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Daily Column
Iraq Papers Sat: Obama's Speech
Al-Sadr Blasts US President, Ashraf Camp Besieged
By AMER MOHSEN 06/05/2009 6:01 PM ET
Al-Bayyna al-Jadeeda
Al-Bayyna al-Jadeeda
Az-Zaman (international edition) fronted with interesting news: an American military delegation is to be sent to Damascus “to discuss stability in Iraq in the phase following (US) withdrawal from Iraqi cities.” The daily quoted Assistant Secretary of State PJ Crowley, who actually said that “emissaries” will be dispatched to Damascus, without specifying their mission. But an official in the Syrian Embassy in DC affirmed that Damascus is expecting “a military delegation from the US central command,” the Pentagon, the paper added, did not comment on these statements.

These events are part of the US diplomatic campaign in the region surrounding President Obama’s visit and his calls for reviving the Arab-Israeli peace process. Obama’s speech in Cairo and Iraqi reactions to it were the front page story of the local edition of Az-Zaman. The government welcomed Obama’s words, the paper reports, especially the parts where the US President “renewed the commitment of the American administration to Iraq, and to respecting the withdrawal deadlines,” said a statement by government spokesman 'Ali al-Dabbagh.

Muqtada al-Sadr, on the other hand, published a harsh statement criticizing Obama, declaring that “he who wages wars and uses occupation and his armies to subject populations and colonize them ... has no right to speak as a savior of peoples and an advocate for their rights.” The statement claimed that Obama “cannot” change American policies towards the Middle East and that his “sweetened and well-crafted” words are but “a new, different method for the subjugation of the world.” Al-Sadr claimed that the change in America’s tone is only due to “the financial crisis, the multiplication of opposition to America ... and the role of the resistance in weakening the US and forcing it to resort to these fake, lying speeches.”

In other news, al-Jazeera reports that the Iraqi police is currently besieging the Ashraf Camp, which hosts the controversial Mujahideen Khalq (MEK) organization, an Iranian faction that opposed the Khomeini regime, and which took refuge in Iraq during Saddam’s war with Iran. MEK is considered a terrorist organization by the US government, and Iran has been pressuring the Iraqi government to deliver the MEK activists to Tehran or expel them from Iraq.

Al-Jazeera reports that, according to sources in Ashraf camp, the police has completely besieged the camp since Friday morning, preventing the movement of goods and people in or out of the camo, which hosts over 3,000 people. The Iraqi government, the news channel noted, had committed to close the camp and disband the organization, affirming that it will not accept the use of Iraqi territory for anti-Iranian activities. Al-Bayyna al-Jadeeda, meanwhile, quoted parts of an interview that was allegedly conducted by an Algerian newspaper with 'Abd al-'Azeez al-Duri, the ex-vice President and contested successor to Saddam at the helm of the Ba'th party. We had reported on the interview on Thursday, but al-Bayyna focuses on al-Duri challenging the US forces to capture him alive, pronouncing that he will only be gotten “as a martyr.” Al-Duri confirmed that he is still present in Iraq, and that rumors of his death due to blood Cancer were untrue.

On a related front, Iraqi websites circulated a statement sent by Yunis al-Ahmad, the Damascus-based leader of a Ba'thi faction, to 'Izzat al-Duri “and the members of the National Command,” demanding reconciliation between competing Ba'thi wings and the holding of a new party conference to select a unified Iraqi Command. In addition, the statement called for “freezing all current conflicts, and stopping the irresponsible media rhetoric ... between Ba'this” until the election of a “temporary command.”

Lastly, the escalating war of words between Iraq and Kuwait over the issue of war reparations is gaining momentum in the media. We have reported on several anti-Kuwaiti items in the Iraqi press in recent days. Today, an Iraqi political website features several provocative anti-Iraqi pieces published in the Kuwaiti media. “We opposed forgiving the war debt,” says a writer in al-Watan Kuwaiti daily, “because we know that the Iraqi people drank the milk of hatred to Kuwait for a long time ... and because we believe that jealousy and hatred towards Kuwait run with the white blood cells in the veins of many Iraqis!.”


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