Saudis Foil Plots by Radicals; Parliament balks at Maliki Appointment; Parliament Condemns Kurdish Oil Deals

The dangers for the region and the world of the continued radicalization of Arab youth via the US presence in Iraq were demonstrated this week when Saudi authorities broke up a plot to attack Saudi petroleum facilities. Given current high prices, any such attack would have the potential for driving them even higher, with deleterious effects on the US and world economies. Many of those involved in the plots were Saudis who had fought the US and Shiites in Iraq and then returned to the kingdom.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki tried and failed to play ‘divide and rule’ with the Sunni Arabs in parliament on Thursday. The Sunni fundamentalist Iraqi Accord Front had been part of the al-Maliki ‘national unity government’ from spring 2006, but this summer that IAF withdrew from the al-Maliki government and its 6 cabinet ministers resigned. Al-Maliki just tried to appoint a cabinet minister nominated by the tribal Awakening Councils, who are also Sunnis and who have thrown in with the United States. His point was to show the Iraqi Accord Front, which has 44 members in parliament, that he could find other Sunnis to support him if they will not play ball. The IAF has made specific demands of al-Maliki, which he seems unwilling to entertain, and its leaders say they won’t rejoin his government unless he yields on them.

Al-Maliki’s attempt to do an end-run around parliamentary representatives was criticized by many members of parliament, who complained that the tribal Awakening Councils were not elected and do not represent anyone, whereas the Sunni parliamentarians were elected by the people.

As it turned out, al-Maliki’s opponents in parliament prevented the appointment of two cabinet ministers to replaced those who had resigned (Shiite parties have also withdrawan). The members of parliament boycotted the session, depriving it of a quorum. Another issue was that al-Maliki had planned to have the two appointments approved by less than a 51% vote. (I am not sure that is even constitutional). The MPs were also protesting this procedural change.

The episode underlies the political gridlock in Iraq, which undermines any military success of the surge.

Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that MPs also condemned as unconstitutional the oil contracts signed by the Kurdistan Regional Government with foreign firms, ignoring the federal government. They demanded that the Kurds wait until a federal oil and gas law has been passed.

Hadi al-Amiri, a member of the United Iraqi Alliance, and head of the paramilitary Badr Organization, urged the formation of a parliamentary committee to look into whether the Kurds have acted unconstitutionally, and into whether a formula could be found to serve as the basis for a compromise.

The Shiite MPs maintained that article 39 of the Iraqi constitution rendered null and void all oil contracts signed before the passage of a new oil and gas law.

MP Rashid al-Ghazawi (Iraqi Accord Front) spoke of summoning the oil minister of the Kurdistan Regional Authority to explain on what legal basis the KRG signed these contracts.

Kurdish MPs defended the deals, but where the Arab MPs, both Sunni and Shiite, agree on something, they could always outvote the Kurds (who have altogether 58 seats in a 275-seat parliament if you count the Kurdish Muslim fundamentalists).

Parliamentarians also widely condemned Iraqi vice president Tariq al-Hashimi (from a Sunni Arab fundamentalist party) for rejecting a Japanese loan.

I can’t find more on that issue but see Michael Penn at Japan Focus on the changing relationship of Japan and Iraq.

At our Global Affairs group blog, Manan Ahmed meditates on Pervez Musharraf’s becoming a civilian president and the impact of the return to Pakistan of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, whom Musharraf overthrew in a military coup. The Saudis appear to have played a role in all this.

Farideh Farhi, at the same site, looks at the building tensions in Iran over the upcoming March parliamentary elections, between hard liners and conservatives. And Barnett Rubin posts on fighting drugs and working for peace in Afghanistan.

At the Napoleon’s Egypt blog, newly posted letters from Bonaparte to Gen. Kleber and from Kleber to the French Directory. Bonaparte secretly slipped out of Egypt in August of 1799, leaving behind for Gen. Kleber in Alexandria a letter suddenly appointing him commander of the 25,000 or so remaining French troops in Egypt. Kleber was clearly outraged and complained bitterly about the surprise that Bonaparte had pulled on him.

Michael Schwartz at Tomdispatch.com on the real meaning of the surge and why Bush won’t leave Iraq.

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