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Iraq: Renewed Internal Tensions

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Hundreds of protesters gathered this week in Iraq to protest the failure of the Maliki government to fulfill its promise of greater accountability and public-sector reform by the end of the government's first 100 days. The political situation in the country has since deteriorated, as the al-Iraqiya bloc led by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi withdrew from the parliamentary session late last week. Members of parliament have even resorted to physical violence in retaliation for perceived slights and accusations of dishonesty.

Reporting on the protests beginning to take place in Iraq, the Kurdistan News Agency posts an article by Joel Wing, according to whom, "Activists launched nationwide demonstrations in nine cities in northern, central and southern Iraq on June 10....With security greatly improved in Iraq, the citizenry has finally had the time to focus upon other issues such as governance and services. The country has been hit by twenty years of wars and sanctions, which have devastated its infrastructure. Despite the expenditure of several billion dollars in reconstruction funds, water, electricity, health care, etc., have not caught up with demand.…This will likely start another test of wills between the organizers and the authorities, with Maliki obviously having the upper hand since he has all the powers of the head of state at his fingertips."

Following the protests, Allawi's al-Iraqiya bloc withdrew from parliamentary session, releasing a statement published by the daily Aswat al-Iraq which "criticized the government's practices in arbitrary arrests and suppressing the peaceful demonstrations. It numerated many points that made the situation tense in the political arena, including the abuses against Dr. Ayad Allawi, non-achievement of national partnership, vacant security and defense posts, non-implementation of the Arbil agreement, and incomplete investigation results for the crimes and escaped prisoners from Basra prison. "'For all these reasons, and in solidarity with the Iraqi people and popular demonstrations, we announce our withdrawal from today's (12 June, 2011) session and will refer the matter to the Iraqi court to investigate the criminal acts which have resulted in thousands of victims,' the statement added."

Prime Minister's Maliki Islamic Daawa Party, however, didn't take kindly to the news. According to the Al Sumaria News website, "The Islamic Daawa Party led by Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki announced on Saturday that it will file a lawsuit against Iraqiya leader Iyad Allawi for pointing out falsified accusations to the party leaders and members." However, the report also noted, that "The slogans voiced by the followers of Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki during Friday's demonstration recalls the time of 2006 and 2007, Iraqiya said, noting that the return of organized crime during the 100-day deadline is an indicator of security deterioration. Hundreds of Baghdad residents rallied in Al Tahrir Square on Friday calling for the dismissal of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki's government and urging constitutional amendments. Al Tahrir Square was divided into protests against the government and demonstrations including a number of tribes in support of the government, Alsumarianews reporter said."

The heated atmosphere has given rise to a number of altercations between competing factions, not least of which, according to various news agencies, occurred when "two rival Iraqi lawmakers came to blows Sunday at a time of rising tension between Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Shiite bloc and a Sunni-backed alliance, according to a parliamentary source. The increasingly frayed ties between the two camps, which finished neck-and-neck in the March 2010 elections and are now part of a national unity government, have sparked concern over major issues left unresolved. The fight started after Kamal Saadi from Maliki's State of Law alliance beat the Sunni-backed Iraqiya party's Haidar al-Mulla with his walking stick inside the parliamentary cafe, the source said."

It was in the context of this ongoing political dispute that a U.S. congressional delegation brought up, while on an official visit in Iraq, the possibility that Iraqis should eventually repay the United States for its war efforts in the country. The reaction among various Iraqi political factions was swift and indignant. Aswat Al-Iraq reports, "Al-Ahrar bloc has the intention to collect signatures from within Parliament to demand compensation for Iraqi citizens affected by U.S. military operations after the ceasefire and termination of military operations in 2003. The bloc, affiliated with the Sadrist Trend, intends to make the demand through the United Nations. Al-Ahrar bloc MP Khalid al-Jayashi declared that "'Iraq is not obliged to pay U.S. soldiers for their damages in Iraq, because the only victims are the Iraqi people.'" He declared that a campaign is underway to collect parliamentary signatures, through the United Nations, to compensate the Iraqis who were affected by U.S. military operations after the ceasefire and termination of military operations in 2003."

The controversy couldn't have come at a worse time, since, as the Lebanese Daily Star reports, "The anti-American Shiite cleric said he would escalate military resistance and 'unfreeze' the Mehdi Army if U.S. troops remain in Iraq after Dec. 13, when they are scheduled to depart under a security pact between Washington and Baghdad....Saleem al-Jibouri, a Sunni lawmaker [said], 'Things could be out of control at any moment and it will be very difficult to control it again.' But Jibouri suggested Sadr's warning was more about politics than a serious move to resurrect the militia. 'This threat may be preorchestrated with some parties in the government' he said. Sadr's real play if American troops remain on Iraqi soil next year may be political, not military, analysts said. "'He is the cornerstone of this government,'" Baghdad University professor Hakeem Mezher said. 'If he walks out on this fragile alliance, it will encourage other blocs to do the same. Such a step will definitely collapse the government, or at least it will be considered illegitimate to sign any new pact.'" 

It will be interesting to see how the Obama administration reacts and how the Maliki government threads the needle, given that, as the Khaleej Times editorial notes, "Washington's hope that Baghdad will make a request to keep its troops inside Iraq for reasons of exigency is not merely a wish. Policy-makers at the Pentagon and the State Department have enough reasons to float such a perspective, and the beans were spilled the other day by outgoing CIA chief Leon Panetta, who said that he was confident such a demand is forthcoming....If Leon's synopsis matters, it remains to be seen what inducements will come into play from either side and what impact they will have on the geopolitical equation in the region. The U.S., which has supported the Arab Spring and has been channeling its synergies for democracy and empowerment, will find itself in a tight corner in defending a perpetual military presence in Iraq. What Obama has to say will be of far-reaching consequences."

 


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