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The Latest
Editor Says Actions are Politically Motivated, Orchestrated by PUK
06/29/2009 8:56 PM ET
Google Earth image/IraqSlogger.com.

Apparently acting on orders from one of Iraq’s major Kurdish political parties, security forces in Iraq’s northern Kurdistan region confiscated and destroyed copies of a weekly magazine from bookshops in Zakho in Dahuk Province, according to a statement released in Arabic by an Iraqi media rights watchdog.

Miran Husayn, who works in the editorial staff of the Kurdish-language Lifin magazine told the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory (JFO) that forces loyal to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan of Iraqi President Jalal al-Talibani stormed a bookstore in Zakho that specializes in magazines and newspapers last Tuesday afternoon, June 23. The forces reportedly assaulted the shop owner of the store and detained his brother for 24 hours, JFO writes in its statement.

Husayn added that security forces “confiscated all copies of issue 94 of Lifin magazine,” and indicating that some of these copies were burned.

With circulation of about 25,000 copies per issue, Lifin is published weekly in the city of Sulaymaniya and distributed in the Iraqi Kurdistan region. The Kurdish-language weekly has faced press violations before: Its editor-in-chief was arrested by Kurdish security forces in early 2007, after the magazine published details of Iraqi President Jalal al-Talibani’s health situation. In addition, unknown gunmen shot dead one of the magazine’s correspondents in the Iraqi province of Kirkuk last year during a series of reports that exposed corruption in Kirkuk politics.

Husayn, the Lifin editorial staffer, told the JFO that the magazine had published articles in earlier issues containing criticisms of the Kurdistan regional political leadership, and had been subjected to several legal actions and threats, as were bookshops that sold the Lifin magazine.

Husayn, added that the operations coincided with an interview that the president of the region, Masoud al-Barzani, held with journalists, in which he promised to support media freedom in the Kurdish region.

JFO ends its statement with a call for Kurdistan regional authorities to respect freedom of the press in northern Iraq.

Daily Column
Kurdistan Elections Heat Up, US Hands Over Control over Iraqi Cities
By AMER MOHSEN 06/29/2009 5:26 PM ET
Az-Zaman
Az-Zaman
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.

Daily Column
New Kurdistan Constitution "A Bomb"!
By AMER MOHSEN 06/28/2009 5:40 PM ET
al-Bayyna al-Jadeeda
al-Bayyna al-Jadeeda
According to al-'Arabiya, a freak sandstorm that has enveloped Baghdad has apparently postponed the controversial tendering process for Iraqi oil and gas fields, which was supposed to be launched over two days, starting today, by the Iraqi Oil Ministry.

In the “first round” of contracts, whose launch is now postponed till tomorrow, several giant oil fields containing over 40 billion barrels of proved reserves will be given up for development by foreign companies. For the sake of comparison, that amount represents more than double the entire proved reserves of the US. And in an age where control over oil deposits is shifting away from private companies to sovereign states, the Iraq oil bounty has attracted most of the big names in the international energy industry.

The granting of these contracts is supposed to occur through a complex process – on live TV. The Oil Ministry is to open the envelopes containing the bids of the energy companies, announce a winner for a specific project, then allow the contenders to adjust their offers for the rest of the oil fields, including the possibility of making joint proposals, all within a span of 48 hours.

We have previously reported on the protests to Shahrastani’s plan, which are emanating from the Kurdistan Regional Government (which is opposing the tendering of oil fields situated in “contested territories”,) the Parliament and the Iraqi national oil companies. While multinational firms are salivating over the Iraqi contracts, these political questions, in addition to the well-known security risks, could endanger the contracts or transform them into a protracted legal battle. Unlike countries such as Lybia, Saudi Arabia or Saddam’s Iraq, where a contract granted by the supreme authority is sure to be enforced, political power in Iraq is currently fractionalized into several bodies, each of which are claiming authority over the national oil wealth. In addition to the Kurdish leaders, members of Parliament are already saying that the oil contracts may not be considered legal if they were not approved first by the legislature, which already casts doubts over the Oil Ministry’s tenders.

In other news, and two days prior to the date of US withdrawal from urban centers, Az-Zaman reports on a new deadly explosion that targeted a motorcycle market in Baghdad, killing 20 Iraqis and injuring 46.

The proliferation of these attacks has prompted the Iraqi Premier, Nuri al-Maliki, to renew his attacks against unnamed “Arab governments,” this time accusing neighboring states of “remaining silent” in the face of “excommunication fatwas” that he considered responsible for the attacks and suicide bombings targeting Iraqi civilians.

An interesting trend has been Maliki’s departure from accusing Syria and Iran of facilitating attacks (these two governments were the main target of Iraqi government criticisms, especially during the days of their intense feuds with the Bush administration) and his directing – thinly veiled – accusations at Saudi Arabia, which is the main exporter of extremist Wahhabi ideas and which hosts many of the extremist Sheikhs who openly advocate against shi'as as “infidels.”

In parallel, al-Bayyna al-Jadeeda (a Shi'a – openly – sectarian paper that specializes in attacking Saudi Arabia and Sunni Gulf states) devoted its front page to the latest conspiracy theory: allegedly, a “sectarian meeting” took place in Dubai, joining 'Izzat al-Duri (the highest ranking Ba'thi still at large) and Yunis al-Ahmad (the leader of a competing Ba'thi wing) and the anti-American cleric Harith al-Dhari. In this alleged meeting of personalities with radically different ideological convictions, an agreement was struck against the Shi'a! The conferees wrote a “secret” statement (that the paper published) calling for the “extermination” of the Shi'a in Iraq. To complete the circle, the paper alleged that personalities participating in the meeting were each handed two million dollars provided by the Saudis.

Lastly, Iraqi papers report that the new constitution of Kurdistan (which was approved last Wednesday) is causing broad protests among Iraqi Arabs. Az-Zaman and al-Bayyna al-Jadeeda quoted Iraqi politicians who described the new constitution as “unconstitutional,” “illegal” and “a bomb that will undermine the process of building the new Iraq.”

The most controversial parts of the constitution consist in announcing oil-rich Kirkuk, in addition to parts of the Nineveh and Diyala provinces, as inseparable parts of Kurdistan, an escalation that will take the conflict over “disputed territories” into a new dimension. In a first response, Az-Zaman reports that Iraqi MPs representing Mosul (the Nineveh province) published a strongly-worded statement rejecting any “encroachments” against their province’s territories, referring to Kurdish “expansionism” and “territorial ambitions” (an Arabic term usually employed in conflicts between states) and claiming that these constitutional articles represent a “provocation to the feelings of the province’s masses, and the entire people of Iraq.”

Daily Column
Iraqi Politicians Use Lawsuits against Writers and Intellectuals
By AMER MOHSEN 06/26/2009 9:41 PM ET
al-Bayyna al-Jadeeda
al-Bayyna al-Jadeeda
A report in al-Jazeera painted a somber scenario that could face Iraq if the frail Mosul dam finally collapses: half a million Iraqis could die in the city of Mosul, which will be completely ravaged by a trillion gallon of waters that would drown the city under 65 feet of water. The damages would not be restricted to the northern city – the entire plain between Mosul and Baghdad would be equally ravaged and the capital itself would be flooded by 15 feet of water.

Concerns regarding the stability of the Mosul dam (in addition to several others in Iraq) surfaced years ago, and after initial denials and reassurances by local authorities, the Iraqi government acknowledged that the dam is indeed threatened and requires continuous work to protect its foundations. Local engineers familiar with the dam (originally called “Saddam’s Dam”) state that the project suffered design flaws from the outset, requiring periodic injection of concrete into its foundations. The relative lack of maintenance during the years of the sanctions and after the US invasion may have compounded the problem and threatened the structure further.

Al-Jazeera quoted the Minister of water resources who announced that a 200 meter long concrete barrier will be built under the structure’s foundations, and that work is ongoing on the project. In addition, the Ministry said that it has contacted “international experts” to provide suggestions on the maintenance and upgrade of Iraq’s dams.

In security news, al-Hayat reports that attacks and bombings are continuing in Iraq, costing the lives of seven Iraqis on Thursday, while 16 more were killed on Friday. Nine US soldiers have also been injured yesterday by two IEDs that hit US patrols in eastern Baghdad.

Also in al-Hayat, the pan-Arab paper reports that Iraq is still looking for ways to regain its airplanes that were sent to Iran, Tunisia and Jordan before and during the 1991 Gulf War. However, these countries demand that Iraq pays for 17 years of “parking fees” for these aircraft, while Iran considers these Iraqi assets to be war reparations for the 8-year Iran-Iraq conflict. Regarding the planes parked in Jordan, the Iraqi state has apparently decided to disassemble the aircraft and sell them as scrap in Iraq, given that they are no longer in flying conditions.

In other news, al-Jazeera says that the Kurdistan government has re-affirmed its rejection of the oil contracts that are scheduled to be handed at the end of the month for six major Iraqi oilfields. A statement on the website of the Kurdistan Regional Government on Friday claimed that the bidding round is “illegal” and “unconstitutional,” which could precipitate a long legal controversy over the contracts after they are finalized.

The major point of contention between the Kurdistan government and the Oil Ministry is that two of the fields that will be offered to foreign investors (Kirkuk and Bay Hassan) are in “contested territories” that Kurdish politicians consider as being part of Kurdistan. Kurdish leaders stress that the central government does not have the right to exploit these fields until the conflict over them is resolved.

Lastly, lawsuits between politicians and journalists are proliferating. Vice President 'Adil 'Abd al-Mahdi is suing Iraqi ex-politician and intellectual Hasan al-'Alawi in Syrian courts after al-'Alawi published a book on Shi'a politicians in Iraq; and today, al-Bayyna al-Jadeeda says that its editor-in-chief, Sattar Jabbar, was issued an arrest warrant by the head of the transparency committee in the Parliament, sabah al-Sa'idi – which prompted several front-page stories lambasting al-Sa'idi.

The Latest
Report: Teachers in Villages Near Mosul Ordered to Drop Arabic in Instruction
06/24/2009 7:18 PM ET
Google Earth image/IraqSlogger.com.

As a dispute continues between two rival ethnic and political factions over forming the provincial government in the northern Iraqi province of Ninewa, a report has emerged from a Kurdish-militia controlled town near Mosul that teachers there have been ordered to stop using the Arabic language in their instruction.

A dispute has continued between the predominantly Arab al-Hadba’ list, which won the largest share of the votes in the January 31 provincial elections, and the Kurdish Ninewa Brotherhood List, which has demanded high-level government positions in exchange for ending a boycott of the provincial government.

Meanwhile, in an apparent move to increase the pressure on the newly elected governing bloc, Khasrou Goran, the former vice-governor of the province and head of the Ninewa Branch of the Kurdistan Party has reportedly ordered teachers in the Ba'shiqa area, outside of Mosul, to stop using the Arabic language in their instruction. Ba'shiqa is a majority-Yezidi town under control of the Pesh Merga militia, the paramilitary forces loyal to the main Kurdish parties, al-Iraq News writes in Arabic.

Meanwhile, the al-Hadba’ affiliated governor of the province, Athil al-Najifi, has said his bloc views the dispute with the Brotherhood List as concerning the assertion of provincial government control over all the provincial territory, demanding a Pesh Merga withdrawal from the areas of Ninewa Province that it controls, while the Kurdish Brotherhood List has deflected criticism of Pesh Merga deployment in disputed areas of Ninewa Province and demanded the positions of vice-governor and vice-president of the provincial council to end its boycott of the local government.

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