August 20, 2003 Special Dispatch No. 554

Editorials from the New Iraqi Press: MEMRI Baghdad Dispatch (5)

August 20, 2003
Iraq | Special Dispatch No. 554

The following report is the fifth release from MEMRI's Baghdad office. It focuses on editorials which appeared in the Iraqi press regarding the Arab reaction to the new Iraq, terrorism in Iraq, the Governing Council, religious pluralism, and other regional issues. There are over 100 dailies and weeklies published in Iraq, many of which characterize themselves as "politically independent," while others are clearly associated with established political parties or groups such as Al-Mu'tamar (Iraqi National Congress headed by Dr. Ahmad Al-Chalabi), Al-Nahdha (Liberal Democratic Group under Dr. Al-Pachachi), Al-'Adala (of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution, headed by Sheikh Muhammad Baqir Al-Hakeem), and Al-Aswaq (Iraqi Industrial Federation). To the extent possible, MEMRI will identify the affiliation of the newspapers quoted in this dispatch.


I. The Arab Regimes are Shocked by the Prospect of a Successful Democracy in Iraq

In a scathing criticism of the Arab League's position towards the developments in Iraq, an editorial in the daily Al-Taakhi (affiliated with the Kurdish Democratic Party) says that "… since the fall of the Ba'athist regime, and the liberation of the Iraqi people from it, the Arab countries have not paid any attention to the economic, political, and security problems that the Iraqis face… But under international public opinion pressure, the Arab League established a committee to look into the horrific crimes and mass-graves in Iraq. But aside from the report about its establishment, we have not heard anything from the committee… Suddenly, the official Arab interest has escalated following the establishment of the Governing Council… and its statement about the preparations for a constitution, free general elections, and a legitimate government based on a democratic federal regime. [And] suddenly, the Committee started to check what is happening in Iraq as if it was surprised by the prospect that democracy could succeed in Iraq …" The article goes on to say that since the Arab regimes were incapable of dealing with the Coalition occupation in Iraq, they reverted to attacking the Governing Council and accusing it of treason. "…This style is not alien to the local culture… the Arab countries (and the official policies of the Arab League) want any possible substitute in Iraq except democracy and free pluralism, meaning that the Iraqis should give up their aspirations for democracy… The Iraqis will not agree to this." [1]

II. Terrorism Will Not Weaken Iraqi-Jordanian Relations

"The explosion at the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad is a terrorist act, rejected in every possible way," declared an editorial in the daily Al-Zaman (previously published in London, but now published in Iraq also. It has a wide circulation, and identifies itself as 'an Arab and international political daily'). It went on to say that "condemning terrorism, rejecting it, and denouncing it is a non-negotiable issue. All Iraqis should unite to block the way of any group that tries to transport the terrorism virus to their country…" The article stresses that the purpose of the terrorist act was very clear, that is "to spread the cancer of terrorism in Iraq's body and to harm the close relations between Iraqis and Jordanians, [but] Iraq and Jordan are [connected] not only by their locality, blood kinship, intermeshed roots, and interlocked interests, but also by a shared fate…" The article goes on to say that no Iraqi will agree to turn his country into a terrorism arena and that the scene of the explosion will become "a new motivation for stronger relations [between Iraq and Jordan ]…" [2]

III. Was Iraq Independent? Did It Constitute a State?

Prefacing its editorial with the assertion that it recognizes that Iraq today is an occupied country, Al-'Adala (affiliated with the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq – SCIRI) asks whether Iraq, prior to the war, was actually independent, or even constituted a state. The paper answers by saying: "We don't believe that there is anyone in Iraq or the region, or even the world, who does not realize that the country was ruled by a gang, and not by a government. And this gang broke all religious and civic laws. It usurped power and did not come to it through elections. Since day one, and for three decades, Saddam's gang lacked legitimacy… Most countries used the slogan of 'non-interference in [other Arab] domestic issues' in order to deal with it. They ignored the fact that this terrorist regime used chemical and other WMD against the Iraqi people…" The article continued with a list of crimes committed by the former regime and concluded that "Regretfully, there are countries that have been shedding crocodile tears about Iraq's freedom and independence, although Iraq – for more than thirty years – was neither free nor independent." [3]

IV. The War against Iraq Was a War against Islam

An editorial in Al-Hawza (an Islamic educational newspaper, published by 'The Scientific Al-Hawza Al-Natiqa Al-Sharafiya', editor-in-chief Sheikh 'Abbas Al-Rubei') maintains that the purpose of the war against Iraq was not only to topple Saddam Hussein's regime and to control Iraqi oil, but was also "pre-designed intentionally to destroy the cultural, ethical, human, and moral structure of the Iraqi people… and to create a defeated nation." [4]

V. The Governing Council and the Cancellation of Islamic Educational Studies

An editorial by Al-Da'wa (published by the Islamic Da'wa Party) explained the fact that during the tenure of the first rotational president of the Governing Council, who is a member of the Islamic Da'wa Party, the Council decided to exclude Islamic education from the curriculum, and to replace it with "religious ethics and values." The paper said that "one of the most important tasks facing the Council now is to prove its unity, by being one [voice], not nine. And we should agree that any of the Council's decisions is unanimous and not subject to compromise, including decisions made recently by any of its sub-committees. One of those decisions was to eliminate the Islamic educational studies and replace them with 'religious ethics and values,' this despite the fact that one of the fundamental values that the Council believes in, and intends to include in the permanent constitution, is that Islam is the official religion of the country and the basis of its laws." The article concludes with the statement that "the priorities of the [Council's] Presidency are measured by the level of sacrifices made by the Islamic Da'wa Party … and I don't think that anyone can deny that, including members of the Council itself. Still, we are awaiting the day when… our people will be the source of [our] strength, and our divine faith the basis of [our] laws…" [5]

VI. Ministerial Challenges

Discussing the next step in the reconstruction of a new regime in Iraq, Al-Nahdha (affiliated with 'Adnan Al-Pachachi) says that "the most important factor in the present political process is to apply sound criteria in the selection of ministers, based on the qualifications required by each ministerial position…" The article goes on to delineate some of the short and long-term challenges that the new government will face, and concludes by saying that "it is a new phase, fraught with problems, contradictions, and complexities. But dealing with it with logic and a proper attitude… could open up a new era of progress, prosperity and accomplishment of national aspirations." [6]

Writing also about the anticipated cabinet, the daily Al-Sa'a (organ of the United National Movement)says that the selection of ministers must be done on the basis of their qualifications and no other criterion. The article also calls for the establishment of a reconstruction office at the cabinet level, and to speed up the re-establishment of the Department of Treasury in order to pay salaries of public sector employees, which in turn may contribute to domestic stability. [7]

VII. Federalism

An editorial by the editor-in-chief of Al-Taakhi (affiliated with the Kurdish Democratic Party – KDP) praises the Iraqis for knowing how to handle their problems despite outside interference. The article quotes a Kuwaiti paper which called for closing previous eras and healing past wounds. The writer says: "I believe that the Iraqi people and the peoples of the region are happy to close previous chapters and forge strong brotherly relations based on mutual respect and cooperation in the creation of a new Middle East …" The article goes on to say that "the interim Governing Council, with a majority vote, approved the principle of federalism, and by doing so got closer to healing another wound, because the Kurdish issue will be solved on the basis of establishing a federal Iraqi state…" [8]

VIII. History Does Not Repeat Itself, Events Do

In a column titled "The Movement's Point of View," the weekly Al-Muttahid (published by the Iraqi Democratic Movement) reviewed the political history of Iraq for the last 1000 years and said that "a study of this history shows that the Iraqi people were subjected to despotic regimes that they were unable to get rid of without outside forces whose involvement was camouflaged with ethnic and religious emotions, that led [in turn] to occupation…" The article goes on to detail the consecutive foreign occupations in Iraq from 947 C.E. through 1917, followed by the coronation of King Faysal I on August 21, 1921, and says that "one of the historical responsibilities that King Faysal assumed has been assumed now by the interim administration and the transitional Governing Council, and that is the establishment of a democratic independent state, with a permanent government and a permanent constitution." [9]

IX. Respecting Christianity and Christians

Al-Taakhi (affiliated with the KDP), in an editorial by its editor-in-chief, hailed the policies of ethnic tolerance and pluralism that the Kurdish autonomous administrations in northern Iraq followed for many years, and described the cultural, political and religious freedoms that various Christian minorities enjoyed there, saying that "the affirmation of their [the Christians] rights did not harm the Kurdish society, but benefited it tremendously by strengthening its belief in pluralism and democracy." The article expresses hope that such a "positive attitude will prevail in the rest of Iraq, and especially in Baghdad, where the largest percentage of Christians live…", and denounced those who "describe Christians inappropriately… because by doing so they are fomenting strife that Iraq has no need for…" [10]

X. The Chief of Thieves Shares His Spoils

Al-Ittihad (the main Kurdish newspaper affiliated with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan – PUK) deals once more with the crimes committed by the former regime, and says that "it seems that the cronies of the former despotic regime, and their deposed president at their head, are still deluding themselves… The Iraqis scorn his audio messages, broadcasted by dubious TV channels, which are still circling in his orbit. It seems that delusion accompanies him like a shadow, and he still believe in his evil soul that he has authority and prestige…" The article goes on to describe a host of thefts committed by Saddam Hussein at the expense of the Iraqi people and says that the reason for these crimes is simple: "The deposed dictator has proven that he was the leader of large bunch of hooligans whose task was to steal the country's money…" [11]

XI. Respecting the Environment

An editorial by Al-Taakhi daily stresses that one needs to "clean up the environment in which one lives in order to restore his self confidence and his hopes…" The article laments the fact that while efforts are made to uncover mass-graves and evidence of ethnic cleansing, the environment was neglected and even destroyed, and goes on to say: "When roaming the streets of the capital, and the roads leading out of it, one is shocked by the destroyed tanks and armors… it is our squandered wealth… tens of thousands of cars and armored vehicles bought with the people's wealth, blood, and sweat. It was a massacre to [our] wealth, just the way mass-graves were to humans…" [12]

Special News Reports

Imported Food Products May Cause a Disaster

"The International Health Organization is concerned about the proliferation of canned food products in Iraq … the official spokeswoman of the organization said that several illnesses may result from eating such products because of their expiration date or the way they were treated commercially…" [13]

Real Estate Prices in Baghdad Quadruple

Al-Zaman daily reports that prices of real estate in the Iraqi capital increased considerably due to the flow of foreign businessmen into the city and the optimistic forecasts on investments and openness to the West. The paper goes on to say that despite the flourishing market, the registration of deeds is still problematic, especially since many Iraqis who had been driven out of their homes by Saddam's regime are now returning to their homes that had been sold to new owners in official auctions. [14]

A New Leadership for the Iraqi Reconciliation Movement

"…The political bureau of the Iraqi Reconciliation Movement held an expanded meeting in Baghdad … and decided to form a central leadership consisting of 45 members… Last April, the bureau decided to close the movement's office abroad and move all activities to Iraq." [15]

Fuel Shortages, Oppressive Heat and Lack of Electricity Create a Wave of Anger in Basra

A report published by Al-Nahdha on the second day of unrest in Basra maintains that one of the reasons for the unrest is that "citizens discovered that fuel products that have been scarce for the last two weeks are being smuggled out of the city by smugglers who deal with elements outside Iraq …" The paper says that it obtained information confirming that "individuals cross the border into Basra and forcefully highjack large tankers filled with gas and fuel, and drive them back to their country…" [16]

Annex III - Iraqi Leadership Biographical Series

Mass'oud Al-Barzani

Mass'oud Al-Barzani was born in 1946 in Mahbad when his father, the late charismatic General Mula Mustafa Al-Barzani, was chief of the military of the Kurdish Republic of Mahbad, declared in Iranian Kurdistan. As a result of persistent attacks by the Iranian army the republic fell, and Mustafa Al-Barzani went to the USSR with five hundred of his loyalists. Mustapha's son Mass'oud, with the rest of the family and thousands of Al-Barzani clan members, returned to Iraq. They were promptly deported to southern Iraq.

After the overthrow of the monarchy in 1958, Mustafa Al-Barzani was invited to return to Iraq. Mass'oud Al-Barzani was 12 when he was reunited with his father. Over time, the family moved back to their home village of Barazan. They found their homes in ruins. Not long after, the Iraqi government resumed its repression against the Kurdish people. Left with no other alternatives, Mustafa Al-Barzani and his Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) launched their armed struggle in 1961 to defend the rights of the Kurds.

At the age of sixteen, Mass'oud Al-Barzani left school to join the Peshmerga forces (the Kurdish rebel army). The young Al-Barzani was deeply influenced by the valor, leadership skills, and compassion of his father.

Mass'oud quickly established himself as a leader. In March 1970, together with his brother Idriss, he negotiated an agreement with the Ba'ath government in Baghdad for Kurdish autonomy and the sharing of oil revenues from Kirkuk. But the Ba'ath ruling party was not genuinely interested in keeping an agreement that would have left the oil rich city of Kirkuk under Kurdish autonomy. In the meantime, the Iraqi government made two attempts on the life of Mustafa Al-Barzani, in 1971 and 1972. The agreement collapsed and the armed struggle resumed. However, in 1975 Iraq signed an agreement with Iran that culminated in withholding support of the Kurds by the Iranian regime. Quickly afterwards the Kurdish revolt collapsed and Mustafa, together with his son Mass'oud, moved to Iran. The KDP was split, and Jalal Al-Talabani emerged as the leader of a competing Kurdish political force, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

In his violent attempt to resolve the Kurdish problem, Saddam Hussein undertook in 1988 the deportation of the Kurds, and replaced them with Iraqi Arabs - the so-called Arabization of Kurdistan. The operation, also known as "Anfal," a form of ethnic cleansing, caused the complete destruction of hundreds of Kurdish villages. Eight thousand Kurdish males over the age of 8 were deported to southern Iraq, and nothing further was heard of them; the mass graves were identified after the fall of Saddam. [17] The secret documents of that era are now available at various websites. Some of them were recently published in the Kurdish daily Al-Taakhi detailing the murder, deportation, and destruction of hundreds of Kurdish villages. [18]

Al-Barzani saw a window of opportunity after the defeat of Iraq in Kuwait in 1991, and tried to take control of Kurdistan. His attempt was met with severe blows by the Iraqi army, which caused one million Kurdish refugees to flee to Turkey and Iran. In a sense, the refugee crisis internationalized the conflict. As a result, the United States, Britain, and France declared northern Iraq as a security zone, enforced by their joint air forces (later, France withdrew from this coalition but the American and British air power continued to enforce the no-fly zone until Iraq was occupied). Ironically, due to a guaranteed 15 percent of oil revenues under the U.N. "Oil for Food Program," the Kurdish areas since the mid-1990s have lived in relative abundance.

In 1992, for the first time in their history, the Kurds elected representative institutions. Two years later, an armed struggle broke out between the two leading factions of the Kurdish people, Al-Barzani's KDP and Al-Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), which resulted in the death of thousands of Kurdish fighters on both sides. The Clinton Administration's intervention led to an agreement signed in Washington in 1998 that called for a cease fire and for the division of the Kurdish territory into two sections, one led by an Al-Barzani government headquartered in Irbil and the second led by an Al-Talabani government headquartered in Sulaymania. In 2000, the two leaders joined forces to activate their elected parliament and to pursue jointly the national aspirations of the Kurdish people.

Al-Barzani advocates "federalism for Kurdistan and democracy for Iraq." His political program has three main elements: first, avoid Turkish hegemony over the Kurdish issue; second, deal with the Kurdish issue with a sense of realism; and third, resolve the Kurdish issue within the general framework of a united Iraq.

Al-Barzani is a member of Iraq's Governing Council as well as a member of its 7-member executive body which will rotate the leadership of the Council monthly. Together with the other Kurdish leader, Jalal Al-Talabani, the Iraqi Kurds are likely to insist on, and perhaps receive for the first time, autonomy for the Kurdish regions of Iraq.

[1] Al-Taakhi, August 11, 2003.

[2] Al-Zaman, August 9, 2003.

[3] Al-'Adala, August 7, 2003.

[4] Al-Hawza, August 6,2003.

[5] Al-Da'wa, August 6, 2003.

[6] Al-Nahdha, August 6, 2003.

[7] Al-Sa'a, August 9, 2003.

[8] Al-Taakhi, August 3, 2003.

[9] Al-Muttahid, August 5, 2003.

[10] Al-Taakhi, August 6, 2003.

[11] Al-Ittihad, August 5, 2003.

[12] Al-Taakhi, August 5, 2003.

[13] Al-Destour, August 6, 2003.

[14] Al-Zaman, August 9, 2003.

[15] Al-Zaman, August 9, 2003.

[16] Al-Nahdha, August 11, 2003.

[17] The Anfal operation destroyed hundreds of Kurdish villages, often with their inhabitants. It was accompanied by an attempt to Arabize the Kurdish areas by forcefully moving Iraqi Arabs into Kurdish areas. It was estimated that 180,000 Kurds lost their lives. Many of them were buried alive in the desert.

[18] Al-Sharq Al-Aswat (London), April 19, 2003.

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