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Daily Column
Iraq Papers Wed: Barham Salih New Kurdistan PM?
Oil Exports from Kurdistan Begin, Egypt and Iraq Sign Arms' Deal
By AMER MOHSEN 06/02/2009 6:13 PM ET
Al-Bayyna al-Jadeeda
Al-Bayyna al-Jadeeda
London-based al-Hayat notes that the past month of May was the costliest month for the US Army in Iraq since September 2008. However, half of the 24 servicemen who died in May perished in accidents, not in combat (including an incident where a troubled US soldier killed five of his comrades in a military clinic.) Paradoxically, the same month may have witnessed the lowest number of Iraqi casualties since the US invasion in 2003. The pan-Arab daily says that figures collected by AFP from Iraqi governmental sources show that “only” 124 civilians, six soldiers and 25 Iraqi policemen died in May due to violence.

Meanwhile, Az-Zaman reports that the first US Army casualty in June occurred today in eastern Baghdad, where a soldier died after his patrol was hit with an IED in the Ur district.

Az-Zaman’s front page story today spoke of an arms deal signed between Iraq and Egypt, “the first since the 8 years’ war with Iran.” The paper claimed that the deal was negotiated and signed “under extreme secrecy” and that it involves a training program to raise the combat readiness of the Iraqi Army. The paper’s sources, however, did not indicate the quantity or nature of arms that will be sold by Egypt.

Al-Bayyna al-Jadeeda, on the other hand, fronted with a worrisome headline “300 oil wells may fall into disrepair due to negligence and lack of maintenance.” The daily was quoting an Iraqi MP in the Oil Committee, Nur al-Deen al-Haiyali, who claimed that hundreds of Iraqi oil wells “have suffered intensive damage and productivity losses” due to lack of maintenance by the Oil Ministry. The MP also said that oil pipelines have also not been properly maintained in recent years.

It should be noted that these statements come as the Oil Minister Husain al-Shahrastani is set to be interrogated by the Parliament over the performance of his Ministry, with several blocs clearly pushing for his replacement. The attacks of Haiyali and other MPs, which squarely placed the blame on the Oil Ministry, should be read in that context - as well as the newspaper’s promotion of these statements. Both the Kurdish bloc and al-Hakeem’s SIIC are considered to be in the anti-Shahrastani camp and their MPs have been leading the offensive against the Minister prior to his appearance in the Parliament.

On a related front, al-Sharq al-Awsat reports that the export of oil produced in Kurdistan was inaugurated yesterday in a major ceremony. The event was made possible due to a last-minute deal that was reached with the Oil Ministry, according to which the Kurdistan Regional Government accepts to relinquish control over the proceeds, which will go to the central government.

Also in al-Bayyna al-Jadeeda, sources from the Kurdish PUK are saying that the two main Kurdish parties have agreed to appoint Barham Salih as Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Region if their coalition list wins the upcoming Kurdistan elections. The news was relayed by Fu’ad Ma'sum, the head of the Kurdish bloc in the Parliament, but the paper quoted PUK MP Mahmud 'Uthman who said that Barzani’s party, the KDP, did not confirm this agreement yet.

If Salih were to be selected, he would replace Nechervan Barzani, nephew of Mas'ud, who has assumed the position since 2006. Barham Salih is considered to be one of the main figures in the PUK and is often described as Talabani’s second-in-command.

In other news, al-Jazeera reports that Saudi Arabia has responded to recent criticisms of Saudi policy by Iraqi Premier Nuri al-Maliki, who claimed that the Kingdom “did not adopt a positive attitude” towards the Iraqi government. The news channel quoted the Saudi Minister of Interior, Prince Nayif Bin 'Abd al-'Azeez, who denied al-Maliki’s claims adding, however, that the Kingdom does not stand “with those in Iraq who work against their country’s interest.”


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