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Daily Column
Iraq Papers Tue: "Day of Sovereignty"
Kurdistan Elections Heat Up, US Hands Over Control over Iraqi Cities
By AMER MOHSEN 06/29/2009 5:26 PM ET
According to al-Jazeera, the Iraqi government intends to make June 30th, the official date of US withdrawal from Iraqi cities, into a national holiday. “The day of sovereignty” it will be called, reports al-Hayat, which says that large festivals and parades are organized in Iraqi cities in celebration on the 29th, while the 30th will be a holiday for the public and private sectors.

In effect, the withdrawal was mostly completed yesterday, Az-Zaman points out, reporting that the Iraqi forces received the old building of the Defense Ministry on Monday – the last structure under the control of US forces in the capital.

Expectedly, “the day of sovereignty” is reported with much pomp in government-owned As-Sabah, which announces in its headline: “Iraq celebrates its sovereignty,” claiming that “signs of joy” are apparent in Baghdad and the provinces and that “popular” preparations are being made for the festivals today – despite the blinding sandstorm that enveloped Baghdad. The city is organizing a “central” celebration in the Zawra’ park and a number of Iraqi artists have been brought in to perform.

Meanwhile, Az-Zaman says that the approaching date of withdrawal is marked by massive arrest campaigns by the government, especially in Baghdad and the South, “amid threats by Premier Nuri al-Maliki against those who wish to violate stability.”

On the other hand, Sadrists are doubtful towards the American move, with MPs from the Sadrist bloc claiming that the US Army is maintaining military bases inside Iraqi cities “especially Sadr City.” Sadrist MP Zainab Kareem told the paper that the recent bombings in Baghdad were executed by “hands working for the US forces, in order to give the impression that Iraq will not be stable if foreign troops leave the country.” MP Ahmad al-Mas'udi, meanwhile, described the withdrawal as “a formality,” adding that the US Army maintains fixed bases inside cities, “especially in Babil and Najaf.”

On a related front, the paper quoted the US Ambassador in Baghdad as denying that he made any contacts with the Sadrist Current.

In other news, al-Hayat’s Mushriq 'Abbas files a report from Kurdistan on the upcoming elections that will represent a test to the power of the two mainstream Kurdish parties, which will run on common lists. 'Abbas says that the results of the 2005 elections, where the KDP and the PUK gained 90% of the seats of Kurdistan’s Parliament, are not likely to be repeated. In Talabani’s “capital,” Sulaymaniya, the Kurdish leader is facing a serious challenger in his ex- friend and comrade, Nusherwan Mustapha, who seceded from the party and is now waging a campaign under the slogans of “reform” and “change.”

Corruption and the quick enrichment of party leaders have led to popular resentment, the report claims, with Kurdish activists now dividing society between “a poor proletariat” and “rich party figures.” This resentment has caused popular support to gravitate towards Mustapha to the point that, two months ago, his victory over Talabani in Suleymaniya seemed like a real possibility. The “savior” of Talabani may be Barham Salih, his likely successor who was ushered in from Baghdad to lead the party list in the local elections. The report says that Salih is viewed as incorruptible and benefits from a good reputation among the youth and the educated, which may have swayed the balance in Talabani’s favor.

In any case, on the level of Kurdistan as a whole, the parties of Talabani and Barzani seem assured of garnering a majority, even if not as decisive as the current one. Mustapha on the other hand, is insisting that his “change list” vies to replace the current “class” that leads Kurdish politics or, at the least, create an effective opposition to its figures within the next Kurdistan Parliament.


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