political map.

In Sunni provinces, the most significant race was in Nineveh, where Arabs and Kurds intensely competed over the ethnically-mixed province. The Mosul-based Arab coalition took control of the council away from the Kurdish parties by obtaining 19 of the province’s 37 council seats, forming a standalone majority, while the Kurdish-backed list gained only 12 seats.

The Islamic Party and its Iraqi Accord Front coalition, which previously controlled three Sunni provinces, garnered a plurality only in Diyala, and shared first place with Salih al-Mutlaq’s list in Salah al-Deen. In Anbar, the tribal “Awakening” coalition had a slight plurality, which means that in all these provinces – just like in the South – the ruling majorities on most councils will be decided by post-election alliances.

In other news, al-Hayat covered the public trial of Muntadhar al-Zaidi, the Iraqi journalist who was arrested – and allegedly tortured – for hurling his shoes at US President George Bush during a Press Conference in Baghdad last December. According to the correspondent, al-Zaidi received the welcome “of a national hero” in the courthouse, with a standing ovation and cheers from the audience as he entered the room.

The paper said that, on the witness stand, al-Zaidi accused a high-ranking officer of torturing him during detention, adding that he cannot reveal his name “out of fear for my life” (the paper relayed claims that the man in question is be the commander of the Army brigade in Baghdad.) The trial is postponed until next month, and al-Zaidi’s main defense argument – according to al-Hayat – is that Bush’s visit during which the incident took place did not constitute an official visit by a head of state to Iraq, but one made by the US President “in order to inspect the units of his army, which occupies the country.”

In the London edition of Az-Zaman, the headline focused on a French request to re-activate oil contracts that were signed between the Saddam regime and French companies to exploit the giant Majnun oilfield. Mere days after Sarkozy’s visit to Iraq, in which he focused on French-Iraqi economic cooperation, the French Minister of State for foreign trade Anne-Marie Idrac arrived at the head of an economic delegation to Baghdad, and after meetings with high-level officials, announced the re-activation of the Iraqi-French Economic Commission, which has been suspended for the last 20 years.

Sources that were present at Idrac’s meetings told the paper that the French Minister brought up the oil contracts that Saddam had granted – towards his later years – to the French Total energy company to develop the Majnun field in the south (some estimates put the field’s reserves as high as 20 billion barrels.) Iraq had lately decided not to acknowledge these contracts and to offer the development of most of its oil fields through open bidding rounds to international oil companies. The next meeting of the French-Iraqi commission will be headed by the French Minister of the Economy and the Iraqi Oil Minister, which reflects the primacy of the energy dossier during the talks. In addition to oil and gas projects, the French Minister said that her country was interested in the transportation sector, namely, Baghdad’s airport, Basra’s port and the Iraqi rail system.


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