Chorus of contempt
Amidst political infighting, a shocking new scandal involving Iraq's most vulnerable group, children, continues to blight Iraq's political scene, reports Nermeen Al-Mufti from Baghdad
Against the backdrop of continued violence in Iraq, and with Operation Imposing Law showing no signs of success, US forces have launched Operation Arrowhead Ripper in Diayli, northeast of Baghdad. About 10,000 US troops are participating in the operation, described as the biggest offensive since the one conducted in Falluja in November 2004.
Diayli is partially controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq group and other militias. Thousands of Shia and Sunni families have deserted the city, considered Iraq's second most violent city after Baghdad. About 20 reporters were abducted in Diayli over the past four years and currently there are no local reporters in the city. The news from Diayli is either based on the statements released by the occupation forces or those released by the militia on their Websites. Abu Nabil, a resident of the Al-Muallimin, a particularly violent part of Diyali, told Al-Ahram Weekly that many bodies were left lying in the streets and that it was no longer safe for residents to venture into the streets. Abu Nabil said that heavy fighting had taken place in the areas of Al-Muallimin and Al-Mafraq.
A scandal in Dar Al-Hanan, an institute for orphans with special needs, has upstaged the news of Operation Arrowhead Ripper. The news, broken by the CBS network, featured horrific images of children tied to beds and lying on the floor, too weak to move. CBS said that a joint US-Iraqi patrol "accidentally" found the orphanage, the horrors of which compete with those of Abu Ghraib prison.
Iraqi officials made pathetic attempts to explain events. Mahmoud Al-Sheikh Radi, the minister of labour and social affairs, held a news conference one day after the network aired the damning photos. He said that the Americans "tried to cover up what happened in Samarra by attacking the orphanage". The scandal at the orphanage was actually uncovered on 10 June, two days before the Samarra bombing happened. Furthermore, the minister was dismayed that the "visit" to the orphanage took place without "prior notification." What really happened? Once again, no one knows the truth in Iraq. The Americans tried to make political capital out of their discovery and their saving of the children. The Iraqi minister refused to admit any wrongdoing, nor did he ask for a parliamentary investigation.
The official Iraqi television channel, Al-Iraqiya, ran a story about the children, showing them after they were washed and clothed. The report ended with the words, "a dereliction of duty has taken place, but there is no country in the world where this doesn't occur".
Well-informed government sources told the Weekly that the director of the orphanage, Dia Abdel-Amir, started showing up at the ministry after he was questioned over the affair. Local television stations stated that "oversight committees found no proof of negligence." It would seem that the Iraqi government's definition of the term differs fundamentally from the common usage. And yet the same term is often employed to describe the performance of the Al-Maliki government, even by members of Al-Maliki's own political group, the United Iraqi Alliance.
Vice-President Adel Abdul-Mahdi once again called for the resignation of the government, accusing it of incompetency. Speaking during a Friday sermon at the Al-Khullani Mosque, he said that the country needed a change of government within two months. The mosque was attacked with a truck rigged with explosives and gas canister, leaving 80 dead and 200 others wounded.
Hammam Hammoudi of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI, also said that the government had failed to carry out its duties. Ahmed Al-Safi, spokesman for Ayatollah Al-Sistani, called for the resignation of the government for failing to prevent the Samaraa bombing. Moqtada Al-Sadr added that the government was incapable of protecting his followers from attacks by US troops and his supporters suspended their participation in the parliament following the 12 June bombing in Samaraa. Sheikh Mohamed Al-Yaqoubi, spiritual leader of the Al-Fadila Party, further accused the government of putting partisan interests above national interests, describing it as "crippled".
The Reconciliation Front of Khalf Al-Alyan and the National Dialogue Front of Saleh Al-Mostalek also suspended their participation in the parliament, demanding the dismissal of speaker Mahmoud Al-Mashhadani. A source from the Reconciliation Block said that his group did not want the speaker of the parliament replaced unless the president and the prime minister were also replaced.
Meanwhile, the financial differences between the central government in Baghdad and the administration of northern Iraq over the sharing of oil revenues has been settled. These differences had hitherto complicated agreement on other issues concerning the amendment of the constitution, Kirkuk, and federal arrangements. Khaled Saleh, spokesman for the northern government, said that the central government in Baghdad had agreed to grant the local government a certain percentage of all Iraqi imports. Qabbad Al-Talabani, son of President Jalal Al-Talabani and the "Kurdistan of Iraq's" envoy to the US, said that the continued presence of US forces in Iraq was a guarantee that the Kurdish people wouldn't be persecuted in the future. He said that the building of a US base in the Kurdish areas was in "the interests of both America and Kurdistan."
Speaking at a news conference last week in Irbil, Qabbad said that "our American friends should understand that their interests in the Kurds are not just political, but economic and military". He explained that a certain percentage of oil imports, domestic imports, loans and foreign assistance, would go to the Kurdish areas. According to an official who participated in the talks between the northern administration and Baghdad, the talks lasted for several months and resulted in the Kurds getting 17 per cent of all imports and assistance proceedings. The northern administration has sole control of all import revenues and tarrifs on the Iraqi-Turkish border.
As Operation Arrowhead Ripper continued in Diyali, Al-Adhamiya was under strict curfew causing food supplies to be halted and preventing students from taking their final exams. Joint US and Iraqi forces imposed a total ban on all vehicular movement in the neighbourhood. The ban came after a US tank and three Hummer vehicles were attacked last Thursday.
Iraqis were expecting the Anfal court to sentence Ali Hassan Al-Maguid (known as Chemical Ali and the man held responsible for gassing the Kurds) to death. But the death sentence on former Defence Minister Hashem Sultan came as a surprise. Mohamed Al-Bayyat, a former army officer who is now a taxi driver, told the Weekly that he was angered and saddened by the sentence. "Minister Sultan was wrong to surrender to the Americans. Instead he could have hidden among his clan in Mosul. The sentence was an act of revenge against the disbanded Iraqi army," Al-Bayyat said.
The Turcoman Nationalist Movement released a statement denouncing the "double-dealing" in the Iraqi justice system. The movement had filed a lawsuit with an Iraqi court handling crimes against humanity. It accused Masoud Al-Barzani of handing over to Saddam's government dozens of Turcoman opposition members who had taken refuge in Irbil in 1996. The Saddam government executed them. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the families of the victims in February 2005, but no action has been taken so far.