Over 10,000 Sunnis, Secularists March in Baghdad against Election Results;
Al-Hakim meets Kurdish Leaders
AP reports that in Iraq, over 10,000 mainly Sunni Arab demonstrators rallied in downtown Baghdad on Tuesday, calling for a rerun of the elections on the grounds of massive fraud, and demanding a government of national unity (which would include many Sunni Arab ministers). The United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), the fundamentalist Shiite coalition that won the Dec. 15 election, has indicated a willingness to form such a government of national unity.
Al-Sharq al-Awsat reports the number of demonstrators as rather larger, at tens of thousands strong, but the size of demonstrations is notoriously hard to estimate and the guesses tend to be larger than the reality. The marchers set out from al-Mansur, shouting their rejection of the outcome of the elections, according to Reuters. They demanded the resignation of members of the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq. One poster read, “No to sectarian relections that seek to partition Iraq!” Others warned Irran to leave Baghdad free. Others chanted, “No Sunni, no Shiite, all Islam– Unite!” They wanted the election results annulled, and an investigation, as well as new elections.
Hundreds of Sunnis in Tikrit to the north held a similar demonstration.
Last Friday, even larger crowds had thronged the streets of Baghdad protesting that the recent parliamentary elections had been stolen by the Shiite fundamentalists.
In Kirkuk, Sunni Arab and Turkmen politicians rejected the results of the election. AFP says that 75 leaders of these two groups were sending letters to the UN, the Arab League and others affirming that they share the consensus of the “national” parties in rejecting these election results. They pledged to hold demonstrations on Wednesday in Kirkuk. This oil city is a tinderbox full of ethnic rivalries and hatreds, and it is coveted by the Kurds, who now may make up half of the city of Kirkuk.
Al-Hayat[Ar.] : US ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad visited Riyadh on Tuesday for an audience with King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia.
Khalilzad had earlier met in Abu Dhabi with the UAE minister of foreign affairs, Shaikh Hamdan bin Zayid. Shaikh Hamdan has apparently been acting behind the scenes as a mediator in an attempt to resolve the political crisis. Abu Dhabi will host a meeting to be attended by Muwaffaq al-Rubaie, a member of the United Iraqi Alliance, Adnan Pachachi of the secular Iraqiya list, Muhammad Bahr al-Ulum, a Shiite cleric, and a Kurdish leader.
Al-Hayat: Political leaders continued their negotiations and meetings in an attempt to exit from the political crisis provoked by the rejection by Sunni Arabs and secularists of the fairness of the Dec. 15 elections. Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the Shiite cleric who heads up the fundamentalist UIA, met in Irbil with Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani early on Tuesday. Barzani has publicly expressed frustrations with his Shiite coalition partners. Al-Hakim then went to Sulaimaniyah to meet with Jalal Talabani, to explore a renewal of the Shiite-Kurdish political marriage of convenience, which had allowed the formation of the previous interim government.
Al-Hakim absolutely rejected the notion that the parliamentary elections would be re-staged, and he also rejected the idea of allowing international observers to conduct an investigation into the elecitons. At a news conference with Massoud Barzani, al- Hakim said, “It is impossible to annul the elections. The elections cannot be held over again, and it there is no possibility of any international or regional intervention in them.”
As for the next government, al-Hakim evinced a willingness to negotiate “with those who have a clear position on essential national principles.” Among the more prominent of these principles is “the struggle against terrorism, uprooting the Baath party, and seriousness about prosecuting Saddam Hussein.” (Al-Hakim is probably signalling that he will not entertain an alliance with the National Dialogue Council of Salih Mutlak, which has secular, neo-Baath tendencies, or with the Iraqiya list of Iyad Allawi, which includes many ex-Baathists.)
For his part, Barzani said he would support the establishment of a government with “a broad popular base.” Asked if the two leaders had agreed on including Sunni Arabs in the new government, Barzani said, “We are agreed on the principle of including other parties. We have not discussed the details at this time. We shall, later on, hold discussions with all concerned parties.”
A member of the National Iraqiya list of Allawi, old-time Sunni Arab nationalist politician Adnan Pachachi, affirmed that his list would seek to participate in the formation of a government “so as to cut down on the possibility of the rise of a sectarian state.” In another article, al-Hayat reports that the victory of Muslim fundamentalists in the Dec. 15 elections in Iraq has pushed the secularists to angle for control of the ministries of the interior and of defense. (In the present government, Interior is dominated by the (Shiite) Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq and its paramilitary, the Badr Corps, both of them long resident in Iran. Defense is held by Saadoun Dulaimi, a Sunni Arab who has thrown in with the new order. The likelihood that the secularists, who might have only 20 or so seats in the 275-member parliament, will get control of either ministry strikes me as low. It is said that the Americans want to get rid of Bayan Jabr Sulagh, the Turkmen Shiite who now heads Interior, viewing him as complicit in the setting up of secret torture cells. (Some observers snicker and say that the Americans should talk.)
At least 11 Iraqis died in political violence, and 4 US GIs were killed, two of them in a helicopter crash.
The Association of Muslim Scholars condemned the arrest of 50 iraqis in West Baghdad, most of them members of Arab clans, especially the Dulaim. The government also arrest 12 other suspicious characters, one of them of Syrian nationality.
Al-Hayat further reports that the city of Najaf has become a city of gated communities cut off from one another by heavy private security measures aimed at protecting high Shiite clerics and politicians. Checkpoints dot the streets leading to their homes, causing traffic gridlock.
Jalal al-Din Kalidar, from the family that traditionally controlled the shrine of Ali in the city, criticized clerics for inconveniencing their fellow residents with such intense security measures. He complained that many of the clerics had only recently come back from Iran, loaded down with cash, and that they were more politicians than clergymen. Shaikh Abdul Mun’im al-Musalli complained that if these clerics had been real clergymen, they wouldn’t have needed to surround themselves with so much security. He said, “Shaik Abdul Fattah al-Dhibhawi was killed the day before yesterday not because he was a man of the cloth but because of his political work with Sayyid Sadr al-Din al-Qubanji in the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq.” He said sometimes rival Shiite political parties assassinate one another’s activists.
Lt. Adil Fatlawi of the Najaf police said that the police remain impotent to address such problems: “The civil administration of the province and its officials take orders from the religious leaders, and some clergymen have organizations and movements behind them.” He alleged, “Najaf is now ruled by militias and their leaders.
A mass grave was discovered in Karbala, probably from spring, 1991, when the Bush senior administration stood by and allowed Saddam to crush a popular Shiite uprising against the Baath Party. Bush senior had called for the Iraqis to rise up and overthrow Saddam, but allowed them to be massacred when they took his advice. Many Shiites are still angry over that betrayal.