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Daily Column
US Papers Sat: Top Sunni Lawmaker Killed
Harith al-Obaidi Assassinated Outside Baghdad Mosque
By DANIEL W. SMITH 06/13/2009 02:00 AM ET
The top story today is the assassination of the leader of Iraq’s main Sunni coalition, just after giving Friday prayers at a mosque in Baghdad. Also, there is absentee voting by Iranians in Iraq, the coach of Iraq’s soccer team, and an op-ed by an Iraqi politician.

From Baghdad
Tawafoq bloc (Iraqi Accordance Front) leader Harith al-Obaidi was assassinated as he walked out of a mosque, after conducting Friday prayer. Al-Shawaf mosque, where al-Obaidi spoke every Friday, was in Baghdad’s Yarmouk neighborhood. Al-Obaidi was a highly influential lawmaker, and was on parliament’s human rights committee. Many readers likely won’t be aware of him, but it should be understood that this is a big deal. He was particularly outspoken on the issue of prisoner abuse in Iraqi prisons, and his killing comes just one day after he announced plans to summon the ministers of interior, defense and justice to be questioned on such abuses.

The three articles agree that a male walked up to al-Obaidi, shot him twice in the head, leg and chest, and then killed Bassim Fadhil, al-Obaidi’s secretary, and three of his bodyguards. All report a grenade was used by the assailant, but accounts differ as to how. The New York Times’ Rod Nordland and Abeer Mohammed appear to have dug the deepest, and their account differs somewhat from the one given out by government officials, who have announced that the assassin was 15 years old. It is also worth noting that they refer to the Tawafoq as “Tawafoq”, and not the Iraqi Accordance Front (the first time I have noticed this in an America newspaper).
A witness to the attack, a shopkeeper named Abou Teeba, said the gunman approached Mr. Obaidi at point-blank range, as he was surrounded by his guards. “I heard him say, ‘I was sent by — ’ and he said a name I couldn’t hear, and then he fired,” Mr. Teeba said.

...Then he ran out, pursued by Kurdish militiamen, mosque guards from the Islamic Party of Iraq and Iraqi Army soldiers, according to another witness, one of the Islamic Party guards who gave only his first name, Ahmed. They all fired at him but missed, Ahmed said. Cornered by his pursuers a few streets away, the killer pulled the pin on a grenade and fell on it as it exploded, the security officials said.

An official at Yarmouk Hospital, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the killer appeared to be about 27 years old and died from the grenade explosion. He was carrying fake identification that gave his age as 19, according to an army investigator at the scene.
Both the Times article and the on in the Washington Post by Zaid Sabah and Nada Bakri explore whether or not the killing was connected to al-Obaidi’s push to question the interior, defense and justice ministers, with quotes by politicians and family members giving opposing views. Given the timing, there is clearly a lot of suspicion. Gina Chon of the Wall Street Journal gives the facts in a shorter article, spending less time on particulars and providing instead general context.

In the New York Times, Alissa J. Rubin and Anwar Ali write of thousands of Iranian citizens who voted in their country’s election on Friday at special polling stations set up in Iraq. Most were pilgrims in Iraq to tour its many Shi’a religious site, but there are also many Iranians who reside in Iraq, having married Iraqis.
Almost every one of the dozen Iranians interviewed at the shrine seemed to support Mr. Ahmadinejad. One exception was Ali Sadiq, 21, who said he voted for the main opposition leader, Mir Hussein Moussavi. “I voted for him because he has his roots in the revolution of Imam Khomeini,” Mr. Sadiq said, “and he used to be a former prime minister, while Ahmadinejad went straight to the presidency.”
Outside Iraq
Jere Longman reports for the Times from Johannesburg, where Iraq’s soccer (football to most) team is preparing for a game. The story focuses on the team’s new coach Bora Milutinovic, “a Serb who witnessed the dissolution of Yugoslavia,” and says he feels a connection to the team. The piece follows Milutinovic, and explains some about perhaps the greatest uniter of Iraqis there is – its soccer team.
Since winning the 2007 Asian Cup, Iraq has lost its way through a maze of coaching changes, complacency and government interference that led briefly a year ago to the suspension of its soccer federation by FIFA, the sport’s world governing body.

A disastrous performance at this year’s Gulf States Cup brought further embarrassment. Now comes the eight-team Confederations Cup, and first-round matches against South Africa, New Zealand and Spain, the European champion. If Iraq could reach the semifinals, it would mark a new beginning, a rekindling of hope for the soccer team and perhaps, too, for Milutinovic’s wonderfully nomadic but stalled career.
In the Wall Street Journal, an op-ed by Entifadh Qanbar, an Iraqi politician with the INC writes, “Don’t give up on Iraqi Democracy”. In it, he brings up a change in the rhetoric used by the current US administration when referencing goals in Iraq. Instead of the word “democracy”, now the mantra has become “stability”, and Qanbar says there’s a big difference.
Even with all the shortcomings of a fledging democratic system, the fact remains that the Iraqi people are now choosing their government through elections. The sometimes chaotic process of coalition-building is a sign of a vibrant democracy. We would rather have this than the "stability" that characterizes the autocratic systems of most of our neighbors.

The Iraqi people will defend our democracy. It is in the best interests of the U.S. to continue its firm support for democracy in Iraq and not to slide back into the dead-end rut of authoritarianism that plagues countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, President Obama's most recent hosts. Someone once said of U.S. Middle East policy: "Choosing stability over freedom brings you neither." Just because it was George W. Bush doesn't mean it isn't true.
Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, no original Iraq coverage.

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