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Iraq Report: October 5, 2007

Iraq Parliament Speaker Says Progress Being Made

Mahmud al-Mashhadani

October 5, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Iraqi parliament speaker Mahmud al-Mashhadani visited RFE/RL headquarters in Prague on October 5 and spoke with RFE/RL Iraq analyst Kathleen Ridolfo about regional interference in Iraq, the insurgency, and the possibilities for national reconciliation.

RFE/RL: What can you say about Iran's role and the Iranian support for Shi'ite militias in Iraq? We see many reports about arms dealing and we want to ask: Do you think the Iraqi government is doing enough, and is there something the Iraqi parliament can do to push the Iraqi government to take more action in dealing with Iranians?

Mahmud al-Mashhadani: In fact, the Iranian influence is clear and present. As parliamentarians, we cannot do anything but open dialogue with the Iranians and urge them not to interfere, and insist on our demands that they should not interfere.

Concerning the security level, there are the executive bodies -- the ministries of Defense and Interior. These have some kind of agreements on reducing the arms smuggling. The ideal solution is an Iraqi solution -- dismantling of the militias and their canceling.

Then, how can Iran or anybody else other than Iran be able to interfere in our affairs if there is no platform for the interference? If all rivals are brought to the parliament and to the political arena, and all the militia-like or terrorist groups that reject the political process are decapitated, then no one will be able to interfere in our internal affairs. We act in terms of this philosophy and agenda.

RFE/RL: Let me ask you about the national resistance, the Sunni resistance. You have said on many occasions that the national resistance is carrying out its obligations and its duties to support Iraq. Do you think that the talks reportedly taking place between some groups and the U.S. government is a positive development? Will there be some kind of reconciliation coming?

Al-Mashhadani: In fact, we have reached a really great achievement in the separation of the resistance from Al-Qaeda. This separation is something really great. We have succeeded in that. Now, we are on the way to opening talks with them [the resistance] so that they can join the political process. As a result, the issues should fall within the democratic arena.

There are some obstacles. There are some people from the resistance who have got involved in certain crimes similar to Al-Qaeda. There is dialogue on how we should deal with this group whose majority -- we believe -- can be drawn in the political process. Through that, we would put an end to military operations, for instance by setting a timetable for a real withdrawal, sovereignty, and a full independence. We see that their demands are reasonable and Iraqi [reflect Iraq's interests].

Moreover, they have representatives in the parliament. [Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Imam] Al-Mahdi Army has its representatives in the parliament, the Islamic Army has its representatives in the parliament -- all of them have their representatives in the parliament. But, their representatives in the parliament work hard to persuade them [to lay down arms in support of] the political process. In the beginning, they said: "If you succeed, the goal will be reached. If you fail, we will stay on our positions."

Our situation now is that the political approach has succeeded and prevailed over the language of a military approach. And this is a really great achievement.

RFE/RL: The deposed Ba'ath Party of says that it is working to liberate Iraq. We see many developments in recent weeks: statements coming from the Ba'ath Party -- Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri. What is their role on the ground in Iraq? Are they there, and are they as big in presence as they claim to be?

Al-Mashhadani: A part of the Ba'ath Party has fled from Iraq, another part is imprisoned, another part is fighting, and another part has quietly and peacefully infiltrated government institutions to work there and make a living. The part that has fled from Iraq does not interest us. It does not have any influence. As for the part that has stayed in Iraq fighting, we have started to get closer to them in slow steps and we understand what they want.

We have the law on responsibility and justice [that has replaced the old de-Ba'athification law], which they, I think, are now somewhat rejecting. We can persuade them that this is the best we can offer them.

Also, they resist the occupation. Well, if we get full sovereignty and our genuine forces are built up, and if real democracy is established through the Iraqi parliament, which is now close to succeeding in the democratic process, then they will no longer have any justification for saying, "We are convinced in the democratic process, but we believe that the foreign presence has caused problems to us."

We are now close to solving the obstacle of the foreign presence in Iraq. By agreement of the parties involved, we try to foster the role of the United Nations; there is a wish that a schedule for the withdrawal is set; there is a wish that the [foreign forces] do not stay. All this will depend on whether we manage to control the security in Iraq."

RFE/RL: Let me ask you about Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, because he has made some statements in recent days that he is in talks with some other political parties in the parliament to push a new national compact, a national-unity agreement. Is this agreement going to take hold? Al-Hashimi said they would announce it soon, but we have heard this for many weeks. Is there enough support for his plan, and will it be very different from what the Shi'ite-led United Iraqi Alliance and the Kurdistan Coalition are offering?

Al-Mashhadani: To begin with, I am not convinced about writing programs for others. And, when you mention it, I am not acquainted with this program, in fact. But it is definitely a good program because all programs nowadays must be good if they want to succeed.

But I do not know it in detail. I do not know it in detail because we held an official meeting with all political blocs in the Iraqi parliament two weeks ago. Leaders of the political blocs in the parliament [gathered], and we as the presidency [of the parliament] urged them to prepare their programs for reform. Then we formed a small commission to study those programs that were presented in written form. We will select joint points and transform them into a program, and the parliament will demand that the government implement it.

We will leave the points of difference for a continuous discussion and for ongoing sessions between the presidency [of the parliament] and leaders of the blocs. I think that this initiative is the same. In fact, it was expected that some results should come out on Tuesday [October 2], but I was then outside Iraq and I still am. Of course, when I go back, I will study whatever has been accomplished.

Judging from the proposals presented, it seems that the national compact was already made when we agreed on the political program, on the basis of which we formed the government. And that is a successful program. But the problem is in implementation, not in written programs. I can write programs that you will like. But who will implement the program? And what is the will for its implementation? What is the mechanism for making decisions on the implementation? That is where the disagreement is.

(Translated by Petr Kubalek.)

Criticism Of U.S. Senate's Partition Resolution Echoes Across Arab World

By Kathleen Ridolfo
October 4, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. Senate's passage of a nonbinding resolution calling for a formal separation of Iraq's 18 governorates into three autonomous regions that would reflect the country's largest ethnicities has sparked a massive outcry both inside Iraq and across the Arab world, with critics suggesting the United States has overstepped its role in Iraq.

The resolution, co-sponsored by Senator Joseph Biden (Democrat, Delaware) and Senator Sam Brownback (Republican, Kansas), passed last week with a bipartisan vote of 75-23, calling for a decentralized, federal system in Iraq with a limited role for the central government.

In a statement posted to his website on October 1 clarifying the intent of the resolution, Biden noted: "First, the Biden-Brownback amendment does not call for the partition of Iraq. To the contrary, it calls for keeping Iraq together by bringing to life the federal system enshrined in its constitution.... Second, the amendment is not a foreign imposition. Iraqis already have made the decision to decentralize in their constitution and federalism law." Moreover, he contended, "the amendment will not produce "bloodshed and suffering" in Iraq."

Arousing Sunni Sensibilities

Nevertheless, criticism of the bill has filled editorial pages across the Arab world, and has widely been interpreted as an imperialistic attempt to decide both Iraq's and the region's fate. Iraq's neighboring Arab states, which are dominated by Sunnis already threatened by the rise of a Shi'ite-led government in Baghdad, viewed the resolution as an attempt to further solidify the fragmentation that exists in Iraq today, and by association, influence the future shape and composition of regional states.
Radio Free Iraq talked to Iraqi politicians and people on the street for their reactions to the Senate resolution.

The reaction also gives insight into the enormous sensitivity felt in the region to the U.S.-led invasion and the events of the past 4 1/2 years, and how those events have affected the collective psyche of the Arab world and its self-identity, which is deeply rooted in honor, pride, and respect. When Saddam Hussein's regime fell and Sunni Arabs lost their leadership role in Iraqi society, Arabs across the region, whatever their feelings toward Hussein and his regime, believed their honor had been trampled on.

The Shi'ite ascension to power and subsequent events, including the dissolution of the Sunni-dominated Iraqi Army and the Abu Ghurayb scandal, only furthered the impression that the U.S.-led coalition intended to humiliate Sunni Arabs and dominate them.

In a September 30 editorial titled "Iraq is not an American State," Egypt's state-owned daily "Al-Ahram" praised the Bush administration's stand against the resolution, saying support for the resolution would have led to new "foolish and catastrophic actions" that would speed up the fragmentation of Iraq and spark a wide-scale civil war. The Senate should know "that such a matter is the right of the Iraqis alone, and not the right of the U.S. occupiers of their lands -- unless Congress considers Iraq a new U.S. state," it continued. "It is no justification [for the Senate] to claim that this will speed up the withdrawal of U.S. forces. The ones who got these forces trapped in Iraq have to search for a way to hasten their withdrawal other than tearing the Iraqi people apart."

Syria's state-run English-language newspaper, the "Syria Times," carried a commentary on October 1 titled "Divide and Rule," which alleged: "Devastating and dismembering Iraq, plundering its wealth and imposing U.S. hegemony on it and the entire oil-rich and strategic Arab region are integral parts of the war strategy of President George W. Bush" and his administration.

Outrage Over Kurdish Support For Resolution

The Kurdistan regional government's (KRG) support for the Senate resolution also sparked indignation from Arabs both inside Iraq and across the region, and has only compounded the long-held impression by some Arabs that Kurds are divisive and deceptive, and outsiders to the region.

On September 28, the KRG issued a press release praising the resolution, and the U.S. government's support for federalism in Iraq. "The people of Kurdistan, who have struggled for decades to achieve democracy and freedom, see in federalism the promise of stability and freedom from dictatorial regimes. We welcome this significant resolution in support of federalism, which guarantees the survival of Iraq on the basis of voluntary union," the KRG statement noted.

Whether the KRG intended it or not, the statement was interpreted by Arab media as another attempt by Iraq's Kurdish leadership to break away from the Iraqi republic.

Zuhayr Qusaybati, writing in the pan-Arab daily "Al-Hayat" on October 1, criticized the Kurdish leadership, saying Kurds "wasted all the sacrifices they had made for decades in facing Ba'athist repression and lost [the region's] empathy...when they applauded the 'nonbinding' plan to divide Iraq."

Qusaybati accused the Kurds of falling into a trap set by U.S. senators, who through their declaration, have concocted their own Balfour Declaration, a reference to Britain's 1917 declaration of its support for a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. The declaration paved the way for the eventual establishment of the Israeli state.

Qusaybati expressed the fears of Arabs across the region that a formal division of Iraq would spark instability across the region, and as with the Balfour Declaration, would have untold repercussions. Any division of Iraq, Qusaybati claimed, "will ignite the spark of sedition and wars in the entire region." He further argued, "If Iraq is turned into another Balkans, then this will be followed by transforming the entire region into another Iraq."

Inside Iraq, the influential Muslim Scholars Association, which supports Iraqi insurgent groups, issued a statement criticizing the KRG, and attempted to incite insurgents to take up arms against the Kurds in retaliation for their support of the resolution.

In a statement posted to its website on October 2, the association called Kurdish support for the resolution a "blatant defiance of the sentiments of millions of Iraqis" as well as a "defiance of Arabs and Muslims." The association blamed the Kurds for the U.S.-led war in Iraq, contending the Kurds "colluded with the occupiers in all their schemes and accepted to be the occupiers' partners in the killing of more than 1 million sons of this nation, in destroying the country, and in putting 27 million Iraqis on the road to the unknown."

The statement further claimed that Kurds have carried out "ethnic cleansing in several Iraqi cities, especially in Mosul and Kirkuk," and liquidated religious scholars, tribal elders, and other scholars through assassination in recent days. The association said it believes the Kurds are noble people who do not accept the crimes it alleges the KRG and the Kurdish peshmerga militia are responsible for. In what appears to be a bid to further incite Sunni insurgent groups to violence against the KRG, the association warned Kurdish politicians that "injustice does not last," adding, "ancient and modern history offer many examples with lessons for those who wish to learn."

Iraq's Arab Media Rejects Resolution

Commentaries by Iraqi Arab writers rejected the resolution and like the regional Arab press, tended to portray the resolution in terms of an imperialistic attempt to influence the country's future shape. An October 1 editorial published in the Iraqi Hizballah newspaper "Al-Bayyna" echoed sentiments expressed in other mainstream Iraqi media that suggested the resolution's hidden motive was to kill the federalism project in Iraq.

The editorial claimed observers "believe this decision raises many questions concerning its timing, intention, and hidden objectives. First of all, we have to say that this decision is completely unacceptable to all Iraqis, except those who falsely believe that this decision supports the provisions of federalism in our constitution. They don't realize that this decision is a dishonest attempt to confuse federalism and division; consequently, this decision will abort the attempt at federalism."

In one of the more moderate reactions to the resolution, "Al-Sabah al-Jadid" Editor in Chief Isma'il Zayir wrote on September 30 that the intense reaction to the resolution, seen in the fiery speeches of politicians, "only serve opportunists." The daily's assessment of the resolution was that it was based on the presumption that Iraq is a united state, which supports federalism as laid out in the constitution.

Moreover, Zayir wrote, the resolution should be interpreted as a suggestion, and not be used by politicians as a weapon to support their personal or political goals. "We need to have a clear image about what we really need in this country," he observed. "Those who seek sectarian and ethnic division in this country have succeeded.... Baghdad has been divided according to the desires of those [Iraqi groups] who caused this fighting."

Zayir suggests Iraqis focus on the ways in which they can bring the old social harmony back, saying, "These questions are for those [politicians] who use rhetoric while they kill people with one hand and smile to the satellite channels with the other hand."

...While Government Distances Itself

Iraq's Shi'ite-led administration, struggling to build Arab regional support, appeared acutely aware of the political damage caused by the U.S. resolution. Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh sought to distance the government from it, telling state-run Al-Iraqiyah television on October 2: "The government and the Ministerial Council is really surprised [by the resolution]. How can a commission from a different country discuss issues relating to another country and relating to the elected and constitutional agencies in that country although this commission is not authorized to do so.... This is an issue that the Iraqis and the constitutional agencies can decide on."

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki made a similar statement a day earlier, telling reporters in Baghdad: "I do not approve of any Iraqi side praising partition plans as we totally reject this idea in the first place. They said they welcomed federalism. If federalism is what they really meant, why not? Federalism is after all, stipulated in the constitution.... As for partition, this is not acceptable."

Regardless of the intent of the Senate resolution, it has been used to further alienate Arab states, and add strain to already tense ethnic relations inside Iraq. The Iraqi Turkoman Front, a party with close ties to Turkey, took the opportunity to comment on the resolution by claiming it would establish its own region and seek Turkish military support to that end, should partition be implemented.

While it is probably true that some Iraqi politicians have twisted the Biden-Brownback amendment to fit their own agendas, it is also the case that the country is far from ready to implement federalism as envisioned in the constitution. For Iraq's politicians, more looming matters take precedence. Federalism did not appear overnight in the United States, and given the challenges at hand, it certainly will take time to evolve in Iraq.

Radio Free Iraq Polls Iraqis On U.S. Senate Resolution

By Laith Ahmad and Mustafa Mahmud
October 4, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Political reactions are still emerging regarding the nonbinding U.S. Senate's resolution that calls for the establishment of three entities in Iraq, with political groups and parties signing a statement that strongly criticized this resolution.

The statement, read by a member of the Iraqi National List, Izzat al-Shabandar, called on regional and international organizations to oppose this resolution.

"We call on the Arab League, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and the United Nations to quickly deplore and condemn this resolution, and to stand by Iraq in its ordeal and its efforts to restore security and stability throughout its territory," al-Shabandar said.

For its part, the Sunni-led Iraqi Accordance Front rejected -- through its member, Abd al-Karim al-Samarra'i -- the interference by any external party in determining the destiny of Iraq.

The alternative proposal, the National Proposal, which focuses on granting authority to the governorates, must be revived," al-Samma'i said. "Such authority can play a part in resolving all the pending problems."

On the other hand, a member of the Al-Sadr movement, Nasir al-Rubay'i, cautioned against any hasty reactions to this resolution, pointing out that there are proposals related to amending the Regions Law.

"We and our brothers [in the parliament] have proposed an attempt to amend the Regions Law, by adding to it a clause providing for nonimplementation of this law until after the departure of the last [foreign] soldier from Iraq," he said.

A member of the United Iraqi Alliance, Taha Diri'a, pointed out that the U.S. Senate resolution would lead to a civil war and create a fragmented state led by a weak government.

"This resolution is dangerous, in that it creates a fragmented and weak Iraqi state, and a central government with weak powers," Diri'a said. "We also view this resolution as leading to a civil war and does not resolve the security problem; on the contrary, it would further complicate the security problem. Another problem that would emerge is that of the minorities, and the problem of the governorates that have a varied Iraqi fabric."

The leader of the Sunni Iraqi Front for National Dialogue, Salih al-Mutlaq, blamed the opponents of the political process in Iraq for being behind the resolution passed by the U.S. Senate.

"The political leaderships that are opposed to today's phase are to bear a major historic responsibility," he said. "They are responsible to the people for this insult to the Iraqi people. They must therefore rise to the level of responsibility, and oppose this act on its level.

In an exclusive interview with RFI, parliamentarian Izzat al-Shabandar pointed out that the divisions and conflicts between the political blocs has led the U.S. legislators to approve this resolution.

"This is regrettable. We are the ones who provided [Senator Joseph] Biden with sufficient justification to propose this partition plan" al-Shabandar said. "Sectarianism and the sectarian proposal in Iraq have laid the groundwork for the American Senate to interfere in this flagrant manner.

"This interference was actually a hard slap that has awakened the Iraqi politicians, for such a blow has shaken the Iraqi political mind and has united them as you have seen, in a very important way. I believe that the dangerous ramifications that will result from the sectarian proposal in Iraq, will be the real awakening.

"Today, Iraq is partitioned, and tomorrow there will be greater blatant regional interference than the American interference; tomorrow there will be fighting over wealth; after tomorrow, God forbid, the approach of a real civil war. This is what is going to jolt the Iraqi political mind, the patriotic Iraqi mind, and create a sense of caring and a revision of the deterioration that is besetting us now."

Radio Free Iraq also polled citizens in Kirkuk regarding the U.S. Senate resolution. A number of social groups in Kirkuk have expressed their disapproval of the resolution. Some people pointed out that this proposal indicates without a doubt an incorrect reading of Iraqi political realities.

"This decision is interference in Iraq's internal affairs, and this is rejected by all factions and sects in Iraq; and all those who jealously love their country cannot accept this decision," one man said. "Every partition is harmful, and every division is weakness. This is division. You can see that when they partitioned countries, there is no harmony between them."

A man named Abu Muhammad said: "This federalism brought about the United States of America; they were divided and dispersed, and they created their federation in order to unite. But Iraq is a single country, but this federalism they are [proposing] will make it a divided country, because the Kurds will take their part and the Shi'a will take their part, except if there were to be a strong central state, with a unified authority and unified ministries, to unite this country and act in its interests. In Iraq's case, it is now divided but not in fact: nowadays Kurds cannot come go to Baghdad, the Shiites cannot enter the Sunni areas, and the Sunnis cannot enter the Shi'ite areas. It is now partitioned but along sectarian lines. We do want a federal democratic state, but one that is not partitioned in accordance with the designs of those who do not uphold the country's interests."

Baha' Tayyib pointed out that the stabilization of the situation in Iraq cannot be achieved by partitioning it along sectarian lines.

"This decision is not in line with Iraq's interests. Iraq is still a united country, with all its factions, and ethnic groupings, and sects, and is the cure for its internal problems," he said. "In my opinion, the plan to partition Iraq is aimed at weakening the Muslims. Look for yourself; at Baghdad; how do you partition Baghdad? If within Baghdad there are all these ethnic groups and sects that were united -- Shi'a neighboring Sunnis and Sunnis next door to Shi'a - with strong ties among them, how can you separate them? How can you partition them? The partitioning of Iraq cannot possibly be a cure for its problems."