Advice For Candidates Do Not Reveal

Advice for Candidates: ‘Do not Reveal your Identity . . . Stay Home as Much as Possible ‘

Jack Fairweather reports for the Telegraph from Baghdad on a meeting held by the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) that instructs candidates on how to survive the elections. He writes: “The instructions are simple – avoid public places and do not reveal your identity, the cleric advised. Most candidates should stay at home as much as possible, he added.”

Security is still so bad in Iraq that guerrillas were able to strike a national guard base near the airport with mortar fire Monday. As a result the air traffic controllers at Baghdad airport turned back both of that day’s Royal Jordanian Airlines flights. RJA is the only commercial carrier that flies into Baghdad, aside from Iraqi Airlines themselves. Ironically, the inability of the planes to land stranded Iraqi Minister of Defense Hazem Shaalan in Amman. When the Minister of Defense can’t even fly to his own country because the area around the airport is in flames, you know that is a bad sign. There was no more word Monday about the growing feud between Shaalan and his rival, Ahmad Chalabi. Al-Hayat reported that a Lebanese bank was taking steps to return to Iraq $200 million that Shaalan had transferred there, ostensibly to buy tanks and other heavy armaments. Ash-Sharq al-Awsat reported that Jordanian officials would be very happy to get Chalabi in their custody, so they could sentence him for embezzlement.

NPR’s interview with me for Monday’s Morning Edition about the Iraqi elections is now up on the Web. [link fixed 4:16 pm 1/25]

Eric Black of the Minneapolis Star Tribune argues that for all its somewhat absurd drawbacks, the election must go forward Sunday and may have some silver linings.

In this piece of a few days ago, Nancy Youssef of Knight Ridder considers the current front runners for the post of prime minister in the new government. She reports the buzz around Adil Abdul Mahdi, who is currently Finance Minister and is a member of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Abdul Mahdi has begun talking a relatively secular line, and he does have a Marxist past decades ago. Ironically enough, all this may make him acceptable to Washington. On the other hand, the idea that a SCIRI Prime Minister is going to be a determined secularist sounds a little far-fetched to me.

Award-winning journalist Anthony Shadid reports on the political scene in Basra, Iraq’s southern port city, with its population of 1.3 million. He says that city politics has come to be dominated by the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, but suggests that this dominance for the religious party may backfire in the elections. Many persons in Basra may vote for one of the more secular lists rather than for the United Iraqi Alliance (Which includes SCIRI) because they are dissatisfied with SCIRI’s inadequate provision of social services.

Ed Wong of the New York Times writes an important piece about the behind the scenes maneuverings of major Sunni Arab leaders to ensure a role for their community in the drafting of the permanent constitution for Iraq– even though Sunni Arabs will likely be grossly underrepresented in the parliament to be elected next Sunday. The parliament will double as a constitutional assembly.

The US military is planning to keep 120,000 troops in Iraq for the next two years, according to Lt. Gen. James J. Lovelace, Jr. He admitted that the number could fluctuate depending on the circumstances. I was saying before that I did not think it wise to announce a strict timetable for US military withdrawal from Iraq, lest the appointment of a date certain become, itself, an occasion for instability and violence. I think the troop levels should be drawn down steadily, without an announcement until perhaps the very end. But this announcement of a 24-month-long continued military presence is also unwise. Why would Lt. Gen. Lovelace say this? How can he know what the will of the new parliament will be, once it meets in mid to late February? Once there is an elected government, no matter how flawed the elections, the US will be in Iraq at the pleasure of the representatives of the Iraqi people. I think it is unfortunate that the US is saying anything at all about long-term plans just before the election. If they think they can present the new parliament with a fait accompli this way, I think they are going to be disappointed.

John Yaukey explains the case for handing security off to the Iraqi forces on a short timetable.

The announcement of the arrest of a key associate of the shadowy Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was accompanied by hype that he was behind most of the spectacular car bombings in Iraq for the past 18 months. That seems silly to me, almost an insult to our intelligence. How could one man be behind so many attacks? Isn’t it much more likely that they were the work of numerous Baath military and Salafi cells? My guess is that the interim government in Iraq is attempting to convince voters that it will be safe to come out on Sunday. This arrest will make virtually no impact on the guerrilla war, which is likely to go on for at least a decade.