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IraqSide:Media
Daily Column
Iraq Papers Mon: "Exceptions" to SOFA?
Demonstrations for the Release of Detainees, Heated Debate over Iraq's Identity
By AMER MOHSEN 04/05/2009 6:22 PM ET
Az-Zaman
Az-Zaman
Al-Bayyna al-Jadeeda interpreted statements made by Gen. Odierno in Mosul (in an interview with the Christian Science Monitor’s Jane Arraf) as proof that US forces will not be withdrawing from all Iraqi cities by the end of June as prescribed in the SOFA agreement. Odierno had stated that the “mistakes of the past” will not be repeated in Mosul and that no hasty retreat will take place while al-Qa'ida maintains a presence in the area.

The paper claimed that, “for months,” politicians have been preparing to announce that in Mosul and – to a lesser extent – Ba'quba, the capital of Diyala, continued presence of US forces will be indispensable beyond the June 30th deadline. The daily noted that the General coined the term “exceptions”( to the SOFA articles,) which could be obtained with the permission of the Prime Minister to keep US forces in these cities.

Regarding the developing crisis between Maliki’s government and the Sahwa (Awakening) Sunni militias, al-Jazeera reports that arrests against Sahwa leaders are continuing, and that Premier al-Maliki came out accusing Sahwa factions of being infiltrated by “Ba'this and al-Qa'ida.”

In an interview with the official television channel, al-Maliki commented on the confrontations with the Sahwa of al-Fadl in Baghdad by affirming that “the clashes ... were not with Sahwa forces, but with a branch of the Ba'th party organization.” Maliki launched a stern warning against other Sahwa leaders who are allegedly entering into contact with Ba'this: “what took place in al-Fadl is a message to those who wish to take the same path as that gang ... they think that they are communicating away from the eyes of the government and the security organs, but they are all under supervision ... each one of them will meet a day where he receives his just punishment.” Moreover, the Premier announced unambiguously that the Sahwa, as a quasi-autonomous paramilitary force, is over. “There is no Sahwa anymore, they have become (part of) state institutions,” he said.

Al-Hayat daily, on the other hand, pointed that Maliki also took steps to reassure the current Sahwa members, announcing that the government “will not abandon the Sahwa.” The paper said that it received information that the government will pay (on Sunday) all unpaid Sahwa salaries throughout the country. On the same front, and in a response to the arrest campaigns, Sahwa leaders are “preemptively” providing lists with the names of al-Qa'ida activists that were killed in battles with Sahwa.

The leader of the Sahwa of southern Baghdad told the paper that the measure was taken because families of al-Qa'ida’s deceased have begun to press charges against them. The militia leader, Yusuf al-Jubburi, exclaimed that he and his peers should not be prosecuted for “operations waged against al-Qa'ida.”

In other news, Az-Zaman reports that hundreds of Iraqis, mostly women, demonstrated in Basra demanding that Iraqis detained by US and Iraqi forces for long terms without specific charges be released. Most of the demonstrators were families of the detainees, the paper noted, citing examples of mothers who have several sons in Iraqi and US prisons. The paper added that, according to the security agreement, many detainees have been released in recent months, but that many of them have been subject to assassinations and – in many cases – renewed arrest.

Lastly, al-Bayyna al-Jadeeda’s editor-in-chief published an op-ed in response to Kurdish protests against Premier al-Maliki, who referred to Iraq as “an Arab country” in recent speeches. The paper, a Shi'a publication supportive of al-Maliki, is known for publishing harsh material against Kurdish leaders who criticize al-Maliki’s centralization policies. Last week, the same writer fumed at Masrur al-Barzani, the son of Kurdistan’s President and head of security organs in the Kurdistan Region, who made statements that were viewed as “secessionist” by the paper.

On the controversial matter of Iraq’s identity, the editor Sattar Jabbar unambiguously declared: “we are Arab and we represent the heart of Arabism and we are 85% of the population.” The author tried to distinguish between “the chauvinist nationalism” of the Ba'th party and the “civilizational” Arab belonging of the majority in Iraq, but considered calls denying the Arabism of Iraq “dangerous.” In a semi-threatening tone, he addressed Kurdish critics: “the hated secessionist tune, which is on the rise, is a strike against national unity, and a return to the government’s wars against the north of the country.”

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