Al Hakim Warns Sunni Arabs On Changes

Al-Hakim warns Sunni Arabs on Changes to Constitution

Shiite clerical leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim on Wednesday warned Sunni Arabs not to attempt to make substantive changes in the new Iraqi constitution. The charter was narrowly approved in an October 15 referendum, but was rejected by all three Sunni-majority provinces. US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad worked out a promise to the Sunni Arabs that they would have four months to attempt to introduce amendments into the constitution. They oppose its loose federalism and its current implication that Kurdish and Shiite provinces will receive the lion’s share of income from newly discovered natural resources.

Al-Hakim said, according to The Scotsman, “The first principle is not to change the essence of the constitution . . . This constitution was endorsed by the Iraqi people.” He also said, according to AP, “”It is our responsibility to form Baghdad provinces and southern Iraq provinces.”

Al-Hakim hopes to create two largely Shiite provincial confederacies in the South, and to have Baghdad province itself recognized as having the same prerogatives. The model is the Kurdistan Regional Government, which has very great but not complete autonomy from the federal government. Sunni Arab leaders oppose the creation of any more provincial confederacies.

Al-Sharq al-Awsat/ AFP [Ar.]: Shiite cleric Sadr al-Din al-Qubanji, who is close to al-Hakim’s Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq and preaches at the prestigious mosque attached to the shrine of Imam Ali in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, warned Wednesday of the return of the Baathis to power under the banner of Islam. In his sermon for the Eid al-Adha or Feast of Sacrifice (commemorating the near-sacrifice by Abraham of his son), al-Qubanji called for “monitoring the Neo-Baathists who have put on Islamic dress, who commit terrorism in Baghdad and the provinces, so as to forestall them from achieving their aim, of coming back to power.” The widespread Shiite identification of Iraqi Sunnis with Baathism has been an obstacle to improved relations between the two communities.

Leila Fadel of Knight Ridder reports on the big plans Najaf’s elite has for making the pilgrimage city into the “pearl of the Middle East.” With three million visitors a year, it can hope to generate enormous revenues from religious tourism. Many of the tourists will be from Iran, and Iran is helping fund the building of an airport for the city. So far Najaf is a success of succesful US military disengagement. US troops left the city in September, year after their last battle against the radical Mahdi Militia, which the Najaf commercial elite hates. They are at a base forty miles outside the city, and come in only occasionally to help with a security situation that overwhelms Najaf police. Many Najaf police were recruited from the Badr Corps, an Iran-trained paramilitary of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. But, the police seem to be keeping order and allowing reconstruction to take place, and Najaf is a pro-Iranian place. So the steps taken there are probably a good model for the other Shiite provinces.

Al-Hayat reports a telephone conversation with an Iraqi guerrilla leader who complained that the radical groups who claim to speak for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia and Ansar al-Islam are much wealthier than the predominantly Iraqi armed resistance, groups like the Army of Muhammad. He said that the Zarqawi-linked groups receive contributions from wealthy individuals in the Arab and Muslim worlds who are connected to al-Qaeda networks. He reported that they imagine that the money is going to the resistance generally, but in fact is hogged by Zarqawi. He said that Zarqawi remains a shadowy figure in the Sunni Arab regions of Iraq. Al-Hayat also reports that the Army of Muhammad and other Iraqi guerrilla groups are denying reports that they are in secret negotiations with the Americans, and warning that they have not authorized anyone to conduct such talks.

It was a DNA test that allowed Spanish authorities to identify one of the bombers in the attack on Italian troops at Nasiriyyah over two years ago as the brother of an Algerian Muslim radical under surveillance at Barcelona. This finding suggests to me that there may be a fairly structured organization of jihadis in Europe determined to act against Western troops in Iraq, and that this is not just a matter of small groups and a few individuals. But what is the organization? Al-Qaeda? Algerian radicals often belong to the Armed Islamic Group, an extremist offshoot of the Islamic Salvation Front. The GIA (French acronym) has strong al-Qaeda links and was part of the Millennium plot, including a plan to blow up LAX.

US trainers are concentrating on trying to fix the sectarian problems with the Iraqi police and their poor human rights record.

The Iraqi minister of health maintains that the health sector in Iraq will require an investment of $8 billion over the next four years, in order to rebuild it after the deleterious effects of war and the period of sanctions that preceded it. He said that although the US had pledged $786 to rebuild hospitals in 2004, the need to fight the guerrilla movement had siphoned off a considerable amount of those funds. The US had pledged to refurbish 18 hospitals, but only one, in Najaf, has been done. Much such work has been postponed until the end of 2006.

The General Union of Oil Employees in Basra is campaigning against privatization of the Iraqi petroleum industry and demanding immediate withdrawal of US troops from the country.

Al-Sharq al-Awsat/ AFP [Ar.]: The four grand ayatollahs in Najaf have issued denials of rumors that they were receiving stipends from the Iraqi government in Baghdad. Shiite religious leaders receive voluntary religious taxes from believers and the more successful of them oversee very large sums of private money.

The Kurdistan Confederacy in northern Iraq has forbidden the importation of live poultry from Turkey, after two Turks died of deadly bird flu.

The Committee to Defend Journalists has condemned the sentencing of a journalist to 30 years in prison for “defaming” Kurdistan, by a special security court in Irbil. The government of Massoud Barzani should be ashamed of itself. US lives and treasure have been spent to protect the Kurds, and they turn around and act just like Saddam?