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September 12, 2003 No.
572

Editorials from the New Iraqi Press: MEMRI Baghdad Dispatch (8)

The following is the eighth release from MEMRI's Baghdad office. It focuses on editorials which appeared in the Iraqi press regarding President Bush's speech on funding for Iraqi reconstruction, Iraqi sectarianism in response to terror, and the building of a new Iraqi regime.

In Annex VI, MEMRI publishes the sixth biographical note on one of Iraq's post-Saddam leaders. In this issue, the biographical note is that of Jalal Al-Talabani.

Editorials

I. The Iraqi Press on President Bush's September 7th Speech

The following is a brief review of media reports appearing in the Iraqi press regarding President Bush's speech on September 7, 2003:

Al-Taakhi daily (affiliated with the Kurdish Democratic Party – KDP) summarized what it considered "the main points in President Bush's speech," including:

- "In Iraq, we shall help a nation that has been suffering for a long time…"

- "The Middle East will either become a region of peace and progress or a source of terror and violence…"

- "Five months after the liberation of Iraq, a group of murderers is trying unsuccessfully to undermine the progress there…"

- "Two years ago I told Congress that the war against terrorism will be long and on several fronts…"

- "Our three strategic goals in Iraq are: eliminating the terrorists, obtaining the support of other countries [for] a free Iraq, and helping the Iraqis to assume the responsibility for their own defense and future."

The paper also mentioned the request to send multi-national forces to Iraq under the auspices of the U.N., and President Bush's request to Congress to allocate $87 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. [1]

The daily Al-Sabah (Iraq Information Service) published two articles about the speech, the first was headlined "We Shall Rebuild Iraq and Our Forces there are Sufficient." The second summarized the speech: "Bush asks Congress for $87 billion dollars for Iraq and Afghanistan. We are determined to help the nation [of Iraq] to re-build after decades of oppression…" [2]

II. Iraq's Sectarianism in Response to Terror

As the Iraqi press continued its commentaries regarding the car bomb that killed Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir Al-Hakim, related issues such as ethnic strife and sectarianism - and particularly the relationships between Shi'a and Sunna - surfaced. The following is a short review:

The daily Al-Zaman (independent) published an op-ed stating that "there is no Iraq without Shi'a and Sunna," and said that the sectarian issue "is a card that some gamblers like to use in order to abuse Iraq and make it succumb to their desires… [however] the Sunna and the Shi'a are two parts of the bulk of Iraq's entity… Basically, there is no Iraq without Sunna and Shi'a…" [3]

The daily Al-Taakhi quoted an official statement issued by the Shi'ite leadership in Al-Najaf stating: "If the attack was motivated by sectarianism, there would be dire consequences… [however] these consequences will not affect our moderate Sunni brothers in Iraq who were saddened by the events, just like us. They will affect those who… permit the shedding of Muslim blood, [abusing] their properties and their honor just because they do not hold the same belief…" [4]

Two days later, Al-Taakhi reported that "Dr. 'Abd Al-Salam Al-Kubeissi, spokesman for the Board of Sunna Scholars in Iraq, ruled out the probability of ethnic strife between Sunna and Shi'a in Iraq following the assassination of Ayatollah Al-Hakim, and [denied] the accusations leveled against the Arab Sunna in Iraq… He emphasized that the Board of Muslim Scholars is eager to prevent the shedding of one drop of Muslim blood, be it Shi'a or Sunna…" [5] At the same time, Al-Kubeissi accused the U.S. of aiming to "divide Iraq along ethnic and sectarian lines…" and said that "we are interested in [establishing] an Islamic state be it by Shi'a or Sunna nationals…" He also accused Iran of "interfering with the process, because it disapproves of the collaboration between Shi'a and Sunna [in Iraq]…" He pointed out that the Sunna in Iran constitute 30% of the population but have only one mosque in Tehran, housed in a hotel building. Finally, Al-Kubeissi said that the Board of Sunna Scholars elected not to respond to the fact that the Shi'a usurped 18 Sunni mosques in Iraq, 12 of them in Baghdad, and said that "usurping the only Sunni mosque in Al-Najaf… and the only Sunni mosque in Karbala… and eliminating Sunni presence in these two cities is a dangerous phenomenon akin to ethnic cleansing…" [6]

An editorial published by the independent daily Al-Mada urges the Iraqis "to become one community" and says that the latest car bomb is "a message whose senders use Saddam Hussein's language… be it Saddam's Fedayeen, or Ansar Al-Islam, or the Arab-Afghans [referring to Arabs who volunteered to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan]… but they forget that historical experiences heightened our nation's awareness and understanding of the tools used by our enemies…" The paper goes on to say that although despotism, racism, and subjugation weakened the Iraqis, they did not crush their willpower, so "if we do not want to become [involved in] a confrontation that drains our strength, we have to deal with it together, all of us as one Iraqi community…" [7]

In the same spirit, an editorial titled "Fighting Terrorism is our Collective Responsibility," published in the daily Al-Jareeda (independent), called for a national conference with the participation of all "political parties and national movements" as a prelude to the establishment of an Iraqi transitional all-inclusive government. [8]

Dar Al-Salam (published by the Iraqi Islamic Party) titled its editorial "Our Strength is in our Unity." The paper says that it is clear from recent sabotage acts that "the enemy is trying to undermine our unity following the successes of the [Iraqi] political parties and the national movements in the first phase of regime change… The explosion did not target Mr. Al-Hakim personally, but targeted the spirit of unity among sectors of the Iraqi peoples. Al-Hakim and many Iraqis have become victims and sacrificial [lambs] for the cause of preserving this unity, and it is up to us to close the circle of this struggle against the forces of darkness and oppression…" [9]

III. Building Iraq's New Regime

Commenting on the significance of the new transitional Iraqi government, the daily Al-Manar (independent) said that "the new government represents all political and religious affiliations and will operate until the anticipated general elections, when our nation will express its will, clearly and honestly. And although the government is new… we are confident and absolutely certain that it has the capacity and competence to realize the aspirations of the Iraqi masses in this new era of democracy, freedom, justice, and equality in all walks of life…" [10]

Al-Qabas daily (published by the New Iraqi Philanthropic Society) titled its editorial "The Government is of One Community." It says that the "Iraqis know that they cannot build their country by identifying themselves through ethnic or geographical divides… they all belong to the unified community of Iraq, with all its ethnic and religious characteristics… the newly [created] government is the government of the Iraqi community with its colorful and beautiful mosaic…" [11]

An optimistic tone also characterized an editorial by the daily Al-Nahdha (affiliated with Dr. 'Adnan Al-Pachachi) titled "A New Gain for the Iraqi National Affair." The paper says that "there are positive signals from the international community, including the U.S., that the transitional period, usually called the political process, will be shortened. This [is the] process which will lead to a permanent constitution, parliamentary elections, and the establishment of a legitimate government… This development is definitely harmonious with the aspirations of the Iraqi people who want to end the occupation and to restore national autonomy as soon as possible…" The paper goes on to say that it is important to enhance the role of the Governing Council and the new government so that they can contribute to the decision making process, and that "it is also important to set a timetable for normalizing the situation in general and for creating legitimate institutions as a prelude to ending the occupation…" Finally, the paper urged the Arab countries "to realize the enormity and sensitivity of the situation in Iraq and to extend their hands, support, and cooperation to the Iraqi people to get out of this crisis…" [12]

The independent daily Al-Shira' quoted a member of the Governing Council, Dr. Muhssin Abd Al-Hamid, as saying that "the Council advised the ministers to operate autonomously and to consider the American advisors just as advisors…" He stressed that the Council selected the ministers autonomously and that it would continue to operate in such a manner until the re-establishment of Iraq's independence. [13]

Al-'Adala (published by the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq) asks in its editorial "When will the Iraqis get the chance to realize their security?" The paper maintains that the American Civil Administration "is dealing with the situation in Iraq as if it is dealing with a 'Banana Republic.' It postpones what does not serve its interests and promotes what does." For example, the paper says that one of Paul Bremer's highest priorities since his arrival in Baghdad has been "to sign contracts with American companies that contribute to President Bush's re-election fund, while the last of his priorities has been to deal with security issues starting with the apprehension of the remnants of the deposed regime…" The paper goes on to say that some of these security problems, as well as unemployment, could be solved by retraining a large number of former members of the Iraqi army who are, according to the paper, capable of providing a nucleus for protecting Iraq. But, the paper says: "the Bremer Administration is interested only in preserving its occupation of this country, when it could have used Iraqi resources to protect the borders, close their pores, and capture the criminals before committing their crimes, not after. It is a goal that Bremer's administration will not be able to accomplish unless it makes it one of its priorities…" [14]

Also commenting on the security situation, the independent weekly Nidaa Al-Umma asks "Where do we start? It is a question that we have to face ourselves if we want to come up with solutions…" The article mentions that the Governing Council established a special committee to deal with security problems, but says that "these efforts will fail because they are superficial and peripheral… One of the main causes to the instability is the problem of unemployment and declining standards of living. If these problems are not resolved, the security problem will persist…" [15]

IV. Jordan, a Base for Iraq's Enemies

There has been some ambivalence in the Iraqi press concerning the relations between Iraq and Jordan. On one hand, following the explosion at the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad, some editorials in the Iraqi press emphasized that the ties between the two countries would not be affected by this act of sabotage. [16] On the other hand, there have been articles and editorials admonishing Jordan for its past support of Saddam's regime and for its more recent decision to harbor members of his family and other Iraqi officials. Aspects of the tensions between the two countries were manifested in the Iraqi press recently:

Al-Mu'tamar (published by the Iraqi National CongressINC) reported that "travelers who arrived from the Jordanian-Iraqi border said that the Jordanian government decided to close its border with Iraq…" Dr. Madher Shawkat, member of the INC, said, when asked about the veracity of the report, that he has heard it, but could not confirm it. Then he added that "the Jordanian government has been very stringent in its foreign policy towards Iraq and tightened its border, delaying Iraqi citizens at the border for several days and treating them harshly… And recently, government officials issued statements that contradicted the simplest rules of wisdom, politics and statesmanship…" [17]

An editorial published by Al-Yawm Al-Aakher (independent) goes even further by accusing Jordan of becoming "a base for Iraq's enemies" and recalled that Jordan supported the former regime even during the Iran-Iraq war, the Kuwaiti invasion, and the long years of international sanctions. The article goes on to say that "today, after the demise of the despised regime, Jordan has not changed its ways despite fundamental reasons to do so… Saddam's regime succeeded, through the efforts of its embassy in Amman, to gather a bunch of untrustworthy supporters and to acquire the consciences and values [of people]… In Amman, the atmosphere that was created by the agents of the [former Iraqi] regime suggests that any Ba'athist leadership that might emerge there would be welcomed…" The paper concludes by saying that the U.S., in accordance with Security Council resolutions, should discourage the Jordanian government from supporting any activities against the current political realities in Iraq. [18]

Special News Reports

Muqtada Al-Sadr: Declaring Jihad at the Present Time is Harmful

"The distinguished Iraqi leader Muqtada Al-Sadr asked Arab and Islamic countries not to participate in peace-keeping forces in Iraq, and described the commercial relations that Baghdad intends to establish with Israel as not only 'objectionable' but also 'prohibited' [by Islam]…" Al-Sadr explained that "sending Arab [peacekeeping] forces means supporting the occupation… and weakening the Iraqi people…" As far as Jihad, Al-Sadr said that "declaring Jihad at the present time may harm the people because of the imbalance between the two sides, and it is possible that declaring it now will leave no Shi'ite or Muslim in Iraq." He added that "resistance is not just Jihad, and peaceful resistance may produce fruitful results, even though they may be few…" [19]

A Covert Battle to Undermine the Shi'a-American Alliance

Quoting a report by the Saudi daily Al-Watan, the Iraqi daily Al-Shira' [independent] says that "the main covert battle in Iraq now, in which domestic and regional elements are taking part, aims at undermining the unofficial vital alliance that exists between the Americans and the Shi'ite leadership, and to turn the overt and covert cooperation between them into an armed confrontation which will lead to the eruption of widespread Shi'ite resistance in Iraq…" [20]

Ministry of the Interior: Establishment of a Paramilitary Force to Maintain Security

Several Iraqi newspapers reported that the new Iraqi Interior Minister will form a paramilitary force of former soldiers to fight terrorism and carry out sabotage against gang members. "This force will be named The Civil Defense Brigades and will report to the Minister of the Interior, Nouri Al-Badrani… An official in the ministry said that the training of these forces will be based on democratic values…" [21]

Iraq Welcomes the Arab League Decision

"Iraqi officials welcomed the conditional return of Iraq to the Arab League, considering it an important step towards normalizing the relationships between the two sides… [Iraq's] Planning Minister, Mahdi Al-Hafiz, accused unnamed Arab parties of [imposing] conditions upon Iraq's return… but said that these conditions do not harm us because we are working towards restoring our national autonomy, conducting elections based on the constitution, and ending the occupation…" [22]

The Lawsuit against the French Company Mario

A report in the daily Al-Yawm Al-Aakher (independent) says that the legal section at the Ministry of Health is establishing a special committee to look into the progress of a lawsuit against the French company Mario, which according to the suit infected 183 Iraqis with AIDS through their use of its tainted products for the treatment of hemophilia. [23] The daily Al-Shira'(independent) reported that "Sherry Blair agreed to represent the Iraqis who contracted AIDS." [24]

Agreement between the PUK and the Turkmen Front

In northern Iraq, following a period of tension between the Kurds and the Turkmen, the daily Al-Ittihad (published by the PUK) reports that "an agreement has been reached between the PUK and the Turkmen Front, following an important meeting in Kirkuk… The two sides discussed, in a friendly atmosphere, the regrettable incidents that happened recently in Kirkuk and its environs… The sides agreed to: 1) denounce the perpetrators of the disturbances in Kirkuk and Tour; 2) establish a bilateral committee to investigate the events… and to bring the perpetrators to justice; 3) …highlight the need for peaceful co-existence… 4) compensate the martyrs' relatives; and 5) create a committee to resolve future problems…" The two sides also agreed to continue to meet "in order to strengthen and enhance the political and social relationships [between the two communities]…" [25]

Headlines

- "The Wahabbi 'Ansar Al-Islam' movement [was] responsible for explosions." [26]

- "Turkey provides electricity to Iraq's northern cities." [27]

- "Israeli companies operate in Iraq." [28]

- "The Ministry of Commerce denies the arrival of Zionist products in Iraq." [29]

- "The Coalition forces try to capture Saddam alive." [30]

- "Employees of the Health Department demonstrate in Baghdad protesting the lack of Security." [31]

- "The INC will demand the return of Iraqi funds and grants given by Saddam to Jordan." [32]

- "The Arrest of 34 Iranians accused of drug trafficking." [33]

Annex VI: Iraqi Leadership Biographical Series

Jalal Al-Talabani

Founder and secretary general of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), Jalal Al-Talabani, widely referred to by Kurds as "Mam" or "Uncle Jalal," has been an advocate for Kurdish rights for more than fifty years. Al-Talabani, who was born in 1933 in the village of Kelkan in Iraqi Kurdistan, has a lifelong record of political activism. In 1947 he joined the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) headed by the legendary Kurdish fighter Mulla Mustapha Al-Barazani and the father of the current leader of KDP, Mas'oud Al-Barazani. In 1951, at age 18, he was elected to the KDP's central committee.

Upon graduating from the law school of Baghdad University in 1959, Al-Talabani was called for military service in the Iraqi army, which he spent in artillery and armored units. His service provided him an invaluable lesson for his later armed struggle against the same army. When, in September 1961, the Kurdish revolt against the government of Abd Al-Karim Qassim was declared, Al-Talabani took charge of the Kirkuk and Sulaimaniya battlefronts. When not engaged in fighting in the early and mid-1960s, Al-Talabani undertook diplomatic missions for the KDP. When the KDP split in 1964, Al-Talabani was part of the "political bureau" group that broke off with Mulla Mustafa Al-Barzani. A BBC analysis described Al-Talabani as "a shrewd politician with an ability to switch alliances and influence friends and foes alike." [34]

The Formation of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK)

Over the years, the struggle with the central government of Iraq had its successes and failures. In March 1975, the Kurdish revolt collapsed, and this presented a moment of profound crisis for the Kurds in Iraq. Believing it was time to give a new direction to the Kurdish resistance and to Kurdish society, Al-Talabani, with a group of Kurdish intellectuals and activists, founded the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).

In 1976, he began organizing armed resistance inside Iraq. During the 1980s Al-Talabani led the Kurdish struggle from bases inside Iraq until Saddam Hussein's vicious "Anfal" campaign of the late summer and autumn of 1988, which 'Arabized' the Kurdish areas by systematically brutalizing the Kurds and driving them out of their villages. Al-Talabani was forced to leave northern Iraq and seek refuge in Iran. The invectives against Al-Talabani in Saddam Hussein's controlled press never ceased.

In response to his call for the deployment of American forces in Kurdistan to protect the Kurdish minority, [35] the Iraqi News Agency condemned "the treacherous, fabricated lies of the criminal traitor Jalal Al-Talabani." [36]

The Fratricide War

In 1992, for the first time in their history, the Kurds elected representative institutions. Two years later an armed struggle, dubbed the fratricide war, broke out between the two leading factions of the Kurdish people, Al-Barazani's KDP and Al-Talabani's PUK, which resulted in the deaths 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-Barazani government headquartered in Irbil and the second led by an Al-Talabani government headquartered in Sulaimaniya. The agreement between the two Kurdish rivals was driven by a genuine fear that they could be deceived again by the great powers. As a result of the agreement, all barriers between the two Kurdish zones were removed and Kurds were free to move in Kurdistan without the need for "a pass" from one of the two factions. In 2000, the two leaders joined forces to activate their elected parliament and to pursue jointly the national aspirations of the Kurdish people.

The accord was further cemented in October 2002 when the regional parliament reconvened in a session attended by members of parliament of both parties. In that session, Al-Talabani proposed that the parliament should pass a law prohibiting and criminalizing inter-Kurdish fighting. In reaching these compromises the Kurds would often invoke a statement by the 19th century German General Helmut von Moltke: "It is impossible to triumph over the Kurds if they are united." A defeat will only come from internal struggle. [37]

The Autonomous Kurdish Zone

Iraq, under Saddam Hussein, reluctantly conceded that the Kurdish areas were truly autonomous. The daily Babil which was owned and edited by Saddam's son Uday, published a surprisingly candid report about the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq in which it talked about the freedoms that the citizens enjoy there and the citizens' accomplishments, but also described what it termed "the political dangers" surrounding that area. The following is a brief summary:

"It is supposed to be part of Iraq's territory, but no one invokes that name [Iraq] anymore… Here they use telephones by a company named 'Kurd-Tel'… they watch a television network called 'Kurd-TV'… and everything else is Kurdish…" The article went on to say that Kurdistan is protected by American and British planes (the no-fly zone in the north), that it gets 18% of Iraq's oil revenues from the UN, and that it profits from illegal oil export to Turkey and illegal commerce with Iran, which have turned the area into "a regional commercial center." Babil went on to report: "In Kurdistan we find Internet cafés, and there are thirty registered parties… its citizens stress that they enjoy freedoms unlike any of the neighboring countries…" However, the paper does not fail to make a veiled threat, noting that the Iraqi army is camped near by. [38]

The War in Iraq and its Consequences for the Kurds

During the liberation of Iraq, the Kurdish armed forces, Peshmerga, a militia of about 20,000 armed men and women under both Al-Barazani and Al-Talabani, played a pivotal role with the American Special Forces that caused the Iraqi army in northern Iraq to surrender without a fight. The Peshmerga are also helping to keep peace and order in cities like Sulaimaniya, Irbil, and Kirkuk.

The Governing Council

On July 14, an agreement was reached between Iraqi political forces and the Coalition Provisional Administration on the appointment of a Governing Council comprising 25 members, including five Kurds, one of whom was Jalal Al-Talabani. Subsequently, the Council agreed on rotating the presidency of the Council among nine of its members, again including Al-Talabani. The president of the Council will serve as prime minister of the recently appointed cabinet. Thus, for the first time in the history of Iraq, Kurds occupy positions of power. Apart from Al-Barazani and Al-Talabani, who are members of the Governing Council, a Kurd, Hoshyar Zibari (KDP), was appointed foreign minister and another Kurd, Dr. Fu'ad Ma'soum (PUK), is the chairman of a preparatory committee that would be responsible for preparing the Constitutional Convention. It is almost a foregone conclusion that the Kurds will accept nothing less than a federation in Iraq that will guarantee their autonomy within a unified country.

Almost alone among the members of the Council, Al-Talabani has rejected the call for the termination of the occupation and the withdrawal of American forces. He told the London daily Al-Hayat: "There is not a single Iraqi nationalist who accepts occupation, and everyone wishes it should end quickly. But if the occupation forces were to withdraw today this would lead to chaos and partition. Until an Iraqi state with all its authority is established, the call to end the occupation is emotional and wrong." [39]

While visiting Syria as a member of the Governing Council, Al-Talabani was asked about the relations between Kurdistan and Israel. He was quoted as replying that "if the relationships with Israel really existed we would not mind talking about them because, frankly, we do not wish to be more 'Palestinian' than the Palestinians themselves. Arab-Israeli relations exist and are being strengthened… the Israeli flag is flying not in Kurdistan but in the heart of the capital of the largest Arab country." Answering another question, Al-Talabani added: "If Kurdish Jews want to return to their villages and lands which they left voluntarily tens of years ago they are free to do so. There will be no double standards before the law in Kurdistan." [40]


[1] Al-Taakhi, September 9, 2003.

[2] Al-Sabah, September 9, 2003.

[3] Al-Zaman, September 1, 2003.

[4] Al-Taakhi, September 1, 2003.

[5] Al-Taakhi, September 3, 2003.

[6] Al-Zaman, September 3, 2003.

[7] Al-Mada, September 2, 2003.

[8] Al-Jareeda, September 1, 2003.

[9] Dar Al-Salam, September 4, 2003.

[10] Al-Manar, September 3, 2003.

[11] Al-Qabas, September 6, 2003.

[12] Al-Nahdha, September 6, 2003.

[13] Al-Shira', September 6, 2003.

[14] Al-'Adala, September 4, 2003.

[15] Nidaa Al-Umma, September 8, 2003.

[16] MEMRI Baghdad Dispatch 5, August 25, 2003, http://www.memri.org/legacy/report/SP55403.

[17] Al-Mutamar, August 30, 2003.

[18] Al-Yawm Al-Aakher, September 4, 2003.

[19] Al-Manar, September 6, 2003.

[20] Al-Shira', September 9, 2003.

[21] Baghdad, September 4, 2003.

[22] Al-Nahdha, September 10, 2003.

[23] Al-Yawm Al-Aakher, September 4, 2003.

[24] Al-Shira', September 9, 2003.

[25] Al-Ittihad, August 30, 2003.

[26] Al-Iraq Al-Jadeed, September 8, 2003.

[27] Al-'Adala, September 4, 2003.

[28] Al-Destour, September 6, 2003.

[29] Al-Destour, August 30, 2003.

[30] Al-Manar, September 3, 2003.

[31] Al-Manar, September 4, 2003.

[32] Al-Shira', September 6, 2003.

[33] Al-Yawm Al-Aakher, August 28, 2003.

[34] http://news.bbc.uk/1/low/world/middle_east/2480197.stm.

[35] Al-Qabas (Kuwait), August 15, 2002.

[36] Iraq News Agency, August 19, 2002.

[37] Al-Hayat, October 14, 2002.

[38] Babil, October 16, 2002.

[39] Al-Hayat (London), July 18, 2003.

[40] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), July 9, 2003.