While the announcement of Obama’s Iraq withdrawal plan is causing heated debates in Washington, most Iraqi leaders initially welcomed the news, feeling the need to appear confident and optimistic regarding their ability to manage Iraq without US help.
However, nervous Iraqi leaders have begun to express their fears. Pan-Arab al-Hayat published a report detailing the positions of Sunni and Kurdish leaders who use different arguments to warn against a hasty withdrawal.
Sunni leader 'Adnan al-Dulaimi told al-Hayat that Obama’s announcement was “to hasty” and “dangerous.” Sunni leaders aligned with the Iraqi Accord Front are arguing that “an Iranian occupation” will occur if the US leaves the country too early, adding that Iraqi forces and institutions are inadequate to shoulder the policing of the country.
On the other hand, al-Hayat said, other voices warn of Arab-Kurdish confrontations, especially in the “contested territories” bordering Kurdistan. Others yet say that a Shi'a-Sunni sectarian war could flare up again once the American Army departs.
Az-Zaman quoted a Kurdistan Minister who demanded a “special American envoy” to resolve Kurdish demands before the withdrawal is complete.
The Sadrists stood out in demanding a quicker and more complete US withdrawal. A Sadrist official told al-Hayat that Obama is not committing to his electoral promise of evacuating Iraq within 16 months, adding that the withdrawal in August 2010 will be “partial” since as many as 50,000 soldiers will remain in the country, a fact that “is strongly rejected” by the Sadrist leadership.
On a related front, Az-Zaman reported that the US military base in Dhi Qar, currently occupying the archaeological site of Ur, will be finally evacuated during the month of March. Aside from limiting the damage that the site has suffered due to military operations, the ancient city of Ur will be once again able to receive tourists and researchers.
In other news, a high-level Iranian visit to Iraq is stirring anti-Iranian feelings among a section of Iraqis. Az-Zaman (in its local Iraqi edition) claimed that “a popular boycott” is facing a visit by the ex-President 'Ali Hashemi Rafsanjani to Baghdad. The paper (whose coverage of Iran always comes with a negative tilt) claimed that over 1,000 Iranian security personnel have been sent to Baghdad to prepare for Rafsanjani’s visit. A Southern tribal leader interviewed by the paper said that Rafsanjani is especially polemical due to his role during the eight-year Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. The paper made a point of interviewing – obscure - southern (Shi'a) sheikhs, rather than Sunni figures, to show that opposition to Iran is not fomented by sectarian calculations, and is not limited to Sunni Iraqis.
On the developing case of MP Muhammad al-Dayni, who is currently fleeing the authorities after his Parliamentary immunity was suspended (al-Dayni is demanded for trial on terrorism charges,) al-Sharq al-Awsat reports that authorities have asked al-Dayni to turn himself in, or, alternatively, to be tried in absentia.
Brigadier 'Abd al-Kareem Khalaf told the paper that al-Dayni’s approximate location is known by security forces, pointing that the fugitive MP is currently hiding in one of Baghdad’s suburbs, adding that his forces are “coming close” to capturing him.
Lastly, Kull al-'Iraq reported that a new political front, mainly composed of Sunni parties, has been officially formed to compete against the IAF in the coming Parliamentary elections.
Several of the factions in the new front are parties that used to belong to the IAF but seceded in the last two years. The ex-Parliament Speaker, Mahmud al-Mashhadani, announced that the new coalition will group the National Dialogue Council (led by Sheikh Khalaf al-'Layyan,) the Dialogue Front (led by Salih al-Mutlaq) and the National Democratic Assembly.
While the new alliance is clearly a “Sunni” one, al-Mashhadani claimed that the agenda will no non-sectarian, pointing that the new front will be a refuge for Sunni MPs who do not identify with the IAF or its dominant faction, the Islamic Party, as well as Shi'a MPs who do not identify with religious parties.