International Team to Assess Elections
Al-Hakim meets Talabani
In Baghdad, , AP reports that the International Mission for Iraqi Elections will send a team of assessors to look into charges by Sunni Arabs and secularists that there was significant ballot stuffing in the Dec. 15 elections. UN observer Craig Jenness had earlier defended the over-all fairness of the election.
The Iraqi Accord Front, a fundamentalist coalition, expressed pleasure that the team would be sent. It has rejected the election results as fatally flawed.
In fact, it is highly unlikely that the basic outcome of the elections will be altered by any of these procedural steps, and the Sunni Arab conviction that they are a majority of Iraqis, which drives much of their ire over the outcome, is simply incorrect.
Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the Shiite cleric who heads the victorious United Iraqi Alliance list in parliament, met Thursday with Kurdish leader (and current Iraqi president) Jalal Talabani. Al-Hakim repeated his willingness to join in the formation of a government of national unity.
AP also says that a GI was killed Thursday in East Baghdad by a roadside bomb. It was one of dozens of deaths in guerrilla violence in Iraq.
Al-Sharq al-Awsat [Ar.]: Unknown gunmen killed 14 Shiites in a minibus near Latifiyah south of Baghdad. They belonged to a single extended family had set out early on Thursday from their home in Mahmudiyah.
Elsewhere in Baghdad, a suicide bomber dressed as a policeman detonated his payload, and killed 4 policemen and wounded 5 others.
The US military announced that it had launched an air attack on the town of Hawija, north of Baghdad, to which planters of roadside bombs had fled. Ten persons were killed in the air attack, which used 500-pound bombs. The US military found caches of weapons in a subsequent search.
Al-Quds al-Arabi : argues that the Kurds are conducting a campaign of subtle ethnic cleansing against the Arabs of Kirkuk and its surroundings, creating facts on the ground with settlements and forcing Arab farmers off their land. It says that tensions in the city between Kurds and Turkmen are running high and that it has been the site of 30 assassinations, making it one of Iraq’s bloodiest cities. It says that they will use their leverage as a swing vote in parliament to ensure that Kurds continue to be able to move into the province. Baghdad-based Kurdish officials of the federal government also exercise their influence to deliver important provincial and police positions in Kirkuk into Kurdish hands. They wish to alter its demographic character decisively before the 2007 referendum, when Kirkuk (Ta’mim) province will decide whether to join the existing 3-province Kurdistan confederacy. The Kirkuk fields hold a 10-20% of Iraq’s proven petroleum reserves and would be essential to the formation of any independent or semi-independent Kurdistan state. (If the Kurds lacked Kirkuk, and Baghdad continued to get the petroleum income, it could bribe the Kurds into remaining in Iraq. Kurdistan without petroleum would be rather like eastern Anatolia in neighboring Turkey: poor.
Borzou Daragahi and Louise Roug of the LA Times explore the fading of Iraqi national identity and the building danger of a partition of the country. I am quoted, arguing that Iraq is no more artificial than most nations, and Iraqi nationalism should not be completely discounted.
The NYT reports that hundreds of US military advisers will be assigned to Iraqi special police commando units that had been set up by the Ministry of the Interior. The ministry is controlled by the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq and its paramilitary wing, the Badr Organization, both of them close to Tehran and the latter trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Dexter Filkins reports that a US officer criticized the special police resort to secret prisons and torture:
‘ American commanders here say that such practices, while abhorrent in their own right, tend to provoke consequences almost precisely the opposite of what is desired. Rounding up young Sunni Arab men and killing them will only spur the growth of the insurgency, they say. “You are making new enemies here,” the American commander said. “You’ve got to be more moderate. You must follow the rule of law.” ‘
Ironic, ain’t it?