Bush, Sistani back off Support for al-Maliki; Iraq, Syria, seek Energy Cooperation

When pressed on the future of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, Bush declined to back him as forcefully as in the past. He said it was up to the Iraqis to decide. I don’t think things look good for al-Maliki.

Al-Quds al-`Arabi [pdf] reports in Arabic that Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani is “disgusted” with the al-Maliki government. He complains that it has ‘filled his heart with pus’ by donning his robes and then neglecting to establish security or provide services to the people.

If Sistani has soured so badly on al-Maliki, he really could be in trouble. The old man still has enormous moral authority.

And, if both Bush and Sistani have given up on him, it is hard to see how he can survive.

Residents of the city of Khalis staged a big demonstration against the lack of security and constant mortar barrages. When a US convoy came through, they maintain, the soldiers tried to disperse their demonstration and wounded 17 or so persons with gunfire. The US military denies it. After the convoy left, the demonstration continued. This incident is a little window into what the Iraqi street is thinking, which is that the al-Maliki government and the US military owe them security, and they aren’t receiving it from them.

Alexandra Zavis of the LA Times has a truly excellent report on Dora district in Baghdad, where Sunni Arab guerrillas are under siege by the US military and fear Shiite encroachments from the east. Getting a story like this in present circumstances was no easy thing and we have seen relatively little recent reporting from the ground. The article shows clearly the conceptual confusion in the US military, of seeing Dora-based militants as “al-Qaeda” and as foreign to the neighborhood. Many of the guerrillas are mostly just local good ol’ boys, folks, and that is the reason they can hide so effectively from the US in their daytime civvies.

Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that, as expected, the deal offered to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was more security in return for greater economic cooperation. (See also the OSC press summary below).

UPI reports that the cooperation focused on reviving the oil pipeline from Iraq through Syria, and on linking Iraq to the Syrian (and Arab) gas pipeline network. It should be noted that if the Syrian oil pipeline could be reopened, the tolls would amount to hundreds of millions of dollars a year for Damascus. In a good year, the Iraqi petroleum pipeline was worth a billion dollars a year to Turkey.

Oil Minister Hussein Shahristani has overseen the building of a new pipeline to Turkey through northern Iraq, which will be guarded by a new protection force, and Iraq hopes also to begin pumping from the Kirkuk fields again soon. I suppose the success or failure of this effort would tell us whether the revival of the Syrian pipeline is feasible.

A Sunni family of 7 was brutally cut down on Tuesday in Mahaweel by (presumably) a Shiite death squad. A lot of the ethnic feuding in Iraq has been caused by Saddam Hussein’s Arabization programs, of planting Sunni Arab populations in Shiite or Kurdish areas. Northern Babil province is like that. The displaced Shiites have come back for their old land and homes, and want to chase the Sunni Arabs out of them. Now, establishing a Sunni Arab ring around south and west Baghdad is important to the Sunni Arab guerrillas, while Shiite militias want to extend their sway north from Hilla. Competition over land and resources was also important to the Sunni Arab guerrilla bombings of those Yazidi villages, where McClatchy says the stench of death still hangs in the air.

DPA/ VOA report:

In political developments, the so-called Sadrist bloc, loyal to Shiite radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, proposed Tuesday a new political initiative that could possibly end country’s impasse, a Sadrist legislator told VOI.

The Sadr bloc have walked out of Premier Nuri al-Maliki’s cabinet after the latter failed to force the US military to set a timeline for withdrawal.

“The initiative rests on collective participation and is composed of a consultative body to consider critical decisions in the country,” Falah Shanshal said.

“The body would comprise 15 persons from all political groups based on parliamentary representation,” he added.

He claimed that their initiative so far have been met with approval by most representatives of the political blocs.

“All minorities will be represented in this suggested consultative body,” Shanshal said, adding that the decisions of the body, which will mainly monitor the work of state institutions, would be debated in parliament or by the cabinet.”

At the Napoleon’s Egypt blog: “Bonaparte orders Dissidents Beheaded.” And we thought beheading was only something al-Qaeda does.

At the Global Affairs Blog, the USG Open Source Center summarizes Taiwanese reports on economic development in Kyrgyzstan & Uzbekistan and on geopolitical rivalry over Central Asia between Russia, China and the US.

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