Rubaie: US will Withdraw Completely from Some Areas
Muqtada offers National Pact
Al-Sharq al-Awsat: Muwaffaq al-Rubaie, national security adviser to the Iraqi government, said Saturday that “The American forces will soon turn over complete and total responsibility for security in a number of areas of the country to Iraqi forces.” He said that a joint working committee was formed last summer toward that end. He expressed hope that there would be further turn-overs before the Dec. 15 elections, to deprive the guerrilla movement of its pretext for rejecting the political process, i.e. that it is unfolding under the shadow of foreign military occupation.
It is little noted in the US press that US troops have already withdrawn from the cities of Najaf and Karbala. American forces are also withdrawing from military bases in favor of Iraqis. The somewhat ill-fated US hand-over of Saddam’s palace complex in Tikrit to the Iraqi government last week was part of this series of withdrawals (the ceremony took mortar fire).
Coalition forces are likely to withdraw from some 15 other Iraqi cities fairly soon. They appear to initially pull back to a garrison outside the city. But if things stay quiet, it is apparently envisaged by al-Rubaie and other Iraqi government figures that they will depart entire provinces. This process is probably problematic only in about 7 or 8 of Iraq’s 18 provinces, where an American withdrawal might well result in a takeover by the neo-Baath and the Salafis, or in a civil war among Sunnis and Shiites. What to do about that in the absence of a well-trained, functioning Iraqi army, none of us really knows.
Al-Hayat: Shaikh Bashir Najafi, one of four Grand Ayatollahs in the Shiite holy city of Najaf south of Baghdad, expressed his support on Saturday for the United Iraqi Alliance, the Shiite religiious coalition. Najafi, a Pakistani, is slightly junior to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who endorsed the UIA in the elections of last January, but who appears reluctant to do so this time around. Al-Najafi’s endorsement is probably a way for the religious leadership in Najaf to make its preference known without having it be binding as a religious duty on the millions of Iraqi Shiites who are pledged blindly to obey (taqlid) Sistani on matters of religious law and comportment.
Ammar al-Hakim, the son of the UIA leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, said that if this list dominates parliament, it will form a government of national unity. He said that it was essential that the Sunni Arabs participate this time to produce a balanced government.
The General Congress of the Iraqi People [Sunni] called on Sunni clerics to support the Iraqi Concord Front, which comprises the most prominent Sunni Arab forces contesting the elections on December 15.
The Washington Post reports that gunmen in Basra kidnapped and killed Shaikh Nadir Karim, a Sunni cleric in the southern port city that is largely Shiite. He is the second Sunni cleric to be killed in a week. There are tens of thousands of Sunnis in Basra, and they have ever since the fall of Saddam felt extremely exposed. Many Shiites see them as having been Baathist supporters of Saddam.
Bombings in Samarra and Baghdad killed and wounded over a dozen persons.
Al-Hayat [Arabic URL]: Young Shiite nationalist Muqtada al-Sadr on Saturday announced his “National Honor Pact” (Newt Gingrich has nothing on this guy). The pact included working to end the foreign military occupation of Iraq, gaining the release of the “sons of the noble Resistance” now in US custody, rejection of normalization of relations with Israel, and implementation of the debaathification law. Other planks are implementation of Islamic law, distribution of Iraq’s wealth in accordance with need, and rejection of foreign interference in Iraqi affairs. He said that a Saturday-Sunday weekend off from work should be rejected [in favor of Thursday-Friday, which suits some Muslims better]. The sovereignty and unity of Iraq must be preserved. Judicial and security institutions must be independent. Iraqi loans must be forgiven, and any move to implement a loose federalism must be postponed.
He urged all of Iraq’s political parties to adopt the Pact.
Ed Wong of the NYT has a super article on the state of play with regard to Muqtada. Having become part of the Shiite fundamentalist coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance, he had become a pivotal political voice. Muqtada wants a swift US withdrawal from Iraq. Although he speaks the language of pan-Islam and Sunni-Shiite ecumenism, his militiamen often kidnap an d/or kill Sunni Arabs they view as having been close to the Saddam regime.