Category Archives: Iraqi government

Iran dominates in Iraq after U.S. ‘handed the country over’

The New York Times reports: Walk into almost any market in Iraq and the shelves are filled with goods from Iran — milk, yogurt, chicken. Turn on the television and channel after channel broadcasts programs sympathetic to Iran.

A new building goes up? It is likely that the cement and bricks came from Iran. And when bored young Iraqi men take pills to get high, the illicit drugs are likely to have been smuggled across the porous Iranian border.

And that’s not even the half of it.

Across the country, Iranian-sponsored militias are hard at work establishing a corridor to move men and guns to proxy forces in Syria and Lebanon. And in the halls of power in Baghdad, even the most senior Iraqi cabinet officials have been blessed, or bounced out, by Iran’s leadership.

When the United States invaded Iraq 14 years ago to topple Saddam Hussein, it saw Iraq as a potential cornerstone of a democratic and Western-facing Middle East, and vast amounts of blood and treasure — about 4,500 American lives lost, more than $1 trillion spent — were poured into the cause.

From Day 1, Iran saw something else: a chance to make a client state of Iraq, a former enemy against which it fought a war in the 1980s so brutal, with chemical weapons and trench warfare, that historians look to World War I for analogies. If it succeeded, Iraq would never again pose a threat, and it could serve as a jumping-off point to spread Iranian influence around the region.

In that contest, Iran won, and the United States lost. [Continue reading…]


Proposal to arm Sunnis adds to Iraqi suspicions of the U.S.

The New York Times reports: Despite stepped-up military assistance to Iraq to fight Islamic State militants, and President Obama’s public commitment to keeping Iraq unified, Iraqis have long suspected a nefarious plot by the Americans to break up their country.

Their suspicions are intensified by a century of painful experience with Western intervention, much of it recent, and are embellished by a cultural fascination with conspiracies of all stripes. So when news came out this week that congressional Republicans were proposing to directly arm Iraqi Sunnis and Kurds without the involvement of the Shiite-led central government, it was immediately and widely taken as proof that the American plot against Iraq had entered a new phase.

The front page of one Iraqi newspaper on Thursday showed a map of the country, wrapped in a chain to symbolize the grip of the United States and divided into three nations: Shiastan, Sunnistan and Kurdistan. A headline in red declared, “Congress proposes to deal with Kurds and Sunnis as two states.”

The firestorm of Iraqi outrage at the proposal, part of the Republican version of a defense authorization bill, has sent American diplomats scrambling to assure Iraqis that the United States is still committed to a unified Iraq under a national government. [Continue reading…]


How to save Iraq from civil war

Ayad Allawi, leader of the Iraqiya coalition and former prime minister of Iraq, Osama al-Nujaifi, speaker of the Iraqi Parliament, and finance minister Rafe al-Essawi, write: Iraq today stands on the brink of disaster. President Obama kept his campaign pledge to end the war here, but it has not ended the way anyone in Washington wanted. The prize, for which so many American soldiers believed they were fighting, was a functioning democratic and nonsectarian state. But Iraq is now moving in the opposite direction — toward a sectarian autocracy that carries with it the threat of devastating civil war.

Since Iraq’s 2010 election, we have witnessed the subordination of the state to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s Dawa party, the erosion of judicial independence, the intimidation of opponents and the dismantling of independent institutions intended to promote clean elections and combat corruption. All of this happened during the Arab Spring, while other countries were ousting dictators in favor of democracy. Iraq had a chance to demonstrate, for the first time in the modern Middle East, that political power could peacefully pass between political rivals following proper elections. Instead, it has become a battleground of sects, in which identity politics have crippled democratic development.

We are leaders of Iraqiya, the political coalition that won the most seats in the 2010 election and represents more than a quarter of all Iraqis. We do not think of ourselves as Sunni or Shiite, but as Iraqis, with a constituency spanning the entire country. We are now being hounded and threatened by Mr. Maliki, who is attempting to drive us out of Iraqi political life and create an authoritarian one-party state.


Once again the United States supports a strongman in Iraq

The New York Times reports: The Obama administration is moving ahead with the sale of nearly $11 billion worth of arms and training for the Iraqi military despite concerns that Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki is seeking to consolidate authority, create a one-party Shiite-dominated state and abandon the American-backed power-sharing government.

The military aid, including advanced fighter jets and battle tanks, is meant to help the Iraqi government protect its borders and rebuild a military that before the 1991 Persian Gulf war was one of the largest in the world; it was disbanded in 2003 after the United States invasion.

But the sales of the weapons — some of which have already been delivered — are moving ahead even though Mr. Maliki has failed to carry out an agreement that would have limited his ability to marginalize the Sunnis and turn the military into a sectarian force. While the United States is eager to beef up Iraq’s military, at least in part as a hedge against Iranian influence, there are also fears that the move could backfire if the Baghdad government ultimately aligns more closely with the Shiite theocracy in Tehran than with Washington.

United States diplomats, including Ambassador James F. Jeffrey, have expressed concern about the military relationship with Iraq. Some have even said it could have political ramifications for the Obama administration if not properly managed. There is also growing concern that Mr. Maliki’s apparent efforts to marginalize the country’s Sunni minority could set off a civil war.

“The optics of this are terrible,” said Kenneth M. Pollack, an expert on national security issues at the Brookings Institution in Washington and a critic of the administration’s Iraq policy.

The program to arm the military is being led by the United States Embassy here, which through its Office of Security Cooperation serves as a broker between the Iraqi government and defense contractors like Lockheed Martin and Raytheon. Among the big-ticket items being sold to Iraq are F-16 fighter jets, M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks, cannons and armored personnel carriers. The Iraqis have also received body armor, helmets, ammunition trailers and sport utility vehicles, which critics say can be used by domestic security services to help Mr. Maliki consolidate power.


Explosions rock Baghdad amid Iraqi political crisis

The New York Times reports: A wave of coordinated explosions ripped across Baghdad early on Thursday, killing at least 63 people, wounding more than 180 and jolting a country already unsettled by a deepening political crisis and the absence of American troops.

Using car bombs and improvised explosives, insurgents attacked markets, grocery stores, schools and government buildings in a dozen neighborhoods in the central and eastern parts of the capital.

The attacks were the most significant violence in Iraq since the last American troops pulled out of the country earlier this week. So far, the withdrawal and the bitter fighting between Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, a Shiite, and his political foes in Parliament have not been accompanied by a rise in violence. But Thursday’s attacks raised the specter that the crisis inside the government could spill into the streets.

The attacks came a day after Mr. Maliki threatened to abandon an American-backed power-sharing government created a year ago. The prime minister’s words at a televised news conference on Wednesday threw a fragile democracy into further turmoil after the departure of American troops, potentially tarnishing what has been cast as a major foreign policy achievement for President Obama.

BBC News reports: Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has urged Kurdish authorities in northern Iraq to hand over Iraq’s Sunni Vice-President, Tariq al-Hashemi.

An arrest warrant was issued for Mr Hashemi on Monday over terror charges.

Tariq al-Hashemi is Iraq’s most senior Sunni Arab politician. He says the allegations are “fabricated”.

Mr Hashemi is currently in the region of northern Iraq controlled by Kurdish authorities. The warrant was issued a day after US troops pulled out.

US Vice-President Joe Biden has urged Iraqi leaders to work together to avert renewed sectarian strife.

At a news conference broadcast live on Iraqi television, Mr Maliki, a Shia, said he would dismiss ministers belonging to the main Sunni political grouping, Iraqiyya, if they did not lift their boycott of parliament and cabinet.

Iraqiyya – which has been boycotting parliament in protest at Mr Maliki’s alleged authoritarian manner – has suspended its ministers’ participation in cabinet in response to the arrest warrant for Mr Hashemi.


Sunni leader in Iraq denies ordering assassinations

The New York Times reports: The political crisis in Iraq deepened on Tuesday, as the Sunni vice president angrily rebutted charges that he had ordered his security guards to assassinate government officials, saying that Shiite-backed security forces had induced the guards into false confessions.

In a nationally televised news conference, the vice president, Tariq al-Hashimi, blamed the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki for using the country’s security forces to persecute political opponents, specifically Sunnis.

“The accusations have not been proven, so the accused is innocent until proven guilty,” Mr. Hashimi said at the news conference in Erbil, in the Kurdish north of Iraq. “I swear by God I didn’t do this disobedience against Iraqi blood, and I would never do this.”

He added: “The goal is clear, it is not more than political slander.”

Standing in front of an Iraqi flag, Mr. Hashimi questioned why Mr. Maliki had waited until the day after the American military withdrew its troops from Iraq to publicly lay out the charges.

Almost as significant as what Mr. Hashimi said was where he said it: in Erbil, the capital of the semi-autonomous northern region of Kurdistan. Because of the region’s autonomy, Mr. Maliki’s security forces cannot easily act on a warrant issued Monday to arrest Mr. Hashimi.

Mr. Hashimi said he would not return to Baghdad, effectively making him an internal exile. The case against him should be transferred to Kurdistan where he could face a fair trial, he said.


Renewed threat of sectarian conflict as Iraq’s Sunni vice president faces arrest

As Al Jazeera reported yesterday and the New York Times reports today, Iraqis have given scant attention to the departure of the last American troops as the country heads into a deepening political crisis.

Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government was thrown into crisis on Monday night as authorities issued an arrest warrant for the Sunni vice president, accusing him of running a personal death squad that assassinated security officials and government bureaucrats.

The sensational charges against Tariq al-Hashimi, one of the country’s most prominent Sunni leaders, threatened to inflame widening sectarian and political conflicts in Iraq just one day after the last American convoy of American troops rolled out of the country into Kuwait.

The accusations were broadcast over Iraqi television, in a half-hour of grainy video confessions from three men identified as Mr. Hashimi’s bodyguards. They spoke of how they had planted bombs in public squares, driven up to convoys carrying Iraqi officials and opened fire.

Under the direction of Mr. Hashimi’s top aides, the men said, they gunned down convoys carrying Shiite officials and planted roadside bombs in traffic circles and wealthy neighborhoods of Baghdad, then detonated them as their targets drove by. One of the men said Mr. Hashimi had personally handed him an envelope with $3,000 after one of the attacks.

It was impossible to substantiate any of the accusations aired in the confessions.

An aide in Mr. Hashimi’s office said the three men had indeed worked for the vice president, but he denied all of the allegations. The aide said Mr. Hashimi was in the northern region of Kurdistan, meeting with Kurdish officials to defuse the worsening political standoff with Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.

Reidar Visser, an analyst of Iraqi politics and editor of the blog, called the situation the worst crisis Iraq had faced in five years.

“Any leading Sunni politician seems now to be a target of this campaign by Maliki,” Mr. Visser said. “It seems that every Sunni Muslim or secularist is in danger of being labeled either a Baathist or a terrorist.”


Political crisis in Iraq as U.S. withdraws

Al Jazeera reports: The last US troops withdrew from Iraq this morning, but the story has barely merited a mention on Iraqi television; local media are instead focused on a deepening political crisis, which includes – among other issues – an arrest warrant for the vice-president.

The latest development came on Saturday night, when Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, called for a no-confidence vote on his deputy, Salah al-Mutlaq, state media reported.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi interior ministry has reportedly issued an arrest warrant for Vice-President Tariq al-Hashimi. Several of his security guards have been under investigation over a bombing last month in the green zone, the heavily-fortified district in central Baghdad that houses senior politicians and foreign embassies.

The bomb was assembled inside the green zone, according to Iraqi security officials, but went off prematurely. Both Maliki and Osama al-Nujaifi, the parliament speaker, have claimed to be the intended target.

The interior ministry was supposed to release details of its investigation in a press conference on Saturday night; the ministry said it would announce that Iraqi politicians, presumably referring to Hashimi, were linked to the bombing.

But officials from the ministry announced late on Saturday that they were postponing the press conference because of a request from the judiciary.


At Abu Ghraib, ambivalence on America’s departure

The New York Times reports: On a recent day off, Hussam Saad stood at a roadside vegetable stand across the highway from the prison where he says he works.

“I can still remember guarding the prison at night, and hearing the voices and the shouting while people were being tortured,” said Mr. Saad, recalling the time when the Americans were in charge at Abu Ghraib.

Even so, he claims, it is worse there now.

“It would be better,” he said, “if the Americans were still in charge of the prison.”

It is difficult to verify Mr. Saad’s claims; the government denies harming any inmates although the State Department says cases of torture throughout the country have been documented by Iraq’s own government watchdogs. But as an indication of what type of country the United States is leaving behind, Mr. Saad’s comments were striking.

Given the legacy of the torture scandal at the prison, this would seem as likely a place as any for the imminent departure of American troops to be greeted with unabashed happiness.

The ambivalence reflects how much is left to be done to reinvent this ethnically fractured country as a functioning democracy. Efforts to bring Sunnis into the Shiite-led government have been haphazard at best. Laws for splitting precious oil dollars among ethnic groups and regional fiefs remain unwritten. And nearly two years after a national election, the country’s bitterly divided political blocs cannot agree on who should run the Defense and Interior Ministries.


Rebels claim Gaddafi was tied to plot against Iraq

The New York Times reports: When Tripoli, the Libyan capital, fell, rebel fighters found secret intelligence documents linking Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi to a plot by former members of Saddam Hussein’s military and Baath Party to overthrow the Iraqi government, according to an Iraqi official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The details of the plot were revealed to Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, this month in a surprise visit to Baghdad by Libya’s interim leader, Mahmoud Jibril, said the official, who demanded anonymity because the matter was supposed to be confidential. This week, Iraqi security forces responded, arresting more than 200 suspects in connection with the plot.

The looted ruins of Colonel Qaddafi’s intelligence headquarters in Tripoli have revealed many secrets. The trove has uncovered ties between the Libyan strongman and the C.I.A. and shed light on negotiations between Chinese arms dealers and Libyan officials during the course of the uprising, an embarrassment to officials in Beijing.

But here in Iraq, the records of Colonel Qaddafi’s plot had special resonance. The Iraqi news media celebrated Colonel Qaddafi’s death last week. But the news that the colonel may have been backing a Baathist-led coup added another layer of intrigue just as Iraq was digesting the weekend news that President Obama had announced that the last American soldier would leave by the end of the year. Some suggested that it was a fiction spread only to allow for the arrests of Sunnis, a reflection of the fragile sectarian tensions.

“The people that were arrested do not deserve this, because many of them were old,” said Hamid al-Mutlaq, a member of Parliament’s security committee from the Iraqiya bloc, which is largely Sunni. “The timing for this is bad because the U.S. forces are about to leave, and we should focus on national reconciliation.”

On state television, Hussein Kamal, Iraq’s deputy interior minister, said the plot included agitators spread throughout the country’s south and just north of Baghdad, and had been planning “terrorist operations and sabotage” after the withdrawal of the United States military.


Iraq’s government, not Obama, called time on the U.S. troop presence

Tony Karon writes: President Barack Obama’s announcement on Friday that all 40,000 U.S. troops still in Iraq will leave the country by New Year’s Eve will, inevitably, draw howls of derision from GOP presidential hopefuls — this is, after all, early election season. But the decision to leave Iraq by that date was not actually taken by President Obama — it was taken by President George W. Bush, and by the Iraqi government.

In one of his final acts in office, President Bush in December of 2008 had signed a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the Iraqi government that set the clock ticking on ending the war he’d launched in March of 2003. The SOFA provided a legal basis for the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq after the United Nations Security Council mandate for the occupation mission expired at the end of 2008. But it required that all U.S. forces be gone from Iraq by January 1, 2012, unless the Iraqi government was willing to negotiate a new agreement that would extend their mandate. And as Middle East historian Juan Cole has noted, “Bush had to sign what the [Iraqi] parliament gave him or face the prospect that U.S. troops would have to leave by 31 December, 2008, something that would have been interpreted as a defeat… Bush and his generals clearly expected, however, that over time Washington would be able to wriggle out of the treaty and would find a way to keep a division or so in Iraq past that deadline.”

But ending the U.S. troop presence in Iraq was an overwhelmingly popular demand among Iraqis, and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki appears to have been unwilling to take the political risk of extending it. While he was inclined to see a small number of American soldiers stay behind to continue mentoring Iraqi forces, the likes of Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, on whose support Maliki’s ruling coalition depends, were having none of it. Even the Obama Administration’s plan to keep some 3,000 trainers behind failed because the Iraqis were unwilling to grant them the legal immunity from local prosecution that is common to SOF agreements in most countries where U.S. forces are based.

So, while U.S. commanders would have liked to have kept a division or more behind in Iraq to face any contingencies — and, increasingly, Administration figures had begun citing the challenge of Iran, next door — it was Iraqi democracy that put the kibosh on that goal. The Bush Administration had agreed in 2004 to restore Iraqi sovereignty, and in 2005 put the country’s elected government in charge of shaping its destiny. But President Bush hadn’t anticipated that Iraqi democracy would see pro-U.S. parties sidelined and would, instead, consistently return governments closer to Tehran than they are to Washington. Contra expectations, a democratic Iraq has turned out to be at odds with much of U.S. regional strategy — first and foremost its campaign to isolate Iran.


Torture and terrorism

One of the strange aspects relating to conspiracy theories concerning 9/11 is that they unwittingly obscure something even worse: that the US government foments terrorism not by design but by neglect; that its policies have had a direct and instrumental role in creating terrorists not simply by providing individuals and groups with an ideological pretext for engaging in terrorism but much more specifically by creating the conditions an individual’s political opposition to America’s actions would shift to unrestrained violent opposition.

The key which often unlocks the terrorist’s capacity for violence is his experience of being subject to violence through torture.

Chris Zambelis writes:

There is ample evidence that a number of prominent militants — including al-Qaeda deputy commander Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri and the late al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi — endured systematic torture at the hands of the Egyptian and Jordanian authorities, respectively. Many observers believe that their turn toward extreme radicalism represented as much an attempt to exact revenge against their tormentors and, by extension, the United States, as it was about fulfilling an ideology. Those who knew Zawahiri and can relate to his experience believe that his behavior today is greatly influenced by his pursuit of personal redemption to compensate for divulging information about his associates after breaking down amid brutal torture sessions during his imprisonment in the early 1980s. For radical Islamists and their sympathizers, U.S. economic, military, and diplomatic support for regimes that engage in this kind of activity against their own citizens vindicates al-Qaeda’s claims of the existence of a U.S.-led plot to attack Muslims and undermine Islam. In al-Qaeda’s view, these circumstances require that Muslims organize and take up arms in self-defense against the United States and its allies in the region.

The latest revelations provided by Wikileaks show how the war in Iraq — the centerpiece of the Bush administration’s war on terrorism — became not simply a terrorist training ground, but a cauldron in which terrorists could be forged.


The Guardian reports:

A grim picture of the US and Britain’s legacy in Iraq has been revealed in a massive leak of American military documents that detail torture, summary executions and war crimes.

Almost 400,000 secret US army field reports have been passed to the Guardian and a number of other international media organisations via the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.

The electronic archive is believed to emanate from the same dissident US army intelligence analyst who earlier this year is alleged to have leaked a smaller tranche of 90,000 logs chronicling bloody encounters and civilian killings in the Afghan war.

The new logs detail how:

• US authorities failed to investigate hundreds of reports of abuse, torture, rape and even murder by Iraqi police and soldiers whose conduct appears to be systematic and normally unpunished.

• A US helicopter gunship involved in a notorious Baghdad incident had previously killed Iraqi insurgents after they tried to surrender.

• More than 15,000 civilians died in previously unknown incidents. US and UK officials have insisted that no official record of civilian casualties exists but the logs record 66,081 non-combatant deaths out of a total of 109,000 fatalities.

The Pentagon might hide behind claims that it neither authorized nor condoned violence used by Iraqi authorities on Iraqi detainees, but the difference between being an innocent bystander and being complicit consists in whether one has the power to intervene. The US military’s hands were not tied. As the occupying power it had both the means, the legal authority and the legal responsibility to stop torture in Iraq. It’s failure to do so was a matter of choice.

Will the latest revelations from Wikileaks be of any political consequence? I seriously doubt it, given that we now have a president dedicated not only to refusing to look back but also to perpetuating most of the policies instituted by his predecessor.

For more information on the documents released by Wikileaks, see The Guardian‘s Iraq war logs page.


Iraq prime minister lashes out at rival

The Los Angeles Times reports:

Iraq’s prime minister dismissed his rival’s call for international help to resolve the country’s postelection political crisis as the dispute threatens to inflame rifts and undermine American plans for withdrawal.

In a televised speech Friday, Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, whose political bloc finished a close second behind former premier Iyad Allawi’s slate in the March 7 elections, alleged that “regional, international” players were attempting a coup d’etat against his government.

“We have accomplished very much in Iraq,” he said from the southern shrine city of Karbala, the symbolic heartland of Iraq’s Shiite Muslims, who were long oppressed under the Sunni-dominated Baath Party government of Saddam Hussein.

“We will not allow any foreign interference in our internal affairs that will breach our sovereignty,” Maliki said.

Meanwhile, earlier this week, the New York Times reported:

The torture of Iraqi detainees at a secret prison in Baghdad was far more systematic and brutal than initially reported, Human Rights Watch reported on Tuesday.

The existence of the prison, which housed mostly Sunni Arab prisoners, has created a political furor in Iraq, prompted government denials and fanned sectarian tensions.

“Abu Ghraib was a picnic” compared with the secret prison, said Sheik Abdullah Humedi Ajeel al-Yawar, one of the most influential Sunni Arab tribal leaders in the northern province of Nineveh, where the detainees were rounded up by Iraqi soldiers based on suspicions that they had links to the insurgency and brought to Baghdad with little due process. Abu Ghraib is the prison at which American guards tortured Iraqi prisoners, severely damaging Iraqis’ trust in the United States.

Human Rights Watch gained access on Monday to about 300 male detainees transferred from the once secret prison at the Old Muthanna military airfield to the Rusafa prison in Baghdad and documented its findings, which it described as “credible and consistent,” in a draft report provided to The New York Times on Tuesday by the rights group.

The group said it had interviewed 42 detainees who displayed fresh scars and wounds. Many said they were raped, sodomized with broomsticks and pistol barrels, or forced to engage in sexual acts with one another and their jailers.


Post-election massacre in Iraq

The Washington Post reports:

Gunmen pretending to be Iraqi security forces and U.S. soldiers killed at least 24 people here, shooting some and slitting others’ throats as they moved from house to house, officials and residents said Saturday.

The victims of the hour-long incident included women and children, but most were members of the Awakening, Sunni paramilitary forces also known as the Sons of Iraq that battled insurgents at the behest of the U.S. military.

The targeted killings were perhaps the most brutal since the horrific spiral of sectarian assassinations in 2006 and 2007 pulled Iraq into a state of civil war. With American forces no longer patrolling Iraqi cities, the killings also reinforced a sense of abandonment among Arab Sunnis, whose tribes defied insurgents to join forces with the United States despite their distrust of the Shiite-led government.

Meanwhile, AFP reports:

Iraq’s Sadrists concluded an unofficial two-day ballot on Saturday over who should be the country’s leader, after the bloc’s strong showing in last month’s election gave it kingmaker status.

The “referendum”, which has no legal authority, comes as sitting Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and ex-premier Iyad Allawi battle to form a government, with neither holding enough seats to claim a parliamentary majority.
“The referendum has concluded and the participation rate was very high,” said Saleh al-Obeidi, the Najaf-based spokesman for the movement.

“The counting process has already started in the provinces, and in the next few days we will release the results.”

Both Maliki and Allawi were on the unofficial ballot, which also included the former’s predecessor Ibrahim al-Jaafari.

Vice President Adel Abdel Mahdi and Jaafar al-Sadr, the son of an ayatollah who founded Maliki’s Islamic Dawa Party and was murdered by Saddam’s regime in 1980, are also candidates, while ballot sheets also included space for voters to write the name of their chosen nominee.

Although the plebiscite was nominally open to all Iraqis, the vast majority of voters are likely to have been Sadrist backers.


Sadrists hold key to Iraq’s political future

As if to mock America’s role in the future of Iraq, the single point of continuity since the fall of Saddam has been the rising power of Moqtada al Sadr. Even after his movement seemed to have been bludgeoned into submission and he took refuge in Iran, this period of dormancy during which the rough-mannered Shiite leader has focused on elevating his spiritual authority also appears to have served to help him consolidate his political power.

The Guardian reports:

The first in what could be the most crucial series of discussions to form Iraq’s new government took place early last week outside the country’s borders in the Iranian Shia shrine city of Qom.

Sitting cross-legged on the floor was a familiar firebrand in a black turban, Moqtada al-Sadr. Across from him was a delegation from the office of Iraq’s prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki. They had come to seek a detente – and more importantly to find a way, any way, that the exiled cleric, who maintains an overlord’s hold over more than two million Shia Iraqis, would support Maliki being returned to office.

It was a triumphant moment for Sadr, who had been hounded out of town in 2007 by Maliki and the US army and marginalised as a spent force by American officials and most of the prime minister’s inner sanctum. Now, here he was being courted by his persecutors. In the two weeks since the 7 March general election, with the ballots steadily falling Ayad Allawi’s way and power slipping from the grasp of the supremelyconfident incumbent leader, Sadr had been transformed from a pariah into a potential kingmaker.

Juan Cole adds:

Al-Hayat reports in Arabic on the emergence of the Sadr Movement as the largest Shiite party within the Shiite fundamentalist coalition, the Iraqi National Alliance. The Free Independent (al-Ahrar) party that represented the Sadrists won 38 seats out of the 70 that the INA garnered, making the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, the Islamic Virtue Party and other Shiite religious components of the list much smaller and less weighty in the coalition’s deliberations.

No sooner, the article says, than the election tallies began coming in did the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki begin gradually releasing Sadrist prisoners who had been in Iraqi penitentiaries for years. Al-Hayat’s sources say that in Babil Province, orders were received from the government to release members of the Sadr Movement, in an attempt to mollify that group.

Sadrist leader Liqa’ Al-Yasin said that the Sadrists have now become the spinal column of the Iraqi National Alliance. He said that the movement had demonstrated that it had a large public base, and asserted that that base is cultured, aware, and abiding by the principles both of Islamic Law and the Nation. Al-Yasin said that the Sadrists would work for the liberation of Iraq and the realization of national sovereignty. [Translation: they want US troops out of their country tout de suite.] He adds that other goals are to gain the release of prisoners and to take some of the burdens off the shoulders of ordinary citizens. Sadrist leaders said that “the next phase will concentrate on political action to end the Occupation altogether.


Riz Khan – Iraq: Reopening sectarian wounds?

Al Jazeera English’s Riz Khan: Now, of course, in 2005 when the Sunni community generally boycotted the elections taking place then, there was violence on the street. And I wonder, because there’s, you know, if there’s a sense of being sidelined and excluded and being left out of any kind of voice in Iraqi politics? Whether there’s a chance of people taking to the streets again this time? What do you expect?

Dr. Saleh al-Mutlaq, a leading Sunni Iraqi politician: Well, it is really a very dangerous and worrying situation because although we told people when we heard this news about excluding us from the election, we told them they should not worry about this. They should go to the election. They should vote. Whether we are in or we are out and we will struggle against dictatorship, against the oppressing government whether we are inside the political process or outside the political process, whether we are inside the election process or outside the election process.

But we could not convince people. People, now, are depressed, pessimistic about what’s going on. They say to us, they still saying, that if you are in the political process and you are a leader in this process that you cannot protect yourself. So how could we protect ourself when we go to the election? So they cannot guarantee their lives and their family lives if they go to the election. Plus they do not guarantee that the results will not be fixed from now.

If the IHEC [Iraq’s Accountability and Justice Commission], the, I mean, the election committee and the government is capable of cheating the people and fixing the situation as they want in a very obvious way. So aren’t they able to cheat the people and to make the fraud in the coming election? These are the arguments the people argue and most of the people, we talk to them, they said we will not go to the election. And this is very dangerous because then they will lose hope. And if they lose hope, then they will go to the violence again.


British man held for fraud in Iraq bomb detectors

British man held for fraud in Iraq bomb detectors

The director of a British company that supplies bomb detectors to Iraq has been arrested on fraud charges, and the export of the devices has been banned, British government officials confirmed Saturday.

Iraqi officials reacted with fury to the news, noting a series of horrific bombings in the past six months despite the widespread use of the bomb detectors at hundreds of checkpoints in the capital.

“This company not only caused grave and massive losses of funds, but it has caused grave and massive losses of the lives of innocent Iraqi civilians, by the hundreds and thousands, from attacks that we thought we were immune to because we have this device,” said Ammar Tuma, a member of the Iraqi Parliament’s Security and Defense Committee.

But the Ministry of the Interior has not withdrawn the device from duty, and police officers continue to use them. [continued…]

Export ban for useless ‘bomb detector’

Iraq swears by bomb detector U.S. sees as useless

Despite major bombings that have rattled the nation, and fears of rising violence as American troops withdraw, Iraq’s security forces have been relying on a device to detect bombs and weapons that the United States military and technical experts say is useless.

The small hand-held wand, with a telescopic antenna on a swivel, is being used at hundreds of checkpoints in Iraq. But the device works “on the same principle as a Ouija board” — the power of suggestion — said a retired United States Air Force officer, Lt. Col. Hal Bidlack, who described the wand as nothing more than an explosives divining rod.

Still, the Iraqi government has purchased more than 1,500 of the devices, known as the ADE 651, at costs from $16,500 to $60,000 each. Nearly every police checkpoint, and many Iraqi military checkpoints, have one of the devices, which are now normally used in place of physical inspections of vehicles. [continued…]