No calm in sight
Violence is up, Al-Qaeda is adapting to new security measures and parliament is at loggerheads, reports Nermeen Al-Mufti
Just as the US occupation authorities expected, violence has surged once again in Iraq. Special units, supposedly Tehran-backed, bombed a pet market in central Baghdad on Friday, killing and wounding 70 people. A US official said that four people were detained in connection with the bombing. Rear Admiral Greg Smith, spokesman for the US army, said forensics, intelligence, and confessions of the detainees all point to a cell affiliated with Iranian-backed groups.
Abdul-Aziz Al-Hakim, leader of the Higher Islamic Council in Iraq, said that the US would need more evidence to prove that Iran is fomenting violence in Iraq. Al-Hakim made this remark after returning from Iran, where he receives periodic treatment for lung cancer. The American and Iranian ambassadors are preparing for talks in Baghdad. "We will try to make the talks successful, for good results would be beneficial for all, primarily the Iraqi people," Al-Hakim said.
Clashes between the Awakening Councils and the Al-Qaeda fighters resumed in Samaraa and Diyali, where 19 people were killed, including children. Iraqi officials warned that Al-Qaeda was changing its tactics to adapt to the new security measures and may have infiltrated security services and even the Awakening Councils. A video showing the execution of nine Iraqi policemen was released on the Internet. In that video, Al-Qaeda warned the public not to cooperate with the Americans, and issued threats to the Awakening Councils, formed by the US to fight Al-Qaeda operatives.
According to the police chief of Karbala, Shaker Gawdat, over 25 girls have been raped by officials and armed groups. The families of the victims have filed lawsuits against the presumed perpetrators. The police chief didn't give details on the timing of the crimes or the identity of the perpetrators, but he said that one of the perpetrators confessed.
Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki came under attack as well. Leaders of the Sadr Current met Vice-President Tareq Al-Hashimi to complain that Al-Maliki ordered police to arrest followers of the Sadr Current in Baghdad and the southern governorates. Sadr supporters gave the vice-president evidence of several crimes committed by close associates of Al-Maliki. Iraqi websites also carried documents said to be incriminating to Al-Maliki. The family of a journalist known for his opposition to the prime minister was attacked last Sunday. According to the local newspaper Az-Zaman, unidentified gunmen in a truck shot dead 11 members of the family of Dia Al-Kawwaz, the editor-in-chief of Akhbar Al-Iraq who emigrated recently to Germany.
In parliament, a draft of the Accountability and Justice Law, now being debated in parliament, intended to replace the Eradication of Baath Law passed by former US civilian administrator Paul Bremer, is facing difficulties. Parliamentary speaker Mahmoud Al-Mashhadani reacted angrily to Falah Shanshal, a senior official at the Sadr Current, who accused the speaker of trying to push the law through too soon.
Deputies of the Sadr Current banged on their chairs to disrupt the reading of the draft law. At one point, Al-Mashhadani threatened to expel the Sadr supporters from the session. Since Prime Minister Al-Maliki proposed the law last June, several deputies voiced reservations, including the 30 deputies of the Sadr Current.
If ratified, the new law would allow many former Baath Party members to go back to their jobs and receive pensions. Falah Shanshal, who is also the chairman of the Eradication Committee in parliament, said that political parties agreed on 27 articles of a total of 30, but disagreed over the remaining three. The Accordance Front, the National Dialogue Front and other politicians maintain that the abolition of the Eradication of Baath Law is a prerequisite for national unity.
Another governmental conflict is between the Ministry of Petroleum and the regional government of Kurdistan are at loggerheads over the recent decision by Petroleum Minister Hussein Al-Shahrestani to cancel contracts signed by the Kurds with foreign companies. Petroleum Ministry spokesman Assem Jihad said the entire government supports the minister's decision to abrogate the said contracts. "The contracts signed by the Kurds with foreign companies are void and illegal because petroleum production must be supervised by the Iraqi national company SOMO," he added.