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Posts by Amer Mohsen

Iraqi Violence Trumps ISG Report in Iraqi Newpapers
12/07/2006 1:55 PM ET
The release of the Iraq Study Group report had a lukewarm reception in the Iraqi newspapers today. Only the London-based Az-zaman, the most popular newspaper in Iraq; al-Ittihad, a Kurdish newspaper; and al-Mada carried the report's release prominently on their headlines. Az-zaman focused on the report's opposition to the division of Iraq and -- in its Iraqi edition -- Az-zaman cited the ISG's linking of stability in Iraq to a comprehensive peace plan in the Middle East. The London-based newspaper also spoke of the panel's recommendation to exert "pressure" on the Maliki government to adopt stricter security measures. Al-Ittihad reported that James Baker telephoned Mas`ud al-Barazani, the president of the autonomous government of Kurdistan, and assured him that the report took the 'specificity' of the region of Kurdistan into consideration.

The government-owned, pro-Maliki, as-Sabah had a different reading of the report, in an op-ed by its editor-in-chief, Falah al-Mish`al, the report was seen as a confirmation of the policies of the current Iraqi government. The editorial (its title can be roughly translated as 'Iraqi politicians knew it all along') argued that the report agreed with Maliki's vision on the exogenous sources of violence in Iraq, and on the necessity of preventing Iraq from becoming a battlefield for outside forces, namely Syria and Iran.

Al-Mada used material from international agencies in covering the report, while As-Sabah al-Jadeed and al-Mu'tamar did not mention it.

The focus of most Iraqi newspapers remained on the security situation in the country, al-Mu'tamar and al-Mada reported the capture of numerous leading figures in the Ansar al-Sunna organization (21 according to al-Mu'tamar); al-Mada showed a diagram of the organization's leadership with its leader Abu Ayyoub al-Masri in its center, with the caption 'the noose tightens around Abu Ayyoub al-Masri". Al-Mada quoted the national security advisor, Muwaffaq al-rubai`i saying that the 'supreme leader' of the terrorist organization resides in Syria, from which he directs terrorist attacks in Iraq. as-Sabah al-Jadeed, al-Mada and az-Zaman reported on yesterday's violence, especially the suicide bombing in Sadr City and the mortar attacks around Baghdad, which left dozens of civilians dead (over 36, according to al-Sabah al-Jadeed). In contrast, government-owned al-Sabah, which did not report on any of the aforementioned incidents -- except for the government force's killing of 5 terrorism suspects -- wrote on al-Maliki's efforts to pacify Iraqi universities and his announcement of new measures to protect college campuses, al-Mada also wrote on the issue in its first page. Al-Maliki is believed to be responding to the distribution of tracts by Ansar al-Sunna warning students and professors against going to their campuses, and asking them to refrain from attending classes for the current school year.

The killing of over a dozen employees in the Shi`a Waqf (endowment) of Baghdad was reported in al-Mu'tamar, az-Zaman and al-Sabah al-Jadeed, the newspapers stated that a bus carrying the employees was attacked by gunmen who executed most of its passengers (18 dead according to az-Zaman, 13 according to al-Mu'tamar).

Meanwhile, all the major newspapers relegated the coverage of Saddam's trial to their local news' sections.

Also prominent was the visit of Abdul `azeez al-Hakeem to the United States and his meeting with the American President George W. Bush. Al-Sabah, al-Jadeed and al-Mu`tamar focused on al-Hakeem's rejection of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's call for an international conference to debate the Iraqi crisis. Al-Mu'tamar and al-Sabah al-Jadeed cited al-Hakeem saying that the Iraqi issue is a domestic problem that needs to be solved without outside intervention. Al-Sabah al-Jadeed also quoted al-Maliki calling the proposed conference a "confiscation of the will of the Iraqi people."

In opinion pieces, al-Mu'tamar's writers attacked the latest diplomatic efforts by neighboring Arab states and the proposal of an international conference for Iraq. Jassim al-Tamimi accused Jordanian and Saudi intelligence of supporting Iraqi -Sunni- militias and ex-Saddamists in their efforts to counter the growing Shi`a influence in the Middle East. Qassim al-Khafaji said that the proposed international conference will be a way to circumvent the results of the democratic process in Iraq and reinsert those who were dispossessed by the fall of Saddam's regime in the Iraqi political establishment. Al-Mada's Mahmoud Mohammad Ahmad was equally skeptical of the latest statements by Arab heads of states; he insinuated that the latest Egyptian and Saudi statements regarding the Iranian influence in Iraq may indicate that the country will be used as a battlefield for Arab-Iranian feuds.

Finally, al-Sabah al-Jadeed published a large ad on its first page offering a $50,000 reward for anyone presenting information that could lead to the release of a "missing American soldier," the soldier's name was withheld, but the ad contained a photograph and a description of the missing American.

Scorn Heaped on ISG Recommendations
12/09/2006 3:13 PM ET
"The Baker panel attempts to blackmail Iraq," reads the page one headline in the Az-Zaman newspaper, quoting an Iraqi Unified Coalition spokesman. The London-based daily -- the most-read newspaper in Iraq -- reported the Coalition's outrage at the report's recommendation to pressurize the Iraqi government by limiting aid and support as a mean to push the Maliki government into taking rigid measures to improve security.

In an interview with Az-Zaman, Abbas al-Bayani of the IUC called these recommendations 'a form of blackmail towards the Iraqi government'. The Iraqi Accord Front, representing the largest Sunni bloc in the parliament, critiqued the fact that the panel did not recommend a scheduling of an American withdrawal and did not propose solutions to the problem of armed militias.

The most violent reaction to the report, however, came from the Kurdistan Alliance, through the statement of Mas`ud al-Barazani who said yesterday that the panel's recommendations shall not be binding to Iraqi Kurds, and criticized the report's positions towards the Kurdish issue. Al-Mada daily placed Barazani's comments in its headlines and reported that the Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani, shared Barazani's position vis-à-vis the report.

Other Iraqi leaders and groups took mitigated stances, according to al-Mada, the president's spokesman said that no comprehensive assessment of the report can be given, but that some of its recommendations, including the transfer of the security responsibilities to the government and the negotiations with neighboring countries have been long-lasting demands of the Iraqi government.

Az-Zaman and al-Mada reported Abdul Azeez al-Hakeem calling some of the facts included in the report "unprecise". Al-Hakeem denied any links between the Iraqi crisis and the Arab-Israeli conflict, and opposed a scheduling of an American withdrawal. Al-Hakeem's statements were heavily criticized by the Iraqi groups that oppose the American military occupation. Al-Basa'ir, the journal of the Association of Muslim Scholars published a statement by the Association condemning the calls to "extend the presence of the Anglo-American occupation in our country" and considered such calls 'unrepresentative' of the wishes of the Iraqi people.

Other news that was reported in Iraqi newspapers included the American raid on al-Ishaqi, while the US army claimed that 30 al-Qa`ida members were killed in the raid (according to al-mada), az-Zaman said that the raid left 20 dead, most of whom 'women and children'. Al-Mada published the American statement, but added that a local official confirmed that 22 individuals from a single family were killed in the assault, mostly women and children.

The official added that two neighboring homes were bombed, and that all the bodies of the deceased had bullet wounds, which means, according to the local official, that the dead were shot before the houses were bombed (Az-Zaman reported the same version, and identified the official as `Amir `Alwan, the regional administrator of al-Ishaqi). Al-Basa`ir put the number of civilians dead at 32, including six children and eight women.

Also noteworthy was a statement by the Association of Muslim Scholars concerning the events in al-Ishaqi, the statement said that the 'forces of American occupation' launched an airborne assault on two homes in al-Ishaqi at 3 AM on Friday, and placed the members of each family in a room, and executed them. The statement continued 'in order to falsify the events and misguide the public opinion, the soldiers placed explosives in the houses and detonated them to give the impression that the homes were bombed from the air'. The statement identified the family heads as two brothers: Muhammad Husain Jalmud al-Majma`i and Mahmud Husain Jalmud al-Majma`i.

Al-Mada also said that the coalition forces announced the capture of a 'major' al-qa`ida leader in Falluja. Al-Mu'tamar added that -according to Muaffac al-Rubai`i- a major aide to Abu Ayyub al-Masri (the al-Qa`ida leader in Iraq) was killed, the aide was identified as "abu Adham", al-Mu`tamar said that with the capture and killing of the suspects yesterday, the 'noose tightens' further around Abu Ayyub al-Masri.

Al-Mu`tamar devoted its headlines to the crisis that has engulfed the universities and colleges of Baghdad with the distribution of tracts by Ansar al-Sunna warning students and professors from attending classes for the current school year. Al-Mu`tamar quoted al-Maliki saying that measures have been taken for the protection of universities and scholars and that the students and professors that abstain from attending classes will be disciplined. Also on the front page, al-Mu`tamar said that an oil pipeline linking the Kirkuk oil fields with the refinery in Bajji was blown up yesterday.

Amid Bloodbath in Baghdad, PM Maliki Doomed?
12/10/2006 11:30 PM ET
Az-Zaman's international edition carried the following headline "the residents of al-Hurrya in Baghdad: the army sat by and watched the slaughter". The London-Based daily interviewed some of the locals in al-Hurrya district (Northwest Baghdad) who claimed that the Iraqi army was complacent and failed to protect the citizens during a series of attacks launched by the Mahdi Army militias against the predominantly Sunni district since Saturday afternoon. Az-Zaman reported that the residents of al-Hurrya organized a demonstration on Sunday to protest the attacks and the army's behavior, which they deemed responsible for the tragedy. Over 200 families have been forcibly expelled from the neighborhood, residents said, and many civilians were killed in the attacks. The speaker of the Iraqi parliament, Mahmud al-Mashhadani acknowledged the government's inaction and called for a change in the government and -according to Az-Zaman- said that the current government should not be supported 'as long as it does nothing to stop the sectarian killing'.

London-based Az-Zaman described scenes of rape and carnage in the Baghdadi district, one interviewee said that the attackers forced the residents out of their homes, and killed some of those who resisted them, the same witness said that there have been 32 'documented cases of rape' in al-Hurrya's third district and that nine of the attackers were also killed. The interviewee described the inaction of the army "we sought refuge among the army units present in the area, and asked for their help, but they were watching what was happening and did nothing to protect us". Sectarian agitation have been abound in al-Hurrya and neighboring districts in the past months, az-Zaman added, and a demonstration composed of the expelled families marched in Baghdad carrying signs criticizing the government, one such sign read "we are killed and expelled with the blessings of the Maliki government".

Amazingly, Az-Zaman's Iraq edition had no mention of the crisis in al-Hurrya, and while its international edition carried quotes accusing Sadr's army of killings and rapes, the Iraqi Az-Zaman had the following title on its first page "As-Sadr speaks to the Iraqis: Let the occupier leave my country". Other Iraqi newspapers - al-mada, As-Sabah al-jadeed and al-Mu`tamar- made no mention of the violence in al-Hurrya either.

The Association of Muslim Scholars published a statement condemning the violence in al-Hurrya and decrying the government's position. The statement said that over 150 families were expelled from the district, and several houses were burned and civilians killed 'under the watchful eyes of the forces of American occupation, and the protection of the forces of the governmental guard , lead by a well-known commander who opened the door to these criminal militias'. The statement said that the violence in al-Hurrya will be an additional mark in the 'criminal record of the government and its militias'.

Al-Mada headlined with Talabani's criticisms of the Baker-Hamilton Report, Talbani was quoted as saying that the report was 'unjust' and that 'it contained dangerous passages that violate the sovereignty of Iraq'. Talbani said that appointing foreign officers in every unit of the Iraqi army would be an affront to Iraqi sovereignty, he added that 'we have thousands of patriotic officers who worked with us against Saddam, why don't we bring them to train the Iraqi army?'. Talbani was probably referring to the Peshmerga fighters. Talbani added in a press conference 'we smell in this report the positions of James Baker before the war when they liberated Kuwait and left Saddam in Baghdad , in general, I reject this report'. He also expressed confidence in the American president, 'I believe President Bush is a principled and ideologically-committed person and he insists on supporting the government'.

Iraqi newspapers widely reported that negotiations are ongoing in Baghdad and `Amman between the major Iraqi parties and politicians. Al-Mada said that the talks aim to create a new political front 'to save the country'. As-Sabah al-Jadeed and Al-Mada said that their sources indicate that the talks will be crowned with the creation of a cross-sectarian coalition to counter the rise of sectarian violence and polarization in Iraq, both newspapers also said that the coalition will include the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the Kurdistan Alliance and the Iraqi Islamic Party.

As-Sabah also reported that the conference of Iraqi political groups in Baghdad, which will be held in mid-December under the sponsorship of the Ministry of National Dialogue will have participants from the neighboring countries.

Lastly, Al-Mada covered the resumption of diplomatic relations between Damascus and Baghdad after a quarter of a century of the severance of diplomatic ties between the two countries. This event will be celebrated with the synchronized raising of the Iraqi and Syrian flags over the two countries' embassies in Damascus and Baghdad, indicating the return of diplomatic representation in the two countries after a very long halt.

(endall)

Iraqi Politicos Scheme to Undermine Shia Leader, Reform Govt
12/12/2006 00:00 AM ET
The prospect of an imminent change in the Iraqi government and the formation of a new political coalition were covered prominently in Iraqi newspapers Tuesday.

Al-Mada predicted in its headlines that twelve new ministers will join the government, and that six of the incoming ministers will be from the United Iraqi Alliance (an electoral alliance that joined the major Shi`a parties and holds the largest bloc in the parliament) and three from the Iraqi accord front (representing Sunni-dominated parties).

Al-Mada added that the governmental changes should be announced within two weeks, and that it will mostly consist of ministerial positions being exchanged between the already-represented groups.

The importance of this move is that it comes in the context of negotiations that seek to form a new, cross-sectarian alliance that will join the major Kurdish and Sunni parties and two of the main Shi`a parties (SCIRI and Da`wa).

Az-Zaman's headline read "an alliance of 5 parties brings `Allawi back into the government", insinuating that `Allawi's "National List" will take part in the new coalition and will be awarded a ministry in Maliki's government.

While the proposed coalition has been advertised as an effort to relieve sectarian tensions in Iraq and promote cross-sectarian alliances, the goals of the proposed adjustments in the government are not clear. Al-Mada quoted an Iraqi MP as saying that the ministries in question will be 'service ministries' and that the change seeks to improve the condition of state-services in Iraq. But other sources also implied that the shifting in ministerial positions is an effort to replace some of the more 'problematic' ministers and bring more moderate personalities into the cabinet.

Al-Mada reported that the National Accord Front had serious concerns regarding the person of the Minister of Culture, As`ad al-Hashimi (from the Iraqi Alliance), and that the Sunni-dominated Accord Front was not satisfied with the performance of its own minister for Women's Affairs. Sources from Front told al-Mada that the two positions will be replaced with new ministers, and that the Iraqi Alliance will 'swap' the ministry of Culture with the Ministry of Justice.

Meanwhile, the Kurdish parties told al-Mada that they do not intend to change any of their ministers, unless the Prime Minister requires such an adjustment.

Az-Zaman reported that the Sadr Current expressed 'reservations' concerning the proposed alliance. It is worthwhile to mention that the Sadr Current is the only major party that has been excluded from all the proposed formulas of the new coalition. Az-Zaman quoted Falah Shanshal from the Sadr Current as saying that the country 'does not need new divisions in the parliament' and that such an alliance will 'add to the entrenchment' within the Iraqi political establishment.

In another indication that the new coalition may be directed against the Sadr Current, Az-Zaman interviewed an Iraqi MP who said that the political process in Iraq is blocked due to the presence of 'certain personalities' who participate in the political institutions on one hand, but do not believe in the political process on the other. And that such powers that do not believe in the current government and 'do not acknowledge its accomplishments' should be among the opposition, not in the cabinet.

In other news, al-Mu`tamar daily reported, in its Monday issue, the call by the Speaker of the Parliament, Mahmud al-Mashhadani to reform the government. In a parliamentary session, on Sunday, Mashhadani was describing the events in al-Hurryia district, where violence and forced expulsions occurred amid accusation of government inaction. One of the MPs interrupted Mashhadani, according to al-Mu`tamar and said that the government needs support right now, to which the Parliament Speaker replied "why should we support the government? For its failures?"

On the same issue, Az-Zaman quoted members from the National Accord Front accusing the defense ministry of inaction during the Hurryia events. A prominent member in the front, MP Husain al-Falluji asked for the interrogation of the Defense Minister who, according to al-Falluhi, did not intervene to prevent the violence, and allowed his forces to idly watch while the attacks were occurring in an area that is under their jurisdiction. Al-Falluji said that requests of parliamentary interrogations have been ignored by the Executive in the past, which indicates the tension between the parliament and the cabinet.

As-Sabah al-Jadeed reported in its Monday issue that three cars filled with explosives were caught by the security forces in the city of al-Hilla. Whole al-Mada and Az-Zaman said that the army liberated 23 kidnapped individuals in the Ghazaliya area in a surprise attack.

Lastly, in opinion pieces, al-Mada's Mahmud Ahmad argued in an op-ed that the Baker-Hamilton report does not serve Iraqi interest. He said that the drafters were 'the pillars of the American policy in 1991' that favored the preservation of Saddam's regime. He said that the ISG is, ultimately, an attempt to mend American domestic disagreements and not to present solutions for the ongoing crisis in Iraq.

Daily Column
Meantime, Iraqis Celebrate as Their Soccer Team Scores Big
12/12/2006 11:58 PM ET
Iraqi newspapers showcased the main event in Iraq yesterday: the suicide attack that rocked the city of Baghdad, killing 63 civilians and wounding more than 200. Al-Mada's headline read "terrorist attack in Tayaran Square, causing over 60 martyrs and hundreds of wounded", Az-Zaman's headline was "Al-Maliki vows to punish the culprits: an immense explosion causes 281 victims among the workers in Tayaran square".

Most of the victims were day laborers who gather regularly in the square looking for odd jobs, mostly in construction work. But there are, so far, two different versions describing the attack. While sources in the Interior Ministry said that the suicide bomber approached the gathering workers in a pickup truck, luring them towards him with the promise of work, then detonating the vehicle once dozens of laborers gathered around him; Az-Zaman interviewed eyewitnesses who said that there were in fact two separate attacks.

A man who was present in the square claimed that at 7 a.m., a BMW car approached a police patrol that grew suspicious of the driver's behavior and fired at the car, which then exploded, 'destroying the police patrol'. As a result, many of the bystanders in the square sought shelter around a nearby building, at which point another suicide bomber drove a truck towards the gathering civilians and detonated it, killing most of them.

According to 'Ya `Iraq' media network, this is the fourth such attack to target the same square since the beginning of civil unrest in the country. In response to the attack, Iraqi Prime Minister Noureddine al-Maliki issued a strong condemnation of the suicide bombing, saying that those 'who stand behind this operation are the 'takfiri' terrorists and their Saddamist allies", Maliki also vowed to pursue 'those who stand behind this operation' and 'present them to justice'.

The website of the Association of Islamic scholars gave minimal coverage to the Tayaran attack, and devoted its headlines to the news regarding clashes in the Northern city of Mosul between Iraqi gunmen on one hand, and the American army and government forces on the other. The site showed photos of burning military vehicles and claimed that the Iraqi guerillas destroyed an American 'Stryker' armored vehicle and a Hummer, 'killing those inside them'. The site also reported that government forces intervened, only to be attacked by the gunmen and that they suffered the loss of two additional vehicles. The Association's site added that there has been an official blackout regarding the confrontation that lasted over an hour, and that no official has mentioned the events.

Al-Mada reported that 18 American Marines were injured when their helicopter performed an emergency landing in the Anbar province, the second such incident this month in the same province, the American Army officials, said. According to al-Mada, that the incident was not due to enemy fire.

Meanwhile, in the Iraqi Parliament, Speaker Mahmud al-Mashhadani, in response to the increasing violence, called for a 'two months' truce' on the part of armed groups, and asked that the 'Security Ministers' in the Iraqi cabinet be replaced. MP Mithal al-Alusi, on the other hand, asked Syria and Iran to 'desist from sending car bombs into Iraq', according to al-Mada.

Az-Zaman also reported that a state of panic took hold of the Hurrya district in Baghdad after rumors spread that the drinking water in the neighborhood was being poisoned. Mosques in the area warned the residents against drinking the municipally-supplied water, which required the mayor of Baghdad to issue an official statement assuring the residents that the rumors were unfounded. This comes after a series of attacks that occurred in the district over the last week.

Sawt al-Iraq website (pro-Sadr) said that Iraqis in London threw stones and tomatoes at `Abdel `azeez al Hakeem who was visiting the city to deliver a speech to the Iraqi community. Iraqis shouted angry slogans against Hakeem, including 'death to the killers of Iraqis' and 'death to Iran's agents'.

The Iraqi News Agency quoted the Syrian ambassador to Washington, Imad Mustafa as saying that Iraqi president, Jalal Talbani used a Syrian diplomatic passport, and that he handed the passport back six months ago.

The only good news in Iraq these days is the recent success of the Olympic soccer team. The National team, which is competing in the Asian Games currently held in Doha, has had a series of victories (despite modest preparations and a hesitant first match) and has reached the cup final after defeating the South Korean team (a major power in international football) yesterday. Iraqi newspapers reported that hundreds of Iraqis took to the streets in celebration and chanted victory songs in honor of their team's victory, one goal to nil, against the South Korean rivals. Iraq used to be a major Asian power in football in the 1980s, and has produced several notable players, some of whom went to play in European and Middle Eastern clubs in recent years.

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