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Daily Column
Iraq Papers Wed: Obama in Iraq
Car Bombs Strike Again in Baghdad, Tensions Rise in Kirkuk
By AMER MOHSEN 04/07/2009 6:55 PM ET
The “surprise” visit by US President Barack Obama to Iraq dominated the headlines of most Iraqi papers. While al-Jazeera and al-'Arabiya focused on the President’s commitment to stick with the existing withdrawal timetables and his pronouncement that the next 18 months will be critical for the US and Iraq, Az-Zaman chose to highlight Obama’s statements in support of political reform and the inclusion of the opposition in the political process. “Obama: everyone should be represented in governing Iraq” went the paper’s headline.

The form and the extent of national reconciliation are critical matters for the US and the Iraqi government. Al-'Arabiya claimed that “Obama is pressurizing Maliki more than Bush” to be more inclusive in his governance. But the Iraqi Premier insisted that the participation of the government opponents can only take place “within the proper legal and constitutional channels.”

Instead of visiting Iraq’s leaders in Baghdad, the combination of a sandstorm and a volatile security situation necessitated that the Iraqi Premier be spirited to a US military base to meet with the President, an awkward situation in terms of protocol. Fortunately for Maliki, most papers publishing in Iraq avoided focusing on the issue.

On a related front, al-Jazeera reported that the ex-Iraqi vice-President – and the highest-ranking Ba'thi still at large - 'Izzat al-Duri released a recording where he flatly rejected notions of political reconciliation through the current “political process.”

“The political process is a project of the occupier, who wants to achieve what he could not do militarily,” al-Duri said. Interestingly, Saddam’s Vice-President expressed his wish “to establish good relations” with Washington, but conditioned that on the withdrawal of US troops and the ending of the current government.

Also, Obama’s visit was overshadowed by a new car bombing in the capital that killed eight Iraqis and injured 14 in the Shi'a district of al-Kadhimiya. The attack came a day after what al-Hayat dubbed “black Monday,” where over three dozen Iraqis were killed in a series of bombings that were described by an official in the Ministry of Interior (via al-Jazeera) as “the worst security breach in Baghdad this year.”

No groups have claimed responsibility for the attacks, and the government is pointing at Ba'this, noting that the explosions came a day before the anniversary of the founding of the Ba'th party. Az-Zaman claimed that Baghdad’s residents are now living in fear with reports of several car bombs strewn throughout the capital that could be detonated at any moment.

The paper quoted sources in the Interior Ministry who exclaimed that their forces are on the lookout for 12 bomb-laden vehicles which, they say, entered Baghdad on Tuesday. According to al-Hayat, however, Iraqi security officials are linking the attacks to Iraqi detainees who were recently released from US prisons, as well as to Sunni Sahwa militias that are allegedly infiltrated by insurgents. An unnamed source in Baghdad’s security told the paper that the attacks were carried out by “terrorist groups that were in detention, but got released by US forces.” An Interior Ministry official, on the other hand, opined that the attackers belonged to the Sahwa militias that were recently disbanded by the government “the crisis (between the government and Sahwa) gave a strong motivation for these groups to execute their terrorist operations through Sahwa members.”

In other news, Az-Zaman reports that a Kurdish campaign to collect signatures of Kirkukis who wish to affiliate the province with the Kurdistan Region is drawing the ire of Arabs and Turkomans in the province. Kurdish parties noted that the petition is a legitimate form of democratic activism, but a Turkoman party claimed that state functionaries are being “forced” to fill the applications, which pretend to survey the locals’ opinion of Kirkuk’s status, but also include detailed information on the name, employment and address of those surveyed.

Lastly, al-Bayyna al-Jadeeda claimed that, with Monday's attacks, Iraq has suffered over "7,800 car bombs and 1,000 explosive belts" that, according to the sectarian Shi'a paper, have targeted Shi'as exclusively and caused over "one million martyrs."


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