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Daily Column
Iraq Papers Mon: Tragedy Near Kirkuk
US Accused of Bribing and Murdering Iraqi Journalists During Military Operations
By AMER MOHSEN 06/21/2009 5:01 PM ET
Days before the finalizing of US withdrawal from Iraqi urban centers, a massive explosion hit the town of Taza in northern Iraq leaving over 70 dead and hundreds of wounded. Al-Jazeera quoted sources in the Iraqi police who said that a truck loaded with “tons of explosives” was detonated near a Shi'a mosque in the Turkoman-majority town, which is close to the city of Kirkuk. The blast was so powerful, reports say, that over 30 homes were demolished in its vicinity. The news channel linked the attack to a recent speech by Premier Maliki describing the planned US withdrawal as “a glorious victory” and a prelude to the liberation of Iraq from foreign occupation. The Premier had also warned Iraqis that attacks will multiply following the US withdrawal at the end of the month, calling upon citizens “not to squander the security gains” that he said were achieved in the recent period.

Also in al-Jazeera, the news channel revealed that the US may have bribed Iraqi and foreign journalists to refrain from publishing certain pictures and footage during the first and second battles of Falluja. The source of these reports (first published in a Qatari newspaper) is an officer in the Iraqi Army who refused to release his identity, but said that he serves in the 7th Division of the Iraqi Army. The source claimed that the US paid bribes to journalists to refrain from publishing documentations showing dead and wounded US soldiers, as well as attacks (such as the shooting down of helicopters,) adding that some journalists willingly presented this material to US officers who would place a “value” on the items depending on their “importance and content.”

Furthermore, the unnamed officer accused the US Army of executing journalists who refused to ply to US orders during the Falluja battles in 2004. The news channel pointed out that several Iraqi journalists have been missing since the Falluja fighting and whose families accuse the US Army of being responsible for their sons’ disappearance.

In other news, pan-Arab al-Hayat reports that the popular referendum over the US-Iraqi security treaty (which regulates and legalizes US military presence in the country) will probably be postponed, despite official assurances to the contrary. According to the treaty, the referendum should be held by the end of the next month, but numerous delays in legislating the referendum, as well as budgetary constraints, seem likely to prevent a timely holding of the plebiscite – the paper claims.

Al-Hayat quoted an Iraqi MP who said that the chairmanship of the Parliament has rejected a law proposal to hold the referendum that was presented by Parliamentarians, preferring to wait for a law project formulated by the Prime Ministership, “which means that more time will be wasted,” the MP exclaimed. Parliamentary sources are saying that the Elections’ Commission (which is charged with the technical aspects of the referendum) said that it will need at least 60 days to finalize the preparations after the law has been passed, which makes it nearly impossible to hold the referendum on time.

Meanwhile, Az-Zaman reports that the chair of the Da'wa bloc in the Parliament, Qasim al-Sahlani, was killed in a car accident on the road between Basra and Nasiriya. This makes al-Sahlani the second Parliamentary leader to die in as many weeks, after the assassination of the IAF chair, Harith al-'Ubaidi, early in the month.

Also in Az-Zaman, the paper reports that Syria has accepted to raise Iraq’s share of the Euphrates water beyond the 58% that are allotted to Iraq, a measure that was deemed necessary to save Iraq’s agricultural season, which is threatened by excessive droughts. Water security is likely to be one of Iraq’s main concerns in the coming decades, a problem that is intensified by the fact that the country has to share its main water sources (the Tigris and the Euphrates) with Turkey and Syria.

Lastly, Iraqis were greatly disappointed after their football team, which is playing in the Confederations’ Cup in South Africa, failed to qualify to the second round after tying with the New Zealand team – which is considered the weakest team in the group, having lost by wide margins in previous matches. Iraq needed to win by two goals to guarantee qualification, and sport analysts are blaming the players for not putting in the needed effort during the games. The news channel quoted a member in the Committee to Support the Iraqi National Team who exclaimed that Iraq’s stars, Yunis Mahmud, Nash’at Akram and Hawwar Muhammad, score frequently with their clubs but were unable to score a single goal in three matches during the high-profile competition.


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