Iraqi Parliament Meets to Sound of Bombs
Al-Zaman: Guerrillas detonated a car bomb near a US facility in southern Baghdad on Tuesday, but only managed to kill an Iraqi and to wound 12 others. Another bomb exploded at the offices of the Mirror, the only English-language newspaper in Baghdad. Police colonel Yusuf Chalabi was assassinated in broad daylight in the Najjar quarter. In Baquba, a car bomb exploded at a checkpoint, killing 5 Iraqi troops and wounding 12.
Dan Murphy of the CSM reports on how all the roads out of Baghdad are extremely dangerous. He reports a conversation with an Iraqi truck driver:
The road north through Baquba? “Pretty dangerous,” he says. Due south through Mahmudiyah? “It’s bad, but I haven’t heard of any drivers being killed there in a few weeks.” How about west through Abu Ghraib and on to Fallujah? “Very, very dangerous. We try not to go past Abu Ghraib.”
The volley of mortar fire that dropped a few hundred yards short of where the opening session of Iraq’s new parliament was held Wednesday rattled the ceremonial gathering and was a reminder that the city remains under siege.
US Embassy employees are forbidden to travel by land the ten miles to Baghdad airport because it is so dangerous, and have to be helicoptered in and out of the capital.
The London Times‘s Catherine Philp in Baghdad reports the opening of the Iraqi parliament with perhaps the least enthusiasm and most acuteness of anyone in the mainstream media. The parliament did not really open, as in, open for business, because it is not able to form a government by electing a presidential council that would choose a prime minister. It just met for two hours.
Despite calls for the meeting to be held outside the heavily fortified “Little America” compound of the Green Zone, it was of course far too dangerous to meet anywhere else. The capital was locked down for security,a nd three major bridges were closed by the US military. As it was, mortar shells exploded only a few yards from the building where they were meeting.
There was a minor controversy over whether the oaths should be administered bilingually, in both Arabic and Kurdish, but even Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani thought such a requirement too much. Although the Times implied that it was farcical, I have to say that the very outbreak of such a controversy in a country so long dominated by a frankly racist form of Arab nationalism is a welcome change. Maybe eventually Berber will be an official language alongside Arabic in some North African countries.
As for the rest, Philpin writes:
‘ Because the rival political factions had failed even to agree on a candidate for Speaker, the proceedings were chaired by the oldest member present, Sheikh Dhari al-Fayidh, 82. He paid tribute to all “the martyrs who died for this country”, including what he called “the victims of the north”. “Kurdistan, Kurdistan,” came an angry cry from the floor. “Sorry,” the Sheikh muttered. “Kurdistan.” The meeting was encouraging at least in its nods to free speech. A glance across the assembly floor revealed the diversity of Iraq. There were 79 women, 11 with heads uncovered, the rest split between headscarves and black flowing abayas; 11 Shia turbans, 22 yashmaks, one Kurdish tribal headwrap and a sea of Western suits. ‘
The conservative dress of most of the women came about because they are religious Shiites on the United Iraqi Alliance list. A third of each list had to be women, but the UIA found many Shiite fundamentalist women to run.
Al-Zaman: Ibrahim Jaafari, the likely new prime minister, said in his speech that he thought the UIA could make a deal with the Kurdish Alliance within two weeks. It looks as though Iraq will lack a new executive well into April. It is worrisome that if the government is not formed soon, political pressures could mount and social turmoil ensue.
In contrast, the secular female physician Raja’ al-Khuzai, a member of parliament on Allawi’s Iraqiya list, thought that parliament would meet again in as little as a week to elect a speaker of the house and a presidential council.
Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the UIA and of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, in his speech called for the crafting of a new constitution that “respects human rights and the Iraqi, Islamic identity of the people, and grants everyeone equal rights before the law, and will please the Iraqi people.” The phrase “Islamic identity” is a code phrase for the implementation of shariah or Islamic law in the place of civil law.
Al-Hakim also attacked Jordan for not doing enough to stop attacks on Iraqis by radical Muslim Jordanians, and for “instigating” terrorism against Iraqis by Jordanian extremists.
There are only six Sunni Arab members of parliament from Sunni parties and independents (there is also one from the United Iraqi Alliance). Ghazi al-Yawir, the outgoing president and a Sunni from the Shamar tribe, along with several other Sunni Arab parliamentarians, threatened to resign from parliament if the Shiites imposed their Sunni UIA member, Fawaz al-Jarba, as one of the two vice-presidents. Mashaan al-Juburi said that other party lists cannot represent the Sunni Arabs in government post set aside for Sunnis.
UN envoy Ashraf Jahangir Qazi said that only after a permanent constitution is achieved will Iraq come together politically. Drafting this document is the chief business of the new parliament. I know Iraqis, though, who think that the parliament is incapable of forging a new constitution. If they are right, Qazi’s prediction actually becomes pretty discouraging.
Among the concerns of the Kurds is the likelihood that Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani might play key role in constitution-making, as Hamza Hendawi points out. Sistani’s position is complex and hard to convey to a Western audience. It should be noted that he does speak about the need for the “guardianship of the jurisprudent,” but confines the top cleric’s authority to “the social order” (Nizam al-mujtama`). That is, Sistani believes that clerics have the obligation to intervene in matters affecting Muslim society, but makes a distinction between that and intervening in government or politics. I don’t think he wants to run the government, but I do think he wants to shape the social order through his influence on Shiite politicians and decision-makers.
Al-Zaman reports that the Kirkuk provincial assembly finally met, but only 15 members out of the total of 40 actually showed up. The Sunni Muslims and the Turkmen are mostly refusing to cooperate because they mistrust the Kurds, who have come to dominate the security apparatus of Kirkuk.
Iraq is on the verge of being the most corrupt environment in the world, according to a new report. Actually, people on the ground in Iraq dealing with economic reconstruction tell me that it was the most corrupt situation on earth a long time ago.