Iraqis joyful as US leaves but wary of leaders

Baghdad (AFP)
Dec 18, 2011

Iraqis expressed joy at the news that US forces had completed their withdrawal on Sunday, but voiced doubts their politicians could come together to rebuild the violence-wracked country.

Their lack of confidence in their leaders was highlighted by renewed political crisis as Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki sought to oust one of his deputies and the main Sunni-backed political bloc boycotted parliament, just as the final US troops crossed into Kuwait to end the nearly nine-year war.

As news of the pullout reached Baghdad, the streets of the Iraqi capital and other major cities were little changed, with heavy commuter traffic snaking through police and military checkpoints.

“I am proud — all Iraqis should be proud, like all those whose country has been freed,” 26-year-old baker Safa, who did not want to give his real name, told AFP in Baghdad’s Karrada commercial district. “The Americans toppled Saddam, but our lives since then have gone backward.

“The situation will only improve if politicians work on fighting corruption and adopt reforms,” he added.

Sunday’s completion of the withdrawal brings to a close nearly nine years of American military involvement in Iraq, beginning with a “shock and awe” campaign in 2003 to oust Saddam, which many in Washington believed would see US forces conclude their mission in Iraq within months.

But key decisions taken at the time have since been widely criticized as fueling what became a bloody Sunni Arab insurgency, eventually sparking devastating communal violence.

“I don’t think we can ever forgive the Americans for what they did to us, from killings to terrorism,” said a 50-year-old mother-of-four who gave her name only as Umm Mohammed, or mother of Mohammed.

“Those people (Americans) think only about themselves, and not about the consequences of their actions.”

More than 100,000 Iraqis have been reported killed in violence since the invasion, according to British NGO Iraq Body Count, and countless others were wounded.

In the mostly Sunni Arab north Baghdad neighborhood of Adhamiyah, where Saddam Hussein was last seen publicly before his capture, 60-year-old retiree Mohammed Abdelamir said he felt “freed from the occupation,” referring to US troops as many Iraqis long have, as an occupying force.

“We must all cooperate and work to improve the economy, the society, and begin rebuilding, and not fight because we are seeing that some politicians have already begun putting a stick in the wheel.”

He was referring to signs of unraveling in Iraq’s year-old national unity government which emerged just as US forces completed their withdrawal.

On Sunday, Maliki conveyed an official message to parliament, calling on lawmakers to oust his deputy Saleh al-Mutlak, a Sunni Arab and member of the secular Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc.

A day earlier, Iraqiya said it was boycotting parliament in protest at the premier’s alleged centralization of power. It has not, however, withdrawn from the government.

Key political issues such as reform of the mostly state-run economy and a law to regulate and organize the lucrative energy sector also remain unresolved, to say nothing of an explosive territorial dispute between Arabs and Kurds centered around the northern oil hub of Kirkuk.

“Today is a historic day, and our happiness is great,” said Abdul Hussein Hosh, a 59-year-old government employee in the sprawling Baghdad Shiite district of Sadr City.

“But what makes us sad is that this occasion came at a time when Iraqiya announced they were withdrawing. … This shouldn’t have happened when the occupier was leaving our country.”

Some observers also fear a return to bloody sectarianism, doubt the strength of Iraq’s political structures, and feel that Maliki has entrenched his power base to the detriment of the country’s minorities.

“Today marks the first day of danger for Iraqis,” said Roudi Slewah, a 25-year-old Christian shop owner in multi-ethnic Kirkuk. “We didn’t want the Americans to stay in Iraq, but the region could explode at any time.

“The danger starts from today,” he said.

Key Iraq bloc boycotts parliament as US quits
Baghdad (AFP) Dec 17, 2011 – A secular bloc which won the most seats in Iraq’s March 2010 vote suspended its participation in parliament on Saturday, sparking a political crisis just days after US forces ended their mission.

The Iraqiya bloc, led by ex-premier Iyad Allawi, walked out of parliament in protest at what it charged was Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s monopolizing of decision-making.

The boycott represents one of Iraq’s most serious political crises, and comes just a day after US forces handed over control of their last remaining base, with virtually all remaining American troops due out of the country in the coming days.

Iraqiya, which garnered most of its support from Iraq’s minority Sunni community, was out-maneuvered for the premiership by Maliki, who despite finishing second in the elections formed a larger coalition in their aftermath.

The bloc, which controls nine ministerial posts, has not, however, pulled out of Iraq’s national unity government.

“We can no longer remain silent about the way the state is being administered, as it is plunging the country into the unknown,” the bloc, which holds 82 seats in the 325-member legislature, said in a statement on Saturday.

“The Iraqiya bloc is suspending its participation in parliament from Saturday and calling for the opening of a round-table to find a solution that will support democracy and civil institutions.”

It continued: “Iraqiya rejects this system of policy-making that consists of ignoring other political parties, politicizing the justice system, exercising sole power and violating the law.”

The bloc accused Maliki’s government of “placing tanks and armored cars in front of the homes of Iraqiya leaders in the Green Zone,” the heavily-fortified home to leading politicians and ministers, as well as the US and British embassies, in central Baghdad.

“This sort of behavior drives people to want to rid themselves of the strong arm of central power as far as the constitution allows them to,” it said, referring to moves by majority Sunni Arab provinces to take up the option of similar autonomy to that enjoyed by the Kurds in northern Iraq.

Votes in favor of autonomy by provincial authorities in Anbar, Salaheddin and Diyala have drawn an angry response from Maliki.

When the Salaheddin provincial council voted in October to push for autonomy, Maliki retorted that it “does not have the right to announce this,” citing constitutional procedures that were not followed.

Ibrahim al-Jaafari, another ex-premier and head of Maliki’s pan-Shiite National Alliance bloc, criticized Iraqiya’s walkout and accused unspecified Sunni parties of using federalism, which they were hostile to when the constitution was approved in 2005, “to divide the country into regions”.

“We are getting bogged down in a marginal fight instead of preparing ourselves for the withdrawal of foreign forces,” Jaafari said in parliament.

The bloc loyal to anti-US cleric Moqtada al-Sadr offered to undertake a mediating role to resolve the dispute.

“Taking that sort of decision a day after the end of the US occupation is going to light the fire of division and we will do all can to put it out,” Baha al-Araji, the leader of the movement’s parliamentary bloc, said in a statement.

An independent lawmaker from the autonomous Kurdish region, Mahmud Othman, urged Maliki “to negotiate with all political parties so that Iraqiya does not feel marginalized.”

But he also criticized Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq, an Iraqiya member, for his rhetoric in a recent television interview, when he compared Maliki to a dictator worse than Saddam Hussein.

“This is not the way to speak of the head of government,” Othman said.

Source: Space War.

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