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memri
September 24, 2003 No.
577

Editorials from the New Iraqi Press: MEMRI Baghdad Dispatch (9)

The following is the ninth release from MEMRI's Baghdad office. It focuses on editorials concerning President Bush's speech of September 7, 2003, [1] the establishment of democracy, and the security situation in Iraq.

In Annex VII, MEMRI publishes the seventh biographical note on one of Iraq's post-Saddam leaders. In this issue, the biographical note is that of Al-Sharif Ali bin Hussein.

Editorials

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

The Iraqi press continued to report, with minimal reaction and commentary, on President Bush's speech. The following is a brief review of some of these articles that reflect in their headlines and their emphasis the nature of the interest in the speech:

The independent daily Al-Manar used a quote from the speech to headline an article summarizing it: "Past Conflicts Will Not Curtail Present Responsibilities." [2]

Al-Mada, an independent daily, titled its report: "George Bush Outlines the American Strategy in Iraq – Eliminating the Terrorists and Obtaining International Support to Aid the Iraqis." [3]

One of the few published commentaries was made by Al-Ittihad (published by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan – PUK) which stated at the conclusion of its report that "Bush's speech is an effort to regain the political initiative in light of increased domestic concern about the attacks on American soldiers in Iraq, and the cost of their continued presence there." [4]

II. Democracy… and Other Expectations

The re-structuring of Iraq's regime remains one of the top issues in the Iraqi press. There is a general sense – although it is not unanimous - that some progress has been achieved, especially since the establishment of the new government, the prospects of a wider international involvement in Iraq, and the reversal of a previous decision by the Arab League not to recognize the legitimacy of the Governing Council. The following are excerpts:

An optimistic tone typified an editorial by the daily Al-Nahdha (affiliated with Dr. 'Adnan Al-Pachachi) which stated that "there are positive and important signs that the international position will lead to reexamination of the status quo and the authority of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), as well as the possibility of an expanded U.N. role in the political process…" According to the paper there are many factors on the international, Arab, Iraqi and American levels which may lead to shortening the transitional phase and "allowing the Iraqis to take over the administration and [realize] their autonomy and obtain international recognition…" The article concludes: "These ideas are not an illusion or dreams, but the result of an educated analysis of the present situation, and they undoubtedly represent the greater national interests…" [5]

The independent daily Al-Mada lamented the fact that due to problems of everyday life in Iraq "the political activism of our masses has been declining… after what seemed like an awakening of the silent majority, whose silence wore it down and made it lose its confidence in its ability to deal with oppression and suppression…" The paper lists democratic activities that immediately followed the removal of the former regime and says that "one of the reasons for the decline in these activities is that the [Iraqi] political parties focused on their inter-relationships and their relations with the Civil Administration, and their participation in the [new] regime… By doing so they ignored, or were not attentive enough to enhancing the popular movement, developing it and interacting with it… and it seems that the formation of the new government did not change this pattern…" The paper emphasizes that "establishing a pluralistic-federal-democratic regime cannot be accomplished with slogans and rhetoric but with comprehensive efforts… such as encouraging democratic initiatives of every type and embracing constructive initiatives…" The paper concludes with a harsh criticism of the Arab media: "which, throughout the tenure of the former regime kept on supporting Saddam, and [now] returned to spew its venom, distort the reality of our struggle and shake the confidence in our nation's ability to realize its aspiration in establishing democracy and resolving the crises created by despotism and occupation…" [6]

About the reversal of an earlier Arab League decision not to recognize the legitimacy of the Iraqi Governing Council, Al-Nahdha says in its editorial that "the Arabs are masters in wasting opportunities and in procrastinating in making important decisions… For weeks they questioned the legitimacy of the new administrative institutions in Iraq… but a sense of danger persuaded the Arab League to soften its position and to agree to Iraq's participation in its ministerial council meetings… This decision, although late and incomplete [Iraq's participation is conditional] is a very important step. There are indications that there is a serious change in dealing with the Iraqi issue both on international and Arab levels…" The paper further states that "the U.S. is no longer insisting on being the ultimate and only power in dealing with Iraq, which may bring about a quick responsiveness from other superpowers, and a recognition of the Governing Council and the new Iraqi government…" The paper concludes by saying that "an American recognition of the Iraqi administrative institutions… will nullify the excuses used by the powers of darkness to justify their acts of violence and destruction…" [7]

The daily Al-'Adala ( Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq ) reminded readers that Iraqi nationalist forces decided in their December 2002 conference in London that "it was necessary to establish a transitional government on the first day of the collapse of the old regime… therefore, we believe that the delay in doing so was the main reason for the security vacuum, which became the main obstacle to real progress…" The paper goes on to say that "the present reality will dictate a change in direction and will speed up the process of giving autonomy to the Iraqis, which will require all Iraqi forces to demonstrate courage, endurance and steadfastness… We urge [everyone] to be ready [for this change] and [we] believe that a good struggle for attaining a partial goal is a more effective way not only to achieving the complete goal, but also in doing so more quickly…" [8]

The independent daily Al-Hilal stated that "those who mislead public opinion [to believe] that everything was fine in Iraq during the reign of the dictator are misleading themselves more than anyone else. Could they possibly ignore half a century in the lives of their nations with a stroke of a pen?… You have to pardon us, because the educational curricula during the dictatorship taught students hatred, detestation, and racism. It taught them to wage wars among themselves, if there was no foreign enemy. As for getting back to normal… there will be a need for a timetable that may take years to change the nature of people, so that they will be able to eat a hamburger with an American friend or eat breakfast with an Israeli, or be able to tolerate seeing the Israeli flag raised over the Israeli embassy in Baghdad, and other things that they have not been used to seeing or hearing until now…" [9]

III. They Came From the Far Ends of the Earth to Settle Their Battles in Iraq

Another issue that the Iraqi press took particular note of on a regular basis was security.

A commentary published by Al-Sa'a (affiliated with the United National Movement) said that "the Iraqis never experienced terrorism the way they have since the occupation… not one Iraqi was among the 9/11 perpetrators in the U.S., and not one Iraqi was among the bombers of French, British and American planes despite the terror that the totalitarian regime used against the Iraqis, and [despite the terror] used by those countries which agreed to gamble with the fate of a nation by using collective punishment, for no other reason than pressuring one individual who ruled that nation with iron and fire…" The paper expresses its astonishment that the American officials have been describing Iraq as the main arena of war against terrorism and asks "how did our country turn from an arena of struggle between the people and a totalitarian regime prior to the occupation, to an arena of struggle among outside forces after the occupation, where the superpowers are fighting enemies who came from far ends of the earth… to settle their battles in a remote land populated by this miserable nation…? It is ironic that our nation has become an observer watching a struggle that it has no interest or stake in… How long will this new war continue…? We pray to Allah the merciful for a fast deliverance…" [10]

Special News Reports

A Week after the New Ministers Assumed Their Duties: A Relative Stabilization in the Electrical Supply, Despite Security Instability

According to a report by Al-Mu'tamar (Iraqi National Congress – INC), "most areas in Baghdad experienced relative stability in power supply during the previous week, while the instability in security continued…" The paper also highlighted the return of Iraq to the Arab League and described it as "the first diplomatic victory following the establishment of the new government…" [11]

Similarly, an editorial titled "A Lit Spot —Electricity is Restoring its Health," appeared in Al-Watan (Iraqi National Movement) and underscores the improvements in electricity: "Quietly, and without introductions or declarations, electricity has returned to [an] almost normal situation. No one has asked himself or others: How was electricity restored to this level? Was it the work of a magician or a holy warrior who specializes in these matters? The important thing is that electricity is no longer an exception but a normal thing. We hope that it would continue to be a dear guest in our homes, businesses, offices and streets, God willing [thanks to] the efforts of those [who are] loyal." [12]

Al-Talabani: We Shall Support Syria in Regaining Iskanderoon

"'Adel Murad, spokesman for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan [PUK] headed by Jalal Al-Talabani, said that if Turkey continues intervening in Kirkuk and northern Iraq, the Kurds will support Syria's efforts to regain [control over] the port of Iskanderoon, which is under Turkish control. 'Adel Murad pointed out that Jalal Al-Talabani opposes the deployment of any Turkish forces in Iraqi territories and said that the port of Iskanderoon belongs to Syria and not to Turkey…" [13]

A Turkmen Leader: We Support National Unity and Will Not Be Lured By Whims

Following the ethnic clashes between Kurds and Turkmen in northern Iraq, the daily Al-Qabas (published by the New Iraq Philanthropic Society) interviewed Dr. Farouq Abdallah Abd Al-Rahman, an official in the Iraqi Turkmen Front. Commenting on Arab satellite TV, which reports that the Turkmen are seeking Turkey's support and aid, he said that the Turkmen "lived in Iraq for thousands of years and suffered oppression and persecution since the establishment of the Iraqi state… [yet] they are dedicated to supporting the unity of this motherland and will not follow the calls of mercenaries…" He added that "because of this suffering, oppression and dispossession, we are seeking help and support from all the good people, the peace-lovers, the U.N. and the Arab League. We ask their help in getting rid of discrimination and fragmentation and in building a united Iraqi brotherhood. What's wrong with that? And those TV channels which talked about Turkey's support have to ask themselves: isn't Turkey a member of the U.N.? Isn't it a Muslim country? Isn't it a neighboring country that supported our Kurdish brothers in northern Iraq in the struggle against the deposed regime...?" Dr. Abd Al-Rahman also said that the Turkmen were not represented proportionately in the Governing Council, since they constitute more than 10 percent of Iraq's population. [14]

Meanwhile, the rotating chairman of the Governing Council, Dr. Ahmad Al-Chalabi stated in Ankara that "Iraq is striving to strengthen its serious and constructive relations with neighboring Turkey. [15]

Headlines

- "General Najib Al-Salihi: I left Iraq following the failure of my coup attempt.
Ahmad Al-Chalabi conspired against my early return to the country." [16]

- "More than 10,000 artifacts from the national museum are still missing." [17]

- "Security is the number one request of the Iraqis." [18]

- "In Al-Najaf, a cautious calm, rifles and shutters." [19]

- "The rulers of Qatar urge the Arabs to surrender [to Israel's peace conditions]." [20]

- "Crime rates are declining and [nightlife in] Baghdad will return." [21]

- "Bahr al-Uloum [Minister of Petroleum]: Iraqi oil will not be pumped to Israel." [22]

Annex VII: Iraqi Leadership Biographical Series

Al-Sharif Ali bin Hussein

Al-Sharif Ali bin Hussein is the head of the Constitutional Monarchy Movement which he established in 1990. Although the youngest among three brothers, the family decided to designate Ali as the pretender to the Hashemite throne in Iraq. [23] This throne became vacant in July 1958 upon the assassination of the last Iraqi monarch, King Faisal II by a military coup headed by Abd Al-Karim Qassim.

Al-Sharif Ali, born in Baghdad in 1956, is a cousin of King Faisal II. His paternal grandfather was Sharif Al-Hussein bin Ali whose nephew, Faisal, was installed as the King of Iraq in 1920.

Al-Sharif grew up in Lebanon and the U.K. where he built a successful career in investment banking which made him a wealthy man. [24] After 45 years of living abroad Al-Sharif returned to Baghdad in June 2003 and was received by thousands of his supporters.

While in London, he became active in the Iraqi National Congress (INC) headed by Dr. Ahmad Chalabi. Recent statements by Sharif Ali and the active role he has taken in organizing the opposition to the Iraqi Governing Council would suggest that the two personalities are now pursuing different courses of action which could lead to the ascendancy of one or the other (and perhaps the ascendancy of a third person).

Al-Sharif's Vision of Monarchy

Al-Sharif has never made secret his ambition to be the king of Iraq. In numerous interviews, before and after the fall of Saddam Hussein, Al-Sharif articulated his vision of a constitutional monarchy to be established through a referendum by the Iraqi people. In a particularly extensive interview with the Saudi daily Al-Riyadh, Al-Sharif drew a lesson from the experience of the Weimer Republic in Germany in the 1920s:

"During the Weimer Republic in Germany the political parties were weak and could not run a strong government in the country. This paved the way to an extremist right-wing philosophy to attain power and draw the country into war. This is what we are trying to avoid under a constitutional monarchy system. It will be my duty as king to be responsible, and neutral, about the various Iraqi ethnic and religious groups." [25]

In a BBC documentary he was quoted as saying: "There should be an atmosphere of tolerance and understanding because each side has its own circumstances. We should not open chapters of revenge, but we should open a chapter of justice... The king should not be a ruler, but should be a judge. This is our program." [26]

In an interview with the London daily Al-Hayat, he said that his movement has been receiving requests from Iraqi families and tribes and from many of the active political forces for the restoration of the constitutional monarchy. This, he said, "is a popular desire because the monarchy will be a tent for all the Iraqis and a protector of the constitution..." [27]

Using the Movement's weekly, Al-Rahab (named after the old royal palace in Iraq), Al-Sharif called for a referendum to determine the future of Iraq. With a bit of exaggeration, an editorial in the newspaper said that most public opinion polls carried out by Arab and foreign institutions show that the vast majority of the Iraqi people support the restoration of monarchy which will provide the proper environment "for the development and flourishing of democracy." [28] The independent Iraqi daily Al-Zaman reported that 86 percent of legal scholars polled by the paper support a republican regime. [29]

The Prospects of a New Monarchy in Iraq

Those who support the restoration of monarchy in Iraq never cease to remind the Iraqis about the prosperity, stability, peace and development that the country experienced under the old monarchy. There was an elected lower house of parliament, a relatively efficient and to a large degree non-corrupt civil service, a national budget which established guidelines and ceilings on expenditures, a system that allocated 70 percent of oil revenues for development projects and, quite significantly, multiple political parties and a relatively free press. The liquidation of the monarchy in 1958 has set Iraq on a downhill course ever since. [30] While the monarchy and the government at the time was not without its problems, any objective observer would have to admit that the 'ancien regime' was far more democratic in its days than anything seen in most Arab countries today.

A Leader of the New Opposition to the Governing Council and a Critic of the CPA

Al-Sharif has become increasingly critical of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). In a recent press conference, he said the Americans were unable to solve the problems facing Iraq. Iraq, he said "faces numerous crises and problems and the Americans are unable to solve [them]." Likewise, the security situation continues to deteriorate. The occupation of Iraq, he emphasized, "does not reflect the desire of the Iraqi people for genuine sovereignty and independence… We are a free people and we have a seat at the United Nations." [31] He declared his opposition to the Governing Council and said it does not represent the Iraqi people in all its political orientations and hence it lacks legitimacy. [32]

Iraq for Iraqis

Under the slogan "Iraq for Iraqis," Al-Sharif assembled the first organized opposition to the Governing Council. Representatives from various political movements, trade unions and tribal chiefs assembled in Baghdad on September 8-9 to call for the election of an Iraqi government. The debate was to focus on the drafting of the new constitution, the relations with the occupation authority, and the economic situation. The fundamental preoccupation of the new opposition is to reject the drafting of a constitution by a committee appointed by the CPA. Al-Sharif believes that the restoration of a monarchy stands a better chance if the constitution was drafted by an elected rather than by an appointed body. [33] One of his biggest accomplishments to date is the agreement he reached with the most senior Shi'a cleric, the Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, that members of the constitutional convention which will be responsible for drafting the new Iraqi constitution will be elected rather than appointed. No doubt Al-Sharif's political ambitions could receive an enormous boost if Al-Sistani would support the restoration of monarchy to Iraq.


[1] President Bush's speech focused on the war on terrorism, progress made in Iraq to date, and addressed the issue of U.N. involvement in the rebuilding of Iraq.

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

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

[4] Al-Ittihad, September 10, 2003.

[5] Al-Nahdha, September 13, 2003.

[6] Al-Mada, September 10, 2003.

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

[8] Al-'Adala, September 15, 2003.

[9] Al-Hilal, September 14, 2003.

[10] Al-Sa'a, September 13, 2003.

[11] Al-Mu'tamar, September 13, 2003.

[12] Al-Watan, September 16, 2003.

[13] Al-Destour, September 10, 2003.

[14] Al-Qabas, September 13, 2003.

[15] Al-Mu'tamar, September 13, 2003.

[16] Al-Yawm Al-Aakher, September 15, 2003.

[17] Baghdad, September 14, 2003.

[18] Dar Al-Salam, September 13, 2003.

[19] Al-Mada, September 10, 2003.

[20] Al-Yawm Al-Aakher, September 15, 2003.

[21] Al-Sabah, September 16, 2003.

[22] Al-Sabah, September 16, 2003.

[23] Al-Bayan (UAE), August 10, 2002.

[24] www.iraqinews.com/people_bin_ali.shtml

[25] Original interview with the German daily Die Welt, translated by Okaz (Saudi Arabia), July 13, 2003.

[26] BBC News. "Profile: Sharif Ali bin Al-Hussein," October 11, 2002.

[27] Al-Hayat (London), June 27, 2003.

[28] Al-Rahab, September 1, 2003.

[29] Al-Zaman, September 16, 2003.

[30] Al-Hayat (London), June 17, 2003.

[31] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), August 25, 2003.

[32] Al-Hayat (London), August 15, 2003.

[33] Al-Zaman, September 9, 2002.