Sunday, January 11, 2009

Interview With McClatchy Newspapers’ Baghdad Bureau Chief Leila Fadel

In mid-December 2008 The Real News Network, an internet television station, interviewed Leila Fadel, the longtime Baghdad Bureau Chief of McClatchy Newspapers. As reported before, McClatchy is one of the few news outlets to maintain a fulltime staff in Iraq. The discussion covered the Surge, Moqtada al-Sadr, and the influence of Iran, but the most interesting part of the conversation was on Fadel’s opinions of the continuing struggles in Iraq.

Ms. Fadel believes that Iraq is still in turmoil. The major divisions within the country have not been dealt with despite the reduction in violence. Every time a major issue comes up in parliament, for example, it is always delayed and pushed back to be dealt with at a later time. This was seen when the legislature was discussing the Provincial Election Law. The most heated debate centered on the city of Kirkuk and the future of Tamim province. In the final version of the law however, elections there were postponed until a commission comes up with suggestions on how the major groups in the city can share power. Fadel believes that until these issues are dealt with there will still be violence in Iraq.

This will not be at the same levels as in the past, nor come from the same sources. The latest reports on violence show a dramatic drop in deaths from 2007 to 2008. Yet attacks and killings continue. Fadel believes that the motivation for such violence has changed. She thinks that the fighting in Baghdad is basically over along with the sectarian war. Now the major divisions are over politics between the Shiites in the south, and the Arabs and Kurds in the north where there is also an ethnic element. The conflict as ever in post-invasion Iraq, is about power and control of oil. The major groups, the Shiites, the Sunnis, and the Kurds are each vying for position, trying to find out who will have what in the future. Fadel said the political parties and their politicians are all opportunists, looking to see how much they can get away with and how much influence they can accrue.

At the heart of this struggle is Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki who in 2008 has been concentrating power around himself. He has direct control of all military and police units. They can’t move without his permission. He has launched military operations against the Sadrists, the insurgency, and has increasing fashioned himself as a nationalist in opposition to the expansionist plans of the Kurds. He is also being accused of being an autocrat more and more. Fadel said that there were even some who were afraid of Maliki, and his newfound position. This is the reason why Iraq is full of stories about him being-unseated.

There are now two more added pressures to this competition. First, 2009 will see a series of ballots for local, provincial, and national offices. This has already led to an uptake in attacks. The most recent were the murders of a member of the Patriot Union of Kurdistan who was gunned down in a drive by shooting on January 5, and a politician from the Communist Party the day before, both in Kirkuk. The United Nations Special Representative to Iraq, Staffan de Mistura condemned such election related violence. He mentioned a member of the Hadba, Iraq For Us Party, the major Sunni coalition in Ninewa being killed in a cafĂ© on December 31 in Mosul. De Mistura said there had also been raids and attacks on the party. At the beginning of that month, two members of the Islamic Party were also killed in that city. Second is the change in the U.S. administration. Under the Bush White House Iraq had a blank check from the United States. Fadel believes Iraqi politicians are afraid that under Obama Iraq will not be such a priority, and the new president might make more demands of Baghdad. The U.S. has also agreed to a 2011 withdrawal date under the Status of Forces Agreement, which means not only do the political parties need to consider Obama, but what position they’ll be in after the Americans are largely gone.

Leila Fadel has been working in Iraq for a long time, and provided some important insight in her interview with The Real News Network. She tried to explain that politics is increasingly driving violence rather than violence shaping the politicians. In fact, the differences between the major parties and sectarian groups is increasing as elections approach, the Americans have agreed to pull out their combat troops, and Maliki makes his move to grab power. This has made it almost impossible for the parties to come to any real meaningful compromises. Even when parliament passes important legislation like the election law, the major issue of Kirkuk is put off. Other laws like the Amnesty and the Accountability and Justice acts have not been implemented evenly leading to little reconciliation. As long as Iraq continues to be divided, this new status quo is likely to continue.

SOURCES

Agence France Presse, “Iraq Hails Lowest Monthly Death Toll in Three Years,” 1/2/09
- “Kurdish communist politician shot dead in Iraq,” 1/4/09

Al-Ansary, Khalid, “Election friction flares in Iraq’s violent north,” Reuters, 1/2/09

Associated Press, “Member of Iraq president party killed in drive-by,” 1/6/09

Aswat al-Iraq, “Two IIP members assassinated in Mosul,” 12/1/08

Goode, Erica, “Iraq Passes Provincial Elections Law,” New York Times, 9/25/08

Hanna, Michael Wahid, “Through the cracks,” The National, 12/19/08

Jay, Paul, “Iraq gov’t fear Obama?” Real News Network, 12/16/08
- “Iraqi elites fight for position,” Real News Network, 12/12/08

Kadhim, Hussein, “Iraqi government plays down arrests of 23 police officers,” McClatchy Newspapers, 12/18/08

Kamal, Adel, “violence threatens mosul elections,” Niqash, 12/11/08

Rubin, Alissa, “Iraq Unsettled by Political Power Plays,” New York Times, 12/26/08

United Nations Radio, “UN Envoy in Iraq condemns election related violence,” 1/2/09

UPI, “SIIC denies attempts to oust Maliki,” 1/2/09

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