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Daily Column
Iraq Papers Sat: Saudi-Iraqi Relations Sour
Muqtada Condemns the Killing of Iraqi Gays, US Army Begins Dismantling Bases
By AMER MOHSEN 05/29/2009 5:28 PM ET
Several important mechanisms are taking place simultaneously in Iraq: US forces are beginning to withdraw from urban centers, closing 19 bases in Baghdad amid “a security breakdown” (to use Az-Zaman’s terms;) tensions between the Iraqi government and Saudi Arabia became public, with Maliki’s assertion that no further attempts to normalize relations with the Kingdom will be adopted; and domestically, the Prime Minister is announcing a “war on corruption” beginning with elements in his cabinet.

In Falluja, Az-Zaman said, an IED that killed two Iraqis and three Americans (including one soldier and two state employees) claimed the life of the “second-in-command in the American reconstruction project” in Iraq, Terence Barnich.

According to the paper, the Falluja roadside bomb was part of an escalating wave of attacks that has been ongoing for the last days, in parallel with the beginnings of US Army withdrawal from urban bases in Iraq. 19 “joint centers” in Baghdad were announced to be closed on Thursday, the paper said, claiming that a massive movement of “special groups” from Iran into Iraq has been noted recently. “Heavy aircraft movement” is sighted along the borders with Iran, the daily said, with Iraqi Army units in the border regions put on high alert to counter this “return” of armed groups.

Simultaneously, incidents of attacks against US bases are multiplying. The paper said that the US base in Basra International Airport was targeted with Katyusha missiles, the first time since the US took control of the base in April. The US base in the Budayra military airport was also bombed, as well as the “'Ali Bin Abi Talib” base near Nasiryia, one of the largest US bases in the country. Sources told Az-Zaman that “special groups” are attempting to smuggle more modern rockets into the country through the province of Maysan (which is on the borders with Iran,) these sources indicated that the vast majority of the “special groups” are ex-Mahdi Army fighters who took refuge in Iran in recent years.

On a different front, the frostiness in Iraqi-Saudi relations was expressed by Premier Maliki, who complained that his past initiatives towards Saudi Arabia were “understood as weakness,” adding that he will make no additional moves towards the Saudi government “if no wish is expressed by Saudi Arabia to establish relations between the two countries.”

Sources close to Maliki told the London-based paper that the Iraqi Premier attempted rapprochement with Saudi Arabia at the beginning of his rule, visiting the southern neighbor immediately after being chosen as Prime Minister in 2006. But relations between the two sides soured thereafter, with a famous “snubbing” incident when, in a recent Arab League Summit, the Saudi King refused to meet with Maliki.

Tensions between Iraq and its Arab neighbors were immediately given a sectarian spin by al-Bayyna al-Jadeeda, which headlined with claims that Arab states want a Sunni president for Iraq, “or they would expel it from the Arab league.” The paper mentioned the ex-Chairman of the Islamic Party, Tariq al-Hashimi, as a favorite candidate to replace Jalal Talabani, the first Kurdish President of Iraq (the Republic’s founder and its first President, 'Abd al-Kareem Qasim, was half-Kurdish.)

The paper also claimed that “Sunni” Arab states headed by Saudi Arabia wish to prop up a “liberal Shi'a” Prime Minister, who does not belong to the pro-Iranian Islamic Parties and who is ideologically closer to the US. The daily claimed that five names are currently being touted for the position, but did not reveal them “not to start a controversy at this sensitive time.”

In other news, London-based al-Hayat says that Turkish airplanes have resumed bombing runs over what Turkey claims to be PKK bases in northern Iraq after six Turkish soldiers were killed in an IED ambush in southeastern Turkey. This is the second major attack by Kurdish insurgents in Turkey within a month; in late April, nine Turkish soldiers were also killed by a remotely detonated IED near the Iraqi borders.

Lastly, Az-Zaman quoted statements by Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr where he announced his opposition to the murder and torture of Iraqi gays. The paper says that Muqtada’s pronouncements came after the proliferation of religious rulings by Iraqi clerics encouraging the killing of homosexuals and the increase in murders and abuse directed at Iraqis who are “accused” of being gay. According to the head of external relations in Sadr’s office, Muqtada said that he disowns those who murder homosexuals or torture them (in order to pressure them to change their sexual identity.)

A police colonel in Sadr City was interviewed on the topic; he said that there is no legal text in Iraq laws prohibiting or punishing homosexuality, but added that “we have started taking steps to deal (with homosexuality) as a perverse phenomenon that offends public mores, and this is an offense punishable by law.”


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