10 Killed in Attacks, including Brig. Gen.; Al-Maliki May Run with Sunni Parties; Return of Censorship?

10 Iraqis were killed in political violence on Wednesday, including Brig. Gen. Abdulhameed Khalaf Asfoor of troubled Ninevah Province.

Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that that January 15 will probably be the day on which Iraqi voters decide the shape of Iraq’s next parliament and decide on two national referendum questions. They are approval of the Status of Forces Agreement with Washington, specifying that US troops leave Iraq by the end of 2011; and approval of amendments to the 2005 constitution, which it is hoped will have been passed by the Iraqi parliament by the end of this autumn.

The Shiite religious parties in Iraq that have been so dominant since 2005 because of their alliances with one another appear to be going their own ways. Every day there are new reports in the Iraqi press about new coalitions being formed that would break up what might be called the “Sistani machine” (Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani was behind the United Iraqi Alliance, which brought together the religious Shiites and even some moderate independents from a Shiite background.) AFP reports that al-Maliki will likely form a nationalist bloc with Sunni tribal parties, rather than continuing as part of the specifically Shiite UIA. The Dawa or Islamic Mission Party that he heads is a Shiite fundamentalist party, but it is leavened with Iraqi nationalism and has often been ecumenical. In its first golden age, of the 1960s and 1970s, it is said that 10% of its members were Sunnis.

I argue in my new book, Engaging the Muslim World, that the Sunni Arab guerrilla war against the US was wrongly interpreted as religious in character when mostly it was a manifestation of Sunni Arab nationalism, and that most Sunni Arabs in Iraq are secular-minded. That is, the Bush administration propaganda about fighting “al-Qaeda” in Iraq was just that.

The US military is supporting what I said. According to a poll it carried out among the Iraqis in its custody, some 36% percent of the 26,000 prisoners held by the US at the peak of the arrests said that they had never been inside a mosque, and 70 percent said that they were not regular mosque attenders. The Sunni and Shiite Iraqis in US detention centers got along fine and played soccer quite amicably with one another (why wouldn’t they– they were in agreement on the need to push the US military out of Iraq and were all paying the price together for their determination to do so). But all through this decade we were bombarded by the corporate media and the White House and Pentagon with with the message that the US was fighting religious forces in Iraq, specifically “Islamofascism,” and that in fact it was the ‘central front’ in the war on ‘Islamic terrorism.’ In fact, the prisoners were mostly not religious. The US was fighting secular Iraqi nationalists and couldn’t admit it for fear of looking like an occupier. Hence, its spokesmen lied about the guerrillas and made them out to be religious fanatics.

Sawt al-Iraq reports in Arabic that the Iraqi Oil Ministry, led by Husain Shahristani, is rejecting the protests of its own ministry employees against the terms of the contract being offered the Chinese National Petroleum Company to develop the southern Rumaila fields further. The Ministry maintains that the protesting employees are being instigated by neighboring oil states that do not want Rumaila’s daily production to be substantially increased. The ministry employees’ protest comes on top of that of the 10,000 unionized oil workers of Basra (out of 45,000 such workers, who, Reuters has said, maintain that the bids are illegal because parliament still has not passed a petroleum bill and because the fixed-fee contracts may give away too much to the foreign firms and may actually result in less employment of Iraqis and worse wages for them.

An Iraqi court has fined the Dubai-based al-Arabiya satellite channel $87,000 for reporting incorrectly on the words of an Iraqi general. Al-Arabiya was quoting an article from the London-based pan-Arab daily, al-Hayat, which is Saudi-owned. Al-Hayat issued a retraction the next day, but the lawsuit sought to close down its Iraq offices. It had alleged that Maj. Gen. Qasim al-Musawi had said that he would re-arrest prisoners freed by the US military. He had actually just said that he would review their files to make sure they were not engaging in violence on their release.

It is disturbing to have al-Arabiya fined for relying on an al-Hayat article. There is something of the Shiite-Sunni feud about the whole incident, with the Shiite generals of the new government upset by what they see as a pro-Sunni and even pro-insurgent bias in much of the Arab press.

The Iraqi government is now inspecting book imports to Iraq, saying it wishes to exclude works that promote sectarian violence. AFP says that many Iraqi intellectuals worry that the new procedures put the country on a slippery slope back to censorship. There are also plans to filter the internet.

Xinhua reports that Turkey’s exports to Iraq in 2009 are on track to amount to $7 bn. this year, up 80% from 2008’s $3.8 bn. total. Turkey is the most advanced economy in the Middle East, and its firms are clearly becoming important to the reconstruction effort. Some 500 Turkish firms have completed $7 bn. in projects in Iraq.

The cloud over this Turko-Iraqi efflorescence is the substantial dispute between the two country over water resources, with Turkish damming of the headwaters of the Euphrates badly hurting Iraqi agriculture.

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