Khalilzad To Muqtada You Owe Us

Khalilzad to Muqtada: ‘You Owe Us.’
Sunni Arabs meet Shiites

A director of state-owned al-Iraqiyah television was assassinated on Saturday in Baghdad. There was also a bombing near a mosque in the small northern town of Yathrib that killed 2 and wounded 1. In the wake of this further killing of a journalist, the journalists’ guild is asking permission for its members to carry arms, according to al-Sharq al-Awsat.

Al-Hayat carries and interview with [Ar.] US ambassador in Baghdad Zalmay Khalilzad has urged Iraqi politicians to stop worrying so much which cabinet or other post they will get in the new government and come together to form it without delay.

He said

*that he believed that the increase in guerrilla attacks has been timed to disrupt the formation of a new government.

*that Iraqi politicians lack a full awareness of the seriousness of the crisis and are concentrating too much on the exact distribution of posts among blocs and even individuals. Because of the crisis, they should understand that Iraq’s welfare must come first.

*The delay in the formation of the government derives from the politicians being busy with distributing government positions among themselves. They should make some key compromises to move things along.

*Asked if there is a relationship between the American promise of a veto on a purely sectarian government, and the subsequent demand by other blocs that the candidate for prime minister (Ibrahim Jaafari) of the United Iraqi Alliance be dropped, he replied that given the sacrifices of treasure and blood by America for Iraq, the success of Iraq is the success of America, and its failure is America’s failure. This means that the country requires a non-sectarian government. He does not mean only Shiites, rather all the parties, including the Kurds and the Sunnis. They need a government of national unity and they need to be government officials rather than representatives of their ethnic group. This is what he meant by his remarks; it has nothing to do with Ibrahim Jaafari as a person.

*Asked if Paul Bremer hadn’t begun the practice of distributing posts by ethnicity, Khalilzad declined to comment on his predecessor. He said that since he arrived last summer, he had concentrated on including the Sunni Arabs in the political process and urged them to give up violence and to decline to support “al-Qaeda.”

*Talks with the guerrilla groups are ongoing, and he is optimistic about their success. The next step is to talk to the “Resistance.” He distinguishes between them and the “terrorists.”

*He distinguishes between the armed Resistance and other groups, including Saddamis, takfiris [radical Sunnis who excommunicate other Muslims], and followers of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. These are terrorists. He will talk, however, to the armed Resistance, which wants the welfare of Iraq. They have objections to the Iraqi government and to the American presence, but he wants to assure them that the Americans are not interested in a permanent war.

*He declines to speak specifically on how successful the talks have been, but wants to tell the Resistance that the ground is shifting under their feet, and that in any case they simply need have no fear of a permanent American presence. “We don’t want to stay in Iraq.” The US just wants a successful, democratic Iraq. After the recent elections, in which all parties took part, there can be no legitimate Resistance.

*Asked about his comment on the US invasion of Iraq having opened a Pandora’s box, Khalilzad says that his intent was only to alert the American public to how difficult and important was the mission in Iraq. Iraq has neighbors, who intervene. And it has internal ethnic factions, some of whom are stuck in the past and want revenge.

*Stability is unlikely to come for some time. The US is willing to help speed up its advent. It will come faster with a national unity government and the appointment of competent cabinet ministers. Cabinet posts shouldn’t be serving the Kurds or the Shiites or the Sunnis.

*The US has conducted one inquiry into the secret prison of Jadiriyah run by the Ministry of the Interior, where torture was documented, and has handed the report to the prime minister. It is up to the PM to seek indictments.

*Asked about the entry of the Sadr Movement into parliamentary politics, he says, “We believe that participation in the political process is an excellent thing. But it brings with it responsibility, as well–the responsibility to act through the political process and within its conditions and rules. That means you cannot maintain militias, and you must not employ violence as a means to attaining your political objectives. I have heard Muqtada al-Sadr’s comments with regard to the Coalition forces, and I want to send him the following message:

1. Coalition forces are present in Iraq at the invitation of the government, of which he is part. He has ministers in this government, and the majority voted to ask for this. You cannot be part of the government and then deliver speeches from the other side demanding that we depart.

2. I want to remind him that the Saddam regime killed his father, and that the United States saved the Iraqi people from Saddam’s regime. Without the efforts of the United States, Saddam would be ruling right now, and his sons and grandsons after him would rule Iraq. He is indebted to us, and should thank the American people for what they have done. I believe that without us, his life would have been in danger. That is the message.”

[Cole: This is all fine as far as it goes, but it is going to be difficult to get past with Muqtada the fact that Paul Bremer and Gen. Rick Sanchez announced in spring 2004 that they wanted to “kill or capture” him. That makes it harder to convince him that the Americans saved his life. By the way, under what US law are such decrees issued by American officials?]

Muqtada al-Sadr recently attempted to distance himself from Sunni Arab hard liners, in an interview on al-Arabiyah, according to the Washington Post:

‘ “I have not heard them lately asking for an end to the occupation or asking for a timetable for withdrawal of occupation troops,” al-Sadr said, ticking off demands that he has made for nearly three years. “Nor have I heard them demanding the execution of Saddam Hussein or speeding up the trial. I have not heard them very clearly condemning the Sunni extremists.” ‘

Leaders of the United Iraqi Alliance, the Shiite religious parties, met Saturday with leaders of the Iraqi Accord Front, the Sunni Arab religious parties. They are seeking to break the gridlock in the formation of a new government.

The Sunni religious coalition had suspended its negotiations with other parties in the wake of Shiite attacks on Sunnis and Sunni mosques after the bonbing of the Askari shrine. They are now coming back to the table. But spokesman Zafir al-`Ani said that the IAF still wants the Shiites to dump Ibrahim Jaafari as their candidate for prime minister, according to al-Sharq al-Awsat. Last week, 137 members of parliament said that they would not allow Jaafari to be seated. The problem is that you need 184 to form a government, and you need 138 to have a mjority in parliament, so 137 won’t do it.

Dr. Salman al-Jumaili, an Iraqi Accord Front spokesman, said on Aljazeera that the Sunni Arabs back Kurdish President Jalal Talabani for a second term. There had been speculation that the Sunni Arabs might press for the post of president for themselves.

Sometimes if you catch them when they are young and frustrated, soldiers on leave will tell you exactly what they think about the Iraq situation. Words like “pointless,” “they hate us,” “rubbish,” and “another Northern Ireland” trip off the tongue.

Another British soldier says he quit Iraq because the American military kept asking him to do things, in joint operations, that he considered illegal or poor counter-insurgency tactics.

AP concludes that as the Iraq War enters its fourth year (imagine, we really have to write those words), hopes for US withdrawal and the stability that would make it possible are much diminished.

We have two English-language surveys of the sermons on Friday in Iraq, a place where public opinion is shaped.

Ellen Knickmeyer of the Washington Post reports that street crowds and mosque congregations are very thin, despite the lifting of the curfew. Only a few hundred worshippers came to the popular Sunni mosque, Umm al-Qura. She also reports a good deal of sectarian tension in the sermons. A preacher in Tikrit blamed Iran for recent violence. Shiite Jalal al-Din Saghir blamed the Iraqi media for focusing on Sunni Arab deaths during the communal rights in the wake of the Feb. 22 shrine bombing. He said that lots of Shiites were killed, and their deaths went unreported.

The LA Times, in contrast, maintained that sermons on Friday in Iraq tended to urge national unity and the avoidance of sectarian war.

Open Source Center paraphrases of items in the Iraqi Press published March 11 (i.e. covering Mar. 10):

‘ Al-Mashriq publishes on page 2 a 300-word report citing the governor of Al-Najaf confirming that his visit to Switzerland and Canada was successful. The governor was acquainted with the federal systems in both countries and suggested Al-Najaf as the capital of the central federal region. . .

Al-Zaman carries on the front page a 340-word report citing Mustafa Uthman Isma’il, Amr Musa’s envoy to Iraq, confirming efforts to form a fund for the reconstruction of Iraq under the auspices of Arab League. . .

Al-Bayyinah on 9 March carries on page 2 a 600-word report denying the split in Al-Da’wah Party.

Al-Furat carries on the front page a 250-word report citing Al-Sadr trend member Fadil al-Shar’ and Iraqi National Bloc member Ibrahim al-Janabi considering Donald Rumsfeld’s declarations that US forces will not intervene if a civil war erupts in Iraq as a change in US policy. . .

Al-Furat carries on page 2 a 120-word report that students of Al-Mustansiriyah University conducted a two-day sit-in calling on political forces to quickly form the government. . .

Al-Mashriq publishes on the front page an 80-word report citing Muqtada al-Sadr deciding yesterday to postpone the demonstration which was scheduled for today, for security reasons and to save demonstrators’ lives. . .

Al-Bayan publishes on the front page a 400-word report on the cabinet’s Banking Committee meeting presided over by Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi yesterday, 10 March, to discuss ways to improve services in Iraqi banks. . .

Al-Mashriq publishes on page 4 a 150-word report citing Baghdad Mayor Sabir al-Isawi saying that drinking water shortage problem in Baghdad will only be solved by implementing huge water projects.

Al-Mashriq publishes on page 5 a 700-word report that markets in Iraq have been affected by the curfew imposed by Interior Ministry.

Al-Mashriq publishes on page 5 a 30-word report citing Ibrahim al-Ja’fari revealing that Turkey will increase Iraq’s share of water to 200 cubic meters per second.

Al-Mashriq publishes on page 5 a 500-word report on Iraqis’ sufferings due to lack of fuel. . .

Al-Furat carries on page 2 a 550-word article by Hasan Hatim al-Mathkur strongly criticizing Americans and their scheme in Iraq to humiliate and kill Iraqi people. . .

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