Victory for a change
Iraq's winning of the Asian Football Cup gave the country a rare bit of good news, writes Rasha Saad
It's not news that Iraq is on front page banners but for the first time in years the news is related to a victory for the country -- though in sports, not politics. Pictures of the Iraqi football team celebrating winning the 2007 Asian Cup final against Saudi Arabia and the all-night parties in Iraq were on the front pages of most Arab newspapers on Monday.
"An exceptional day in Iraq" was the banner of the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi. The newspaper was referring to the fact that no violence or suicide bombings were reported on Sunday, contrary to the usual.
"Hopefully politicians will understand this lesson and understand that Iraq cannot be divided into two, and that the Iraqi fabric will remain one," Iraqi journalist Montasser Al-Hamadani was quoted as saying in Al-Quds Al-Arabi.
The Iraqi newspaper Az-Zaman also wrote that the day of the final match was "a rare day of relative calm" and that "the victory of the Iraqi team silenced the rival political groups in Baghdad." According to the newspaper, political activities stopped in Baghdad that day. "Politicians of different hues halted their activities, gathered in the green zone and watched the final match," Az-Zaman wrote.
Hussein Shobokshi wrote in the London- based Asharq Al-Awsat that "Iraq's achievement can be likened to a fairytale since no one had expected a happy ending for the ravaged country, torn apart as it is by foreign occupation, terrorism and infighting that have generated tremendous sedition and a civil war." He added that what was both interesting and striking was the magnitude of public support for the Iraqi team.
However, in his article entitled "Support Iraq: the country or team?" Shobokshi insists Iraqis are in more need of political support than a win in sports. "Despite the immense and amazing support shown the Iraqi team throughout this football tournament, it still remains that Iraq is in dire need of support for the country itself and that it be protected against the forces of evil," Shobokshi wrote. He urged all of Iraq's neighbours to support Iraq and contribute monetarily and by way of ammunition and humans. "This is far more important than the support of a football team because without supporting Iraq as a country and nation, there will be no Iraqi team," he said.
Arab political support for Iran was an issue in Mustafa Zein's article in the London based Al-Hayat. In "Are the Arabs convinced of Iraq's division?" Zein compared the active Iranian involvement in Iraq to waning Arab influence.
Zein wrote that though the Iranian and US delegations were not able to reach an understanding during their talks in Baghdad the two parties asserted that they are seeking to resume dialogue. According to Zein the US acknowledgment of Iran's role in Iraq, despite the accusations it addresses to Iran, reassures the Iranians about their actions in Iraq.
"Iran knows that the US is negotiating over Iraq from a weak standpoint. They are convinced that the US armies will leave eventually but Iran is here to stay," Zein wrote.
Under these circumstances, Zein argues, an observer can only wonder about the weakening Arab role since the onset of the occupation till now. "Why is the Arab role discernible in Lebanon and Palestine but non- existent in Iraq? Why did the Egyptian and Jordanian foreign ministers, or other ministers for that matter, go to Tel Aviv but not to Baghdad? Why didn't the Arabs keep track of the resolutions regarding Iraq taken in the Sharm El-Sheikh conference? Why did the Arab League renounce the holding of a convention for the reconciliation of Iraqis?" Zein asked.
Dawoud Shirian in Al-Hayat commented on US President George Bush's initiative to revive the peace process between Palestinians and Israelis and his comment that "Iraq is not the only central issue in the Middle East.
"The new American awakening has been explained by some as merely a media stunt to improve the image of the administration and divert intention away from its involvement in Iraq, busying American and international public opinion with the Palestinian issue for a period of time," Shirian wrote.
Another explanation for the American president's initiative, according to Shirian, is that it is a response to the repeated requests from moderate Arab states regarding the necessity of moving the peace process forward. "Thus, it came as a response at the same time, due to the administration's need for help from these states in order to improve the situation in Iraq."
This, according to Shirian, is especially important because the cooperation of moderate Arab states in supporting the political process in Iraq has been struck by a deliberate coolness recently, for several reasons. The most important of these, Shirian explains, is Washington's refusal to acknowledge that what is happening in Iraq is occupation.
In Asharq Al-Awsat Abdul-Rahman Al-Rashed commented on the US political security plan, the first steps of which were leaked to the American press. The plan focuses on controlling security in Baghdad's local districts within one year. Al-Rashed wrote that after that, the plan will be implemented in the rest of Iraq depending on the breeding of violence or the spread of peace. Al-Rashed believes the plan is unrealistic.
"A two-year period seems very optimistic for a war-torn country, amidst the continuous chaos, and notably the presence of active internal and external players that were behind the failure of all the previous security plans," Al-Rashed wrote.
Al-Rashed points out that for over two years, the security crisis in Iraq has been reflected in a battle between Iran and Syria on the one hand, and the US on the other. The role of the Iraqis, according to Al-Rashed, has been limited to acting as troops fighting on behalf of the two sides.
For Al-Rashed there are sufficient reasons to believe that the promised two-year plan is just a political ploy to delude US voters that victory can be achieved -- but only following the presidential elections to be held in 16 months time.
"In any case, the interests of all Americans, Iraqis, Syrians and Iranians have become dependent on stopping the violence which has reached a point where the possibility of war is a threat that exists even outside Iraq itself."