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Saturday, January 31, 2009

For Prominent Iraqi Cleric, a Test of Influence

Bassam Abdul Sadiq is the new face of Sadr's ambitions. On Friday, he sat in Sadr's headquarters in his Baghdad stronghold of Sadr City, smiling with confidence: An hour earlier, a Sadrist cleric had ordered more than 20,000 followers to vote for two independent political parties, including Sadiq's, the Free List.

Sadiq, a former insurance company employee in Bahrain and current graduate student in Baghdad, is no independent.

"Everyone knows the direction of the Free List," said Sadiq, 36, who grew up in Sadr City. "Every one of us has a relationship with the Sadr office."

Instead of participating in the elections, Sadr has ordered his followers to vote for independent candidates. It is a tactic he employed successfully to gain political clout in the 2005 elections, wielding street power to back independent candidates while striving to preserve his image as a cleric standing above politics.
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Today, top Sadrist officials concede that the strategy is largely one of survival. Since a government offensive against the Mahdi Army in Basra and Sadr City last year, Sadr's political influence has waned as Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's stature has grown. With more than 2 million Shiites in Sadr City, the Sadrists hope to shift the balance of power again, starting from the enclave where Sadr derives his greatest legitimacy.

"We are optimistic," intoned Sadiq, a thin man with a wispy beard. "The movement of Sayed Moqtada Sadr will never become an absentee movement. This is a part of re-energizing their activity."

The quest for votes in Sadr City illuminates how fractured Shiites have become since the 2005 elections, which ushered Shiite religious parties into political power after centuries of Sunni dominance. The outcome of Saturday's elections, in the days and weeks ahead, will provide a look into potential alliances among Shiite parties.

On the walls and storefronts of Sadr City, images of nearly every Shiite candidate are present, scores more than in the previous elections. Over there is cleric Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, Sadr's main rival. Over here is Jawad al-Bolani, Iraq's interior minister, who launched his own party. There are secular Shiites, Shiite Kurds and female candidates in black abayas.

On a white banner next to a building shattered in an American airstrike, Maliki is depicted next to Sadr's white-bearded father, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq Sadr, who was assassinated along with two sons during Saddam Hussein's rule. Between their portraits is a promise from the government, that it will provide Sadr City with solar-powered streetlights.

But most of the posters belong to the Free List and the Integrity and Rebuild List, the two parties Sadr supports. The Free List's poster depicts a cane wrapped in an Iraqi flag breaking ropes slipped around two fists. A large number 284 is painted in blue: the party's number on the voting cards. Underneath are words uttered by the elder Sadr: "I liberated you, so don't let anybody enslave you after me."

"All these other posters are bought with money," declared Ahmed Chalub, a Mahdi Army commander who attended Friday prayers outside the Sadr office. "They give money to hang their posters. But 284, our list? We hang the posters up with our souls and with our blood."

From his pulpit, Mudhafar al-Mussawi urged Sadr's followers to head to the polls Saturday and warned of possible fraud. The action violated election rules designating Friday a "silent" day of no campaigning. But no one seemed to mind.

"If you don't go to vote, your forms will be filled by parties working against you," bellowed Mussawi, who wore a black turban signifying his descent from the prophet Muhammad.
"Now, there are rumors being spread that Sayed Moqtada Sadr is against the vote. Be careful. Don't believe this. We are still supporting the two independent lists."


Men began to chant in Arabic: "Aash, aash, aash Sadr" -- "Long live, Long live, Long live Sadr."

"We will always be victorious," they said.

After the sermon, many followers said they would vote for either party -- not just because Sadr had ordered them to do so but because they have seen little progress under Maliki's ruling coalition.

"These people don't help the poor. Nothing has changed since the last elections. There are no paved roads, no good electricity," said Raad Naji, 28, who said he was unemployed. "We are deprived of everything in life."

Mohammed Jalil, 35, said he would never again vote for Shiites who lived in exile while Hussein was in power, referring to Maliki and other top leaders of his Dawa party as well as to Hakim's Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq. "We did not expect Dawa to come back and work only for their own interests," Jalil said.



Hassna Daish Alewi, an elderly woman in a black abaya, clutched a pamphlet as she came out of the Sadr office. "They asked me to vote for this man," she said, pointing at the face on the pamphlet.

It was that of Ali Mohammed Muslin, an employee in the Sadr office. He is part of the Free List. On the back of the pamphlet was a picture of Sadr's father, even though electoral laws prohibit the use of religious symbols in the campaign. In the last elections, powerful Shiite clerics strongly encouraged support for the current ruling coalition.

"It is my religious duty," mumbled Alewi, walking away after she was told the voting would take place Saturday.

In 2005, despite boycotting the elections, Sadr-affiliated politicians managed to win 32 parliamentary seats and three seats on Baghdad's provincial council, the equivalent of a U.S. state legislature.
Sadr became a kingmaker by propelling Maliki into the leadership of the government.


But in April 2007, Sadr pulled out of the government because Maliki had refused to set a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. That summer, Sadr imposed a cease-fire on his Mahdi Army in an effort to reform it and position himself as a would-be unifier of Iraq. Since then, his top aides say, he has been in the Iranian city of Qom studying theology to bolster his religious credentials.


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Sadr's movement controls a vast network of Shiite mosques in poor urban neighborhoods, including Sadr City, that could generate high voter turnout Saturday.

His Shiite rivals have accused him of deceiving voters fed up with religious parties and the status quo in an effort to regain power.

"They claim they are independents, but this is a Sadrist list," said Khalid Jawad al-Jashamy, a Supreme Council candidate in the Shiite spiritual capital of Najaf. "We know every one of them. They are members of the Mahdi Army and the Sadrist trend," or movement.

The Free List candidates acknowledge having strong ties to the Sadrists but deny there are militia members in their party. But if elected, they say, they will push for Sadrist causes such as a speedy withdrawal of U.S. forces.

"Regarding the security issue, we want this to be in Iraqi hands entirely, without any role for the American forces," said Hussein Aziz Kati Hadrawi, a Free List candidate.

Many Sadr followers are not voting for his two parties. In interviews, they said they preferred former prime minister Ibrahim al-Jafari, who once headed the Dawa party but is now a critic of Maliki.

"Jafari has huge popularity in Sadr City, even from Sadr supporters," said Aqil Chasib Finjan, a Mahdi Army fighter who is a candidate on Jafari's list.

Some predict an alliance between Sadr's loyalists and Jafari after the elections.

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Others say the Sadrists might align themselves with Maliki, despite his attacks on their movement, in an effort to weaken the Supreme Council, which the Sadrists view as a greater enemy. Tensions are growing between Maliki and the Supreme Council, whose members fear his growing clout.

Some leaders are playing down their chances of winning seats, predicting that their Shiite rivals who control the nation's security forces will commit fraud and deprive them of seats. "Many of our supporters are in prison or displaced. Or they are afraid to vote," said Salman al-Furaiji, the head of the Sadr office in Sadr City.
"What we are going to get on Saturday is a small portion of the Sadr movement."


Special correspondents Saad Sarhan in Najaf and Zaid Sabah in Baghdad contributed to this report.

Bassam Abdul Sadiq is the new face of Sadr's ambitions.

Bassam Abdul Sadiq is the new face of Sadr's ambitions. On Friday, he sat in Sadr's headquarters in his Baghdad stronghold of Sadr City, smiling with confidence: An hour earlier, a Sadrist cleric had ordered more than 20,000 followers to vote for two independent political parties, including Sadiq's, the Free List.

Sadiq, a former insurance company employee in Bahrain and current graduate student in Baghdad, is no independent.

"Everyone knows the direction of the Free List," said Sadiq, 36, who grew up in Sadr City. "Every one of us has a relationship with the Sadr office."

Instead of participating in the elections, Sadr has ordered his followers to vote for independent candidates. It is a tactic he employed successfully to gain political clout in the 2005 elections, wielding street power to back independent candidates while striving to preserve his image as a cleric standing above politics.
ad_icon

Today, top Sadrist officials concede that the strategy is largely one of survival. Since a government offensive against the Mahdi Army in Basra and Sadr City last year, Sadr's political influence has waned as Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's stature has grown. With more than 2 million Shiites in Sadr City, the Sadrists hope to shift the balance of power again, starting from the enclave where Sadr derives his greatest legitimacy.

"We are optimistic," intoned Sadiq, a thin man with a wispy beard. "The movement of Sayed Moqtada Sadr will never become an absentee movement. This is a part of re-energizing their activity."

The quest for votes in Sadr City illuminates how fractured Shiites have become since the 2005 elections, which ushered Shiite religious parties into political power after centuries of Sunni dominance. The outcome of Saturday's elections, in the days and weeks ahead, will provide a look into potential alliances among Shiite parties.

On the walls and storefronts of Sadr City, images of nearly every Shiite candidate are present, scores more than in the previous elections. Over there is cleric Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, Sadr's main rival. Over here is Jawad al-Bolani, Iraq's interior minister, who launched his own party. There are secular Shiites, Shiite Kurds and female candidates in black abayas.

On a white banner next to a building shattered in an American airstrike, Maliki is depicted next to Sadr's white-bearded father, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq Sadr, who was assassinated along with two sons during Saddam Hussein's rule. Between their portraits is a promise from the government, that it will provide Sadr City with solar-powered streetlights.

But most of the posters belong to the Free List and the Integrity and Rebuild List, the two parties Sadr supports. The Free List's poster depicts a cane wrapped in an Iraqi flag breaking ropes slipped around two fists. A large number 284 is painted in blue: the party's number on the voting cards. Underneath are words uttered by the elder Sadr: "I liberated you, so don't let anybody enslave you after me."

"All these other posters are bought with money," declared Ahmed Chalub, a Mahdi Army commander who attended Friday prayers outside the Sadr office. "They give money to hang their posters. But 284, our list? We hang the posters up with our souls and with our blood."

A Slogan-Filled Election Road Trip

January 31, 2009, 2:15 am

By Sam Dagher
election signsElection signs in Mosul. (Photo: Michael Kamber for The The New York Times)

BASRA, Iraq – I headed south on Wednesday with my Iraqi colleagues to Basra via the Shiite holy city of Najaf to cover the provincial elections. We were held up for about an hour near Baghdad’s southern gate at an Iraqi Army checkpoint because of a suspected roadside bomb. It turned out to be a false alarm.

Then we stopped in Najaf for a couple of hours for some interviews. The whole trip took us almost 12 hours door to door and we passed through the provinces of Babil, Karbala, Najaf, Qadisiya, Muthana and Dhi Qar before finally getting to Basra. Along the way we got our fill of election posters, slogans and promises Iraqi style.

Here’s a sampling:

Baghdad:

“We spend our money for the development and prosperity of the country” – slate of Kurdish parties

“We are poor like you and we work for you” – slate of Shiite cleric affiliated with Moktada al-Sadr

“We do not want elections; we want the tanks to leave” – wall graffiti

“With us your life would be worth something” – slate of Iraqi Islamic Party of Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, a Sunni
election signsElection signs in Mosul. (Photo: Michael Kamber for The The New York Times)

Babil:

“With you, with you to protect our sanctities” – slate of Shiite Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI)

“With your voice we will punish them and build our cities” – slate of independent member of Parliament Mithal al-Alusi. His photo next to a child drinking from a broken water pipe

“Vote for your candidate in the Imposing the Law coalition, your physics teacher Maida Kadhim” – slate of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki


“For the woman, old man and little child”
– ISCI slate

“We dream of a city like this” – ISCI slate. Candidate poster showing skyscrapers
election signsElection signs in Mosul. (Photo: Michael Kamber for The The New York Times)

Karbala:

“We welcome the captain of our ship” – banner welcoming former prime minister Ibrahim Jaafari, who is fielding his own slate, on a recent visit to the province. His logo is a sailboat

“To put the smile on the faces of orphans” – ISCI slate

Najaf:

“Strong leadership and bold decisions” – Mr. Maliki’s slate

Qadisiya:

“The lion of security and peace” – ISCI slate. Billboard shows current governor who is from the same party next to a lion

Muthana and Dhi Qar:

Hardly any slogans

Basra:

Just too many slogans and posters to count

A Litmus Test for Iraq

Reidar Visser

January 30, 2009

(Reidar Visser is a research fellow at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs and editor of the Iraq website http://www.historiae.org.)

Former Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari arrived in Basra on January 24. His mission in the southern oil port was to stump for his Reformist Front, a breakaway faction of the Da‘wa Party of the current premier, Nouri al-Maliki, ahead of Iraq’s January 31 provincial elections. His itinerary included visits to the Five Miles area -- often described as a stronghold of the movement loyal to the young Shi‘i leader Muqtada al-Sadr -- as well as a rally at a sports stadium. Only days earlier, he had been preceded by Maliki himself, and in the first days of 2009 numerous other national politicians trooped to Basra as well.

The barnstorming of political figures from Baghdad through the country’s various localities is but one of several ways in which the 2009 provincial elections differ from the contests of January 2005, the purple-finger moment that was much celebrated at the time, but in retrospect was the backdrop to Iraq’s slide into sectarian politics. Western press reports and governments are likely to focus on statistics such as the number of violent incidents or the number of parties running, but the true importance of this round of balloting hides beneath the surface. To a considerable extent, the results of the local elections will shed light on the dynamic of Iraqi politics, namely its degree of progress from an ethno-sectarian model to a system oriented around ideological issues and candidate qualifications. The results will also set the stage for even more important events on the Iraqi political calendar, the choice of a new parliamentary speaker and the national elections scheduled for December.

THE SILENT REVOLUTION

Participation in the 2009 provincial elections is far more extensive than in 2005. In 2005, most Sunni Arabs, answering the calls of communal leaders for a boycott or fearing insurgent attacks, abstained from the voting, and only one party with an explicit “Sunni” profile, the Iraqi Islamic Party, ran candidates. This time, the Iraqi Islamic Party will face challenges from numerous political forces originating in Sunni Arab circles. Sunni Arab participation will likely also contribute to dramatic changes in the Diyala, Salah al-Din and Nineveh governorates east and north of Baghdad, where, due to the boycott, Kurds and Shi‘i Islamists wound up in control of provincial councils despite their status as minorities. It is sometimes maintained that another difference from 2005 is the absence of Shi‘i Islamist unity. But with the exception of the province of Wasit east of Baghdad, there was no Shi‘i coalition in local politics in 2005 similar to the United Iraqi Alliance in the national elections. Intra-Shi‘i competition did take place, and in certain areas, it was fierce. In Basra, for instance, the Fadhila Party raised the slogan “made in Iraq” against its Islamist competitors with a past in Iran. The real difference in 2009 is that overall participation is wider, with the Sadrists supporting two lists (in addition to “independents” in some areas), and with Da‘wa now a more prominent player, having drawn a brighter line between itself and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq.

Hence the second salient feature of the 2009 elections: greater competition centered on issues and candidates. Partners in Green Zone government since 2006, Da‘wa and the Supreme Council have developed significant disagreements over the past year about the basic political system of Iraq. Emboldened by his improved standing in the eyes of many Iraqis after the military operations in Basra and ‘Amara in 2008, Maliki, along with independent Shi‘i allies, is increasingly reverting to an Iraqi nationalist discourse that includes a tough stand on issues relating to Kurdistan, tentative moves away from sectarianism and hardline Islamism, and, most notably, centralism -- the wish for a strong Baghdad government able to resist further devolution of the capital’s powers to the periphery. By the terms of the Iraqi constitution passed in October 2005, every province save Baghdad has the right to hold a referendum on becoming a “federal region” with significant autonomy from central government and/or to band together with other provinces in such a region. (The three majority-Kurdish provinces of the north were recognized as a federal region in the 2005 constitution.)

Together with the Supreme Council, the Kurdish parties have pushed for an expansive agenda of provincial powers at the expense of the center, and this strong federalist program once seemed the wave of the future. Today, the idea of “re-centralization” has reached the point where the oil minister, Husayn al-Shahristani, has suggested that “the Baghdad government may have no alternative but to revert to the laws of Saddam in order to increase its production.”[1]

The Sadrists, for their part, stress themes of Iraqi nationalism and professionalism, with a Basra representative going so far as to tell a news agency that Sadrists will not vote for established parties or those campaigning under religious or ethnic banners. Conversely, the Supreme Council is still approaching these elections in the spirit of 2005, with appeals to Shi‘i religious solidarity and a general push for decentralization (even if specific propaganda for its ideas about a Shi‘i super-province in the south of Iraq is now far rarer). Both the Supreme Council and Da‘wa are bullish about their chances in governorates south of Baghdad.

Maliki’s attempts to play the centralist card reflect something of a silent revolution in Iraqi politics between 2006 and 2008: a reversion to issue-oriented, cross-sectarian politics. It should be stressed that this reversion is an internal Iraqi trend that has little to do with the US “surge.” In fact, US policies have generally continued to embody support for a “mosaic” model of ethno-sectarian balance. The new phenomenon has been spearheaded by a loose coalition of opposition parliamentarians, known as the “July 22 bloc” because it first emerged during the July 22, 2008 vote on the provincial elections law. The July 22 bloc has a “coordinating committee” and is composed of Shi‘i Islamists from Fadhila and the Sadrist movement, secularists from the National Dialogue Front and the al-Iraqiyya faction of former interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, and members of the Sunni-identified Tawafuq grouping who dislike the sectarian orientation of its leading politicians.

In the debate over the provincial elections law, the July 22 bloc tangled with the Kurds and the Supreme Council over the arrangements that would govern elections in the disputed city of Kirkuk. The dispute was unresolved, and there will be no elections in the Ta’mim province where Kirkuk is located. Away from Kirkuk, the frequent attacks by the July 22 parties on the concept of ethno-sectarian quotas in national politics, suggest that their goal is deeper reform of the political system in Iraq, possibly in the shape of a revised constitution.[2] Importantly, on some issues, Maliki and his Da‘wa supporters have sided with the opposition against the Supreme Council and the Kurdish parties, suggesting that there is potential for a breakup of Maliki’s coalition and even a change in government.

Of course, Maliki has a difficult balancing act, as he himself came under Iraqi nationalist pressure from Sunnis and Shi‘a alike after security staff mistreated Muntadhar al-Zaydi, the journalist who greeted former President George W. Bush with his two shoes. If Maliki’s steps in the direction of centralism are to have a lasting impact and mark a definitive break with Iran, they will need to be anchored in institutional reform and constitutional revision rather than in flowery rhetoric.

THE ELECTIONS FRAMEWORK

To what extent this more mature kind of politics will be reflected in voter behavior on January 31 is unclear, however. First, it is important to remember that in Iraq, as elsewhere, all politics is local. Given the sectarian demography of the country, accentuated by the “sectarian cleansing” of the civil war, it would not be unusual for areas with large Shi‘i majorities to cast their ballots for Shi‘i-identified councillors. And vice versa for Sunni Arabs.

The electoral system -- proportional representation within each governorate -- was supposed to be more “open” in 2009, in the sense that there would be a greater possibility for voters to influence the race by using their one vote either for an individual placed far down on a party list or by voting for candidates running as individuals (technically these are one-person lists).

In practice, though, the choices will be limited because the Iraqi elections commission has decided not to print full party lists for distribution to voters, which means that those who wish to rank certain candidates higher than others will have to consult a grand table of correspondence in the polling station. Voters’ rankings will be undercut, in any event, because within the multi-member party lists that win seats, the elections commission will promote female candidates regardless of their vote tallies in order to achieve 25 percent women’s representation on the provincial councils. (The “closed list” advocates, the Kurds and the Supreme Council, actively used the gender quota as an argument against greater openness.) Counting rules, too, favor the established parties, because surplus votes for an individual candidate who has secured election are wasted, whereas those accruing to a party list will accumulate and benefit another candidate on that list. This is another reason why the change from 2005 may not be as marked as some have hoped.

Concerns about the overall transparency of the Iraqi political system persist. As has happened before, the media outlet of the Iraqi parliament simply suspended broadcasts of its daily proceedings in the wake of the controversial resignation of Speaker of Parliament Mahmoud al-Mashhadani in late December 2008, so that more than one month later, the number of parliamentarians who backed this fateful decision (which leaves the parliament unable to conduct its normal business) remains unknown to the public. Similarly, while the Iraqi elections commission claims it has booked numerous “independent” observers to monitor the upcoming election, its handling of the Basra federalism initiative in January did not instill confidence. It is perfectly clear that the initiative failed, but the exact number of signatures gathered in support remained unknown one week after the formal end of the initiative, and the elections commission chose instead to publish two NGO reports full of praise for the commission and extolling the “triumph for democracy” that the Basra exercise represented.

On the bright side, the Iraqi security apparatus is not a reliable tool of electoral manipulation, because the parties influential therein are themselves divided, with Da‘wa seeking inroads into Supreme Council and Kurdish fiefdoms in many governorates. This fact in itself probably creates a greater likelihood for diversity than in 2005.

Then there are those parties that prefer a 2005-like atmosphere for the elections, such as the Supreme Council and the Kurdish parties. Despite crystal-clear messages from the senior Shi‘i religious leadership that they support no particular party as well as limits on religious propaganda in the elections law adopted in September 2008, the Supreme Council has nevertheless tried to present itself as a party with special ties to the clergy, in addition to encouraging votes for the bigger, established entities.[3]

Moreover, in early 2009, after Husayn al-Shami (a Shi‘i activist who has links to Da‘wa and is considered to be close to Nouri al-Maliki) ventured some critical remarks about Shi‘i rituals during Muharram, the month of the Islamic calendar when Shi‘i Muslims commemorate the death of Imam Husayn, the Supreme Council saw a opportunity to distinguish itself as the defender of “Shi‘i” interests. “Husayni rites” are complicated territory; in the past, many leading scholars have warned against aspects of them, such as self-flagellation. Even Sistani, supposedly the Supreme Council’s point of reference on such issues (as they themselves are not clerics qualified to render judgment), has issued reservations about violent self-flagellation. But the Supreme Council immediately confirmed their support for the rituals, thereby opening a rift in the Shi‘i community comparable in character if not in scope and intensity to a dispute in the 1920s when prominent scholars of Iranian and Lebanese origin warned against the same kind of practices.[4] Although Maliki, according to some reports,[5] relapsed into a religious Shi‘i agenda during Muharram, he is clearly on the defensive in the face of accusations of “abandoning” the Shi‘i cause, and has attacked the Supreme Council for exploiting the issue. And in Shi‘i religious circles, there has been an outburst of sectarian agitation denouncing “the enemies of the cause of Husayn,” criticizing Maliki for alleged rapprochement with Baathists and declaring that Shi‘a should “not vote for anyone who does not serve and love Husayn.”[6]

In 2005, it was the Supreme Council that took the lead in branding Iyad Allawi as a neo-Baathist. As for the Kurdish parties, they have made attempts to delay the elections in Mosul and Diyala on procedural grounds, so that they could retain their high degree of influence established in 2005.[7]

THE INTERNATIONAL DIMENSION

To what extent Nouri al-Maliki will succeed in planting himself at the center of Iraqi politics remains to be seen. There are non-partisan polls, such as one from the Iraq Center for Research and Strategic Studies in October 2008, that clearly show greater admiration for Maliki than for other Iraqi politicians (with the two former premiers, Allawi and Jaafari, often second and third) and it seems very likely that some of the successes of the ethno-federalist forces in 2005 will be reversed, even if the well-organized Supreme Council may well benefit from strong party loyalties in certain constituencies that are not reflected in polling. Iraqi nationalism remains strong. In the same October 2008 poll, 69.8 percent of respondents identified themselves as “Iraqis,” 10.8 percent self-identified in ethnic terms and 6.2 percent referred to sects.

But the significance of Maliki’s outreach to the July 22 bloc and its ilk will not be clear until after the elections, when a new parliamentary speaker will be selected, and Maliki will be able to push constitutional reform prior to parliamentary elections in December. Iran is probably backing many horses on the Shi'i side, including some flirting with the July 22 bloc, which is why institutional change and constitutional reform alone will convince skeptical Iraqis of the sincerity of Maliki’s apparent turn to centralism. The composition of his electoral coalition for January 31 -- mostly Shi‘i Islamists -- suggests that he has not made decisive moves beyond traditional Da‘wa territory in terms of partners. On January 12, while rejecting party quotas, Da‘wa figures ‘Ali al-Adib and Kamal al-Saadi still spoke of sectarian quotas.[8] And why is Maliki’s list not running in Anbar, the quintessentially “Sunni” province of Iraq, if its goal is to represent all Iraqis instead of more wheeling and dealing among political elites? To Maliki’s credit, the attempts to circumscribe the use of religious symbols in the first drafts of the elections law probably would not have progressed at all without a green light from him. Similarly, there are now more uncertainties connected with the interpretation of Supreme Council successes: In areas outside Najaf, the Supreme Council’s political rhetoric has lately been less focused on specific federal schemes and more aimed at strengthening the existing governorates vis-à-vis the center.

In this context, it cannot escape notice that the United States and Iran are perceived by Iraqis to be on the same side in the struggle. When the name of Iyad al-Samarra’i of the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party was floated as a successor to Mashaddani as speaker, al-Sharqiyya television spread a rumor that he had been to Iran to be anointed as the new “Sunni” face of the Green Zone coalition headed by Iran’s oldest friend in Iraq, the Supreme Council, and their Kurdish partners. (The rumor has been denied by sources close to al-Samarra’i, who say he was in Britain on holiday with his family.) Iranian think tanks, for their part, make no bones about their preference for identity-based politics in Iraq at the expense of Iraqi nationalism.[9] At the same time, US officials in Baghdad have told the Washington Post that they are counting members of Maliki’s coalition who are ready to oust the premier (when, for the first time, he seems to be moving in the direction of what the Iraqi people want).[10]

Other American analysts claim that “a functioning, Shiite-dominated Iraqi government with its sectarian blocs in check serves both American and Iranian objectives”[11] and speak of “the willingness of Sunni and Shiite leaders to establish and maintain order in their communities,”[12] as if we were still in 2006, or perhaps in the days of the Raj in India.

On January 23, the Supreme Council’s Sadr al-Din al-Qabbanji, a staunch Khomeinist who has been on Iran’s payroll for decades, jubilantly announced during Friday prayers in Najaf that the rhetoric of President Barack Obama signals the end of US dominance in Iraq.[13] This may be the case, but to what extent the US will be replaced by Iranian hegemony is something Iraqi voters will have to wait until the national elections slated for December to decide on. Only then is there likely to be a debate about the true fundamentals of Iraqi politics and a possibility for Iraqis to liberate themselves from the shackles of the sectarian logic that both Iran and the US have chosen as their preferred framework for influencing the politics of the country.

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CORRECTION: Due to an editor's error, the initial version of this article wrongly stated that Iran is backing parties that are formally part of the July 22 bloc. Iran likely backs parties that are friendly with the July 22 bloc, but they are not bloc members. We regret the error.

[1] Al-Sharq al-Awsat, September 20, 2008.

[2] As early as October 2007, Fadhila leaders criticized the “four-party alliance” (the Kurdish parties, the Supreme Council and Da‘wa) and presented as an alternative “national reconciliation…including those forces that remain outside the parliament.” Aswat al-Iraq, October 27, 2007. Most of the July 22 parties signed onto an explicit critique of ethno-sectarian quotas in a Fadhila press release around the provincial elections law debate.

[3] Aswat al-Iraq, January 3, 2009.

[4] Werner Ende, “The Flagellations of Muharram and the Shiite Ulama,” Der Islam 55 (1978).

[5] McClatchy, January 8, 2009.

[6] Buratha News, January 13, 2009.

[7] Aswat al-Iraq, December 8, 2008.

[8] Aswat al-Iraq, January 12, 2009.

[9] See, for instance, Kayhan Barzegar, The Shia Factor in Iran’s Foreign Policy (Tehran: Center for Strategic Research, November 2008).

[10] Washington Post, January 19, 2009.

[11] Ray Takeyh, “What Iran Wants,” Washington Post, December 29, 2008.

[12] Richard Haass and Martin Indyk, ”Beyond Iraq: A New US Strategy for the Middle East,” Foreign Affairs (January/February 2009).

[13] Aswat al-Iraq, January 23, 2009.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

U.S. Follows Iraqi Customs to Avoid New Enemies

January 26, 2009, 9:32 am

By Timothy Williams AND Abeer Mohammed

BAGHDAD — In Iraq, war deaths don’t always come via gunfire or exploding bombs. Sometimes, people get run over.

Near Samarra, last November, two Iraqi brothers were struck and killed by a vehicle that was part of a passing American military convoy.

The deaths were an accident. And against the backdrop of tens of thousands of deaths in Iraq since the 2003 U.S. invasion, the incident received little attention.

But the small, halting gestures made by both the U.S. military and Iraqis in the weeks after the accident show how the U.S. has moved in a more serious way toward following certain Iraqi customs in order to avoid making new enemies.

Saad Ali Shehab, 41, died instantly after the accident. He had seven children. A former officer in the army of Saddam Hussein, he transformed himself into a car dealer after the U.S. invasion.

His brother, Atallah Ali Shehab, 38, who died at a hospital, had worked as his brother’s assistant. He had five children.

The following version of events is from Rasheed Ahmad Mohammed, a professor at Tikrit University, and a cousin of the men who died. The salient facts were confirmed by the U.S. military.

On November 5, the day after the accident, representatives from the American military requested permission to attend the men’s funeral. The family turned them down.

The following day, representatives from the local Army battalion asked to be permitted to attend the three day mourning ceremony in order to formally apologize.

They were given permission, albeit grudgingly. When the Americans arrived, they offered the families $2,500 for each victim – the standard amount given to Iraqi families in such circumstances.

The families said that sum was far too little. They demanded more, and in addition, sought money for a damaged car and $2,900 they said was missing from one of the men’s bodies.

“I explained to them our traditions as a tribal society that if a man was killed, then the killers have two choices: Either pay blood money or be killed,” said Professor Mohammed.

The Americans responded by saying they wanted to act according to local traditions, said the professor. They asked how much money would be required.

“We told them that it is 100 camels for each man killed, which is equal to 100 million Iraqi dinars or $80, 000,”
the professor said.

The tribe and the Americans agreed to settle the matter in tribal court, something the military does not often agree to and had never done so in Samarra, a former hotbed of the insurgency.

In Iraq culture, a tribal court involves a gathering of the leaders of the tribe of the killers and the tribe of the victim. Neutral tribes are also usually present to help arrive at a settlement.

Typically, sheep are slaughtered for a meal, and guests are served dulimiya - a dish of meat, bread and rice – on large communal platters.

On the date of the trial court this month, eight American soldiers arrived. Four entered the court tent, four stayed outside as guards.

The families said blood money requirements demanded they be paid more than $160,000. The Americans said they needed to get the approval of their superiors.

“They wanted to leave, but we refused, telling them that they have to eat lunch, according to our habits and traditions,”
said the professor.

Soon, eight large platters of dulimiya were carried in. The four Americans shared a tray with four Iraqis.

“They seemed to like our food and they ate with their hands like us, without using either forks or spoons,”
said the professor.

The American soldiers outside were brought plates of their own.

“I saw them laying their weapons down, sitting on the ground and eating dulimiya with their hands too,”
he said.

On Tuesday (January 20), the Americans returned with $20,000, saying they wanted to personally hand the money to the victims’ wives.

“I refused,” the professor said of the request,
“explaining it is forbidden in our traditions.”


The family told the soldiers the money was insufficient. But the Americans said it was the best they could do - and far more than the $2,500 per victim they usually pay.

The soldiers then asked for the family’s signatures. The documents were in English. The family, who spoke no English, signed anyway.

“I have been told that the paper states that they were handing us $10,000 for each of the brothers,” said Raad Ali Shehab, 39, the older brother of the victims. He has found himself responsible for supporting his siblings’ families.

The $20,000 was in addition to paying for the funerals and another $10,000 for the damaged vehicle, the professor said.

In a statement, Major Cathy Wilkinson, a U.S. military public affairs officer, confirmed the accident and the payment.

The surviving brother, said Major Wilkinson, is a farmer whose income has suffered due to a drought in Iraq. Aside from his wife and three children, he now has 14 additional dependents, she said.

“While money is no replacement for the loss of a loved one, it does represent the U.S. military’s understanding of hardship that the loss can cause for the surviving family members,” she said.

The family did not get everything they wanted, but the professor said they are pleased to have been taken seriously.

“So far,” he said of the Army, “they have visited us five times.”

An employee for The New York Times in Samarra, Iraq contributed to this report.

http://www.shiachat.com/forum/index.php?showtopic=234954634&view=findpost&p=1784209

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

S.U.V.’s and Rifles


During my numerous reporting trips to Anbar I noticed that these tribal leaders had a few things in common, including a passion for guns and arms of all sorts and armored S.U.V.’s.

RAMADI, Iraq – In September 2007 former President George W. Bush traveled to Anbar Province to meet the leaders of the American-backed and financed tribal Awakening movement that was instrumental in quelling the insurgency in this western Iraqi province. At the time he presented five of the sheiks he met with one white armored Toyota Land Cruiser sports utility vehicle each as a token of his appreciation.
Audio Listen to the Podcast (mp3)

‘The Brno’ Song by Hussam al-Rassam
“Translation: Mr. GMC driver take me to Ramadi, my beloved is in Ramadi.”

The estimated price tag for each armored S.U.V. is anywhere between $150,000 and $250,000.

In these rugged and intensely traditional lands such gifts are a source of pride for their recipients, especially when they come from an American commander in chief.

“”Hey brother hand me the Brno (Czech made rifle).
I want to fire some shots.
The eyes of my beloved have cast a spell on me.
I am on fire.
Her stare is more precise and lethal than the Brno.
Mr. GMC driver take me to Ramadi, my beloved is in Ramadi.
All men tumble to the wayside with a blink from her eyes.
When she stares at you it feels like being fired at with a machine gun.
You do not know where you are going to be hit.
She’s lethal.”

— Lyrics by Hussam al-Rassam

For these power hungry sheiks it was tantamount to an endorsement and recognition of their stature, real or perceived.

But right after the encounter with Mr. Bush at the Al-Assad airbase in the Anbar desert, things started to take a turn for the worse for a few of the sheiks. For one sheik this happened fairly quickly.

Almost 10 days after the meeting, Sheik Abdul Sattar Buzaigh al-Rishawi, who was the chief of the Awakening in Anbar and its most visible symbol, was on his way to his stables to check on his favorite horse, a white mare called Mona. Sheik Sattar’s tribe the Abu Risha – a less powerful tribe before the American invasion that was derided in Anbar as being made up of highway bandits – had been catapulted to fame and fortune as a result of his leadership of the Awakening.

According to his brother Sheik Ahmed, who has taken over the leadership of the Awakening and transformed it into a political movement, Sheik Sattar was riding his new S.U.V. within the tribe’s tightly secured fief.

He stopped on the way to the stables and got out of his vehicle to speak to a shepherd. It was at that moment that a suicide car bomber, who had been smuggled into the estate by none other than Sheik Sattar’s most trusted companion and bodyguard, raced towards him and exploded. Now a giant billboard of the late Sheik Sattar stands at the entrance of Ramadi’s main checkpoint, where every vehicle and individual is thoroughly searched. “You have lived in honor and died a martyr,” reads the caption on the billboard.

Another S.U.V. gift recipient was Sheik Hatem al-Gaoud, 30, of the Abu Nimer, whose powerbase is in the town of Hit, west of Ramadi.

Last summer Marines suspended American-funded reconstruction projects in the town after charges that the mayor and police chief, both protégées and relatives of Sheik Hatem, were involved in a multimillion-dollar oil smuggling ring.

Shortly before that Sheik Hatem had fallen out of favor with the Americans and his armored S.U.V. gift from Mr. Bush was taken away from him and given to his rival for the tribal leadership, Sheik Faisal al-Gaoud. Sheik Faisal’s brother is now the police chief. Sheik Faisal’s son Ghazi is running in the upcoming provincial elections as part of a coalition assembled by Sheik Ahmed of the Abu Risha.

A cousin of Sheik Hatem, Salah al-Nimrawi, said the corruption charges against the mayor and former police chief were false and accused Sheik Ahmed of instigating discord within the Abu Nimer tribe that could potentially lead to violence.

Sheik Mish’hen al-Jumaili, head of the most powerful tribe in Garma near Falluja, was a third recipient of the S.U.V. gift. But last summer he was stripped of a monthly stipend he had been getting from the American military and the S.U.V. He was also denied any future contracts through the Americans.

Maj. Gen. Saadoun al-Jumaili, the head of an elite police unit based in Garma and the sheik’s cousin, said this happened because Sheik Mish’hen interfered in security arrangements at a meeting he was hosting in June that allowed a suicide bomber dressed as an Iraqi soldier to slip in and blow himself up killing 26 Iraqis and three Marines.

Sheik Mish’hen has made millions from his association with the Americans and an alleged 15 percent commission he imposed on all contractors working in Garma, according to several sources in the town, which remains largely rundown and in ruins.

Sheik Mish’hen’s assistant Rasoul Mutlaq denied the charges. He said he personally bought bags of rice, sugar and tea for the Awakening fighters with American funds. He recounts how he used a $150,000 payment from the Americans one time to buy weapons in Baghdad including Russian-made PKC machine guns.

Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki is also vying for the loyalty of tribes in Anbar and across Iraq. He is creating tribal support councils answerable directly to his office that are very similar to the Awakening councils created by the Americans but are now being phased out. Mr. Maliki has also showered tribal leaders with gifts, money and patronage. Many, especially his Shiite rivals and the Kurds, are upset about these councils and see them as entities that are operating outside the law and meant simply to bolster Mr. Maliki’s political base.

Col. Saad Abbas, a former intelligence officer during Saddam Hussein’s regime, heads a 3,000-strong tribal support council in Garma set up by Mr. Maliki last fall. The men get their monthly salaries from the government.

Col. Abbas, a soft spoken but intense looking man, said that in addition to its security function, his council “will supply Baghdad with intelligence information and form civilian committees that would oversee local institutions and submit reports to the central government.” These committees would be similar to the so-called popular committees prevalent during Mr. Hussein’s rule.

Not one but five portraits of Mr. Maliki hang in the office of Col. Abbas. He also rides around in an armored S.U.V. presented to him by Mr. Maliki’s office.

His elevated status has angered many powerful sheiks in Garma and Falluja including Sheik Mish’hen.

Last month Col. Abbas was driving from his home in Falluja to Garma in his armored S.U.V. and was accompanied by a convoy of guards. A pick up truck packed with explosives was detonated in their path, but Col. Abbas escaped unscathed.

This week another attempt was made on his life. This time he said his lunch was poisoned. He said American military medics saved him.

Iraqi women walk past new cars at automobile lot in Baghdad, Iraq Wednesday, April 1, 2009. Business not bombs is booming at Baghdad car dealerships, as well-heeled Iraqis begin to take advantage of the relative calm in Iraq to indulge in a passion long out of reach - new, luxury cars.
(AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)
Iraqis like many other people around the world are fond of big cars, especially S.U.V.’s. Some makes are given nicknames like Leila Elwi, after a buxom Egyptian movie star, or simply Monica, after Monica Lewinsky, the White House intern with whom former president Clinton was accused of having a sexual affair.

Iraqis also favor big GMC Suburban vehicles for long distance travel especially to Syria and Jordan, both of which share borders with Anbar. With the improvement in security these GMCs, which are operated by travel companies, can be seen again plying Anbar’s highways in greater numbers. Those headed from Baghdad to the Syrian border to the west pass by Ramadi.

In addition to big cars, no tribal leader feels whole without his guns. A song titled “The Brno” by Iraqi pop star Hussam al-Rassam, who has become an icon since the start of the war, epitomizes some of the classic stereotypical tribal traits: quick-tempered, passionate, chivalrous and loyal first to the tribe and nation and not to any religious sect. It was all the rage last year in Iraq especially in Ramadi.

The song is about grabbing your Brno (Czech made rifle), more of a tribal than an insurgent thing, and hopping into a GMC Suburban that would take you to Ramadi, a Sunni Arab city and then onward to the mainly Shiite cities of Basra in the extreme south and Hilla in the center. A call for reconciliation and unity of sorts for Iraqis worn out by wars and sectarian splits.

“Take me to Ramadi, my lover is in Ramadi,” sings Mr. Rassam, who is now believed to be living in America.

“All men tumble to the wayside with her blink. When she stares at you it feels like you are being fired at with a machine gun. You do not know where you are going to be hit…she’s lethal.”


----

In Baghdad, a big craze for new cars
By SAMEER N. YACOUB
,
AP
posted: 16 HOURS 3 MINUTES AGO

BAGHDAD -Business, not bombs, is booming at Baghdad car dealerships, as well-heeled Iraqis are indulging in a passion long out of reach — spiffy, new cars.
BMWs, Nissans, Hyundais and even military-style Hummers are now weaving around the shabby, smoke-belching wrecks and donkey carts that have clogged the streets over two decades of sanctions and war.
That may make Baghdad one of the few cities worldwide where the auto industry is doing relatively well — at least compared to the worst of the war, when sales were stagnant. With its limited banking system, Iraq has largely avoided the global financial meltdown.
And unlike elsewhere in the world, gas prices — about $1.52 a gallon — aren't much of a deterrent to those Iraqis eager and able to catch up with the good life behind the wheel of a new car.
Not so long ago, cruising the capital in a new car was asking for trouble. Carjackers were seemingly everywhere — either envious militiamen or kidnappers on the lookout for victims with enough cash to pay fat ransoms.
Those bad days are not entirely over. But with violence ebbing, Iraqis who can afford it are eager to live large and bask in the status that only a nice new car can bring.
"Despite the high price, driving a new car gives me a great sense of happiness and comfort," said Muhannad Khazim as he cruised an upscale neighborhood with three friends in a 2007 Hyundai Elantra he'd bought two days earlier.
The city traffic department refused to say how many new cars were registered over the last year.
But showrooms are popping up in safer neighborhoods around town to meet the demand. They are offering selections from sleek sports cars to four-wheel-drive behemoths, most imported from Amman, Jordan, or Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.
Imad Hassan said sales at his Aqaba Dealership in east Baghdad soared about 90 percent in 2008 over the previous year, when fighting in the city peaked.
Last year, he said he sold about three cars a day. So far this year he's selling only about three cars per week, a slump which he says has little to do with the global downturn.
Hassan expects sales to rebound now that the Iraqi government has finally approved a new budget after a drop in oil prices forced several revisions. Many of his customers for expensive cars are Iraqi businessmen with government contracts. They had to wait for the new budget to get their money.
Gasoline prices throughout the Middle East are lower than in the U.S. and Western Europe. Iraq lifted fuel subsidies in 2004 and hiked gasoline prices 19-fold. Since then, prices at the pump have been fairly stable. Security — not fuel prices or conservation — had kept motorists off the streets.
Hassan Saleh, who sells Japanese and South Korean four-wheel-drive vehicles and American-made Hummers at another east Baghdad dealership, attributes the boom to better security, which has given Iraqis the confidence to treat themselves to luxuries.
"Nowadays, most people are not afraid of driving fancy new cars in the streets. Two years ago, that meant imminent danger of being kidnapped for ransom," said Saleh, who sells about 10 cars a month from his dealership — up 50 percent over 2007.
That's not to say Iraqis don't face problems with a new car.
For one thing, there is no auto insurance offered in Iraq. Owners have to shell out in full for any repairs or maintenance.
And although the risks of violent trouble are less than they used to be, they haven't disappeared entirely.
Ali Habib, a businessman from east Baghdad, bought a new Hyundai last month to spruce up his image. But he's afraid to drive the car outside his neighborhood and won't give his younger brothers a lift for fear they may all get kidnapped or killed.
"The security situation is still fragile and gangs can hit anytime," he said. "When I want to go somewhere in Baghdad, I make sure that at least three friends of mine are with me in the car as a kind of protection against bandits."
But that's not enough to discourage Iraqis from shelling out $27,000 for a 2006 Mustang, $80,000 for a four-wheel-drive BMW or $55,000 for an Infiniti — some of the cars on offer during a recent tour of dealerships. Tastes range from sedans to SUVs. The compact Nissan Sunny model is also popular.
During Saddam Hussein's rule, the most popular brands were Toyota Coronas, which the government imported in early 1980s, followed by Brazilian-made Volkswagen Passats, which the regime bought as part of an arms deals between Iraq and Brazil.
But Saddam's invasion of Kuwait in 1990 brought international sanctions — and a cutoff in the flow of new cars. For the next 13 years until the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, Iraqis were constantly repairing flimsy vehicles that aged fast in the fierce heat, dust and potholed streets.
"I'm fed up with old, broken cars," Muhannad Akram said as he inspected cars at a showroom in the Jadiriyah district. He had his eye on a 2007 gray Mitsubishi sedan and was bargaining over the price with the salesman.
"Despite the world economic crisis, Iraq is still the land of big opportunities and flourishing business," said Hassan, the dealer in east Baghdad. "And more and more people are getting rich."
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
2009-04-09 19:37:39

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

UPDATE 1-At least 11 die in stormy Madagascar protests

(adds analyst, background)

By Alain Iloniaina

ANTANANARIVO, Jan 26 (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of angry anti-government protesters took to the streets of the Malagasy capital on Monday, burning the state-owned TV and radio station, and a security source said at least two people were killed.

The chaotic scenes seemed sure to dent the government's efforts to present the Indian Ocean island as a safe place for foreign investment, especially in the mining, tourism and oil sectors.

"We know of two deaths," the security source said, telling Reuters a policeman and a 14-year-old had been killed during the angry demonstrations calling for President Marc Ravalomanana's government to resign.

Local journalist Fano Rakopondrazaka said 11 people had died during the chaos on the streets. "I saw 11 dead men. They were looters crushed in a stampede," he told Reuters from the scene.

That could not be independently confirmed.

The violence broke out on the first day of strikes called by the opposition against Ravalomanana, who has been in power since 2002 and who opposition parties say is increasingly autocratic.

The strike call followed the government's closure of a private television station owned by the capital's maverick 34-year-old mayor and opposition leader, Andry Rajoelina.

Authorities shut the station last month after it broadcast remarks by the exiled former president, Didier Ratsiraka. The government deemed the remarks likely to incite civil disorder.

FOREIGN FIRMS

Major foreign companies involved in Madagascar include Rio Tinto (RIO.L) and Sherritt International (S.TO) which plan to extract nickel, cobalt, bauxite and ilmenite.

Gemstones are already a big industry and exploration companies are looking for oil, gold, coal, chromium, platinum and uranium.

The government has accused Rajoelina of stirring up a revolt and called for calm and order across the capital Antananarivo.

"All this is the response of a population facing economic difficulties and an absence of democracy," one demonstrator told Reuters as flames billowed out of a supermarket behind him.

Witnesses told Reuters that angry youths looted shops and burned buildings belonging to the local radio and national television stations.

Elsewhere in the capital, a mob ransacked the house of a senator closely allied to Ravalomanana, and protesters attacked three stores and other business interests of the prime minister.

Relations between the government and opposition have deteriorated rapidly in recent weeks.

The authorities accuse the mayor of running the capital poorly, while the mayor alleges he is being deliberately obstructed from doing his job properly.

Jean Eric Rakotoarisoa, a constitutional law lecturer at the University of Antananarivo, told Reuters the riots could be the start of a major political crisis in Madagascar, the world's fourth largest island with a population of 19 million.

"The closure of Viva TV was the final straw. Beyond that, there is a deep crisis within Malagasy society, created by growing hardships and diminishing purchasing power," he added.

Madagascar has a long history of political instability.

In December 2001, both Ravalomanana and his predecessor Didier Ratsiraka, head of state for 26 years, claimed victory in presidential elections.

Eight months of political spats and sporadic violence ensued before the High Constitutional Court upheld Ravalomanana's victory and Ratsiraka fled to France where he remains in exile. (Writing by Richard Lough; editing by Wangui Kanina, Andrew Cawthorne and Tim Pearce)

Monday, January 26, 2009

Iraq Shiites And Sunnis To Vote, But Not Along Sectarian Line

BAGHDAD (AFP)--People from Baghdad's Shiite and Sunni neighborhoods of Kadhimiyah and Adhamiyah, which face each other across the Tigris River, agree on one thing - voting and religion don't mix in Iraq.

Separated only by the water and the rubbish that floats downstream, these two districts were the scene of some of the bloodiest sectarian battles that followed the U.S.-led invasion of 2003 that saw Saddam Hussein ousted from power.

In provincial elections Jan. 31, Sunnis will take part in large numbers in a marked change from their boycott of polls four years ago that left the field clear for Shiite politicians to take control.

While religion is crucial to people in Iraq, the sectarianism that saw thousands killed on both sides of the river during the worst days of 2006 and 2007 won't influence this week's poll, residents say.

"I am looking for someone who understands the youth, is ambitious and is able to rebuild the nation and help people," said Sohaib Hussein Abdulamir, a 20- year-old biology student at an Adhamiyah park on the banks of the Tigris. "I am not choosing my candidate on a religious basis."

Noor, a bareheaded 21-year-old student teacher walking toward the park with her friends, most of whom were veiled, similarly was insistent on who would secure her backing.

"I will vote for a secular candidate and not for Sunni or a Shiite one," said Noor, giving only her first name. "They should have a university degree and have the ability to help Iraq make progress."


Such views echo the findings of a recent opinion poll, which said 42% of eligible voters favored secular candidates and only 31% favored religious ones.

With the help of the U.N., Iraq's Independent High Election Commission is organizing the elections in 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces - the first vote in the country since 2005.

Kadhimiyah, named after a revered Shiite shrine, and Adhamiyah, built around the tomb of a famed eighth century Sunni lawmaker, are connected by the Al-Aima (Imams) bridge, which has in recent times witnessed its own bloodshed.

The crossing was closed after 1,000 Shiite pilgrims died in a deadly stampede in August 2005, triggered by a false alarm over a suicide bomber.

Tens of thousands of worshippers had been marking the death 12 centuries ago of the revered Imam Musa Kadhim, in what became one of the deadliest incidents to hit Iraq after the invasion.

The bridge reopened in November, amid dramatic improvements in security in the capital, where U.S. and Iraqi forces largely have routed the sectarian militias and insurgents that once ruled large swathes of the city.

Older residents in Adhamiyah also ruled out voting along sectarian lines.

"I am looking for integrity and honesty in candidates opposed to the previous regime...religion is not an issue for me," said Mohammad Taha, a 51-year-old shopkeeper.

His lifelong friend Hassan Hamed, 58, a retired army officer, said, "I will vote for the candidate which I find most devoted to Iraq."

On the other side of the river in Kadhimiyah, Ali Mahdi Ibrahim, 44, owner of a confectionery shop near the shrine, believed passionately that life could improve.

"I have chosen my list and candidate," he said, waving his hands around. "I chose them based on the trust I have in them and not the religious line. I hope once elected they can elevate the name of Iraq by their decisions."

Streets on both banks of the river are inundated with posters, banners and leaflets urging people to vote.

In Baghdad, home to seven million people, 57 seats are up for grabs with 2,482 candidates from different electoral lists, ranging from secular to religious.

But among Shiites and Sunnis also are residents who won't vote at all.

Motasam Mamoun Ibrahim, 28, a Sunni shopkeeper in Adhamiyah, said, "I will not take part since it is in vain."

Emad Jabbar, a 40-year-old Shiite government employee in Kadhimiyah, was similarly downbeat.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Soldiers Kill Iraqi Couple During Raid at a Home

By TIMOTHY WILLIAMS
Published: January 24, 2009

BAGHDAD — American soldiers fatally shot an Iraqi couple in their home near Kirkuk early Saturday after the wife reached for a pistol hidden under a mattress, American and Iraqi officials said. The couple’s 8-year-old daughter was wounded.

A relative mourned a couple shot by American forces, who said the wife had reached for a gun.

United States troops, using helicopters, raided the family’s house in Hawija, a town in northern Iraq, around 2 a.m. in search of members of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the Iraqi police and witnesses said. Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia is a homegrown militant group that American intelligence officials say is led by foreigners.

In one room, soldiers saw a woman reaching under a mattress, Agence France-Presse reported, quoting an unidentified United States Army spokesman.

The woman was told several times in Arabic to show her hands, but she refused and was shot, the spokesman said. The American military said soldiers found a pistol under the mattress.

After the woman was shot, her husband, Dhia Hussein Ali al-Tikriti, attacked the soldiers and was shot and killed, the spokesman said, adding that Mr. Tikriti had been suspected of belonging to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.

The couple’s 8-year-old daughter, Ahlam Dhia, was shot once in the leg and was taken to a hospital. Her injuries were not life-threatening.

“They killed my mother and father right in front of me,” she said. “I was under the blanket. I heard my mom screaming, and I started to cry.”

She described the soldiers as being bearded. American Special Operations troops often wear beards in an effort to fit in with the local population. The United States military would not confirm whether the soldiers were from a Special Operations unit.

Neighbors said that Mr. Tikriti had been an officer in Saddam Hussein’s army. He was arrested by American forces in 2004, held for about a year and then released, said Abu Aya, a cousin.

He said four other children in the house were unharmed.

Elsewhere on Saturday, three Iraqi police officers were killed and 14 other people, including 5 police officers, were wounded when a car bomb exploded in Karma in Anbar Province as an Iraqi police patrol passed.

The area, in western Iraq, has become significantly less violent during the past year and a half, since tribal leaders switched their support from militants to American and Iraqi forces.

Also Saturday, Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission said borders and airports would be closed for provincial elections next Saturday. A curfew is to begin Friday evening.

Suadad al-Salhy and Mudhafer al-Husaini contributed reporting from Baghdad, and Iraqi employees of The New York Times from Kirkuk and Falluja.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

A Looming Power Struggle by Iraq's Shiite

, by David Enders, GlobalPost
23 Jan 2009 23:56:39 GMT
Source: Pulitzer center







By David Enders

GlobalPost

1/21/2009

BAGHDAD — The tough terms dictated by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki in the newly completed U.S.-Iraqi status of forces agreement marked a tactical concession in a domestic Iraqi battle for power that remains far from resolved.

Maliki’s homegrown antagonist is the Tayyera al Sadrieen, the Iraqi religious-nationalist movement led by Moqtada al Sadr that has resisted the U.S. occupation militarily and politically since 2003.

It was the constant threat of uprising and the Sadrieen demand for nothing short of immediate pullout of the United States that forced Maliki to demand heavy concessions from the United States, which eventually signed an agreement that looked little like the initial proposal. The Sadrists have long pushed for an agreement that would set a date for the removal or U.S. troops and ensure that none remained.

It is unlikely Maliki could survive if he had come back with anything less. He has fought the militia with the aid of the U.S. military, walking a fine line between allying with the U.S. and trying to avoid looking like a tool of foreign parties.

But Maliki remains on a collision course with the Sadrists as he prepares to participate in January's provincial elections. A clear line will be drawn between those who support Iraqi parties that have allied with the United States and those who have opposed the occupation since the beginning.

The Tayyera al Sadrieen and the militia that is allied with it, the Jeish al Mehdi, have been buoyed in the past four years by the populism of the movement's leaders and by programs to provide aid and security to some of the most marginalized Iraqis during a period when the Iraqi government has been unable to do so.

Their critics accuse them of being a sectarian gang. Their supporters see them as ardent nationalists and champions of the long-oppressed Shiite underclass that makes up the majority of Iraq’s population.

In 2006, the Mehdi poured out of Sadr City, a slum in north Baghdad that had been their stronghold, and took over wide parts of the city. Other branches of the party's militia controlled or battled for control of southern Iraq, including the oil hub of Basra.

The militia has now largely gone to ground after a series of Iraqi army operations against it backed up by the U.S. military. But even though the Iraqi army now has as many as 3,500 soldiers in Sadr City, many residents here still fear the militia, most of whose leadership fled before the army entered, will return.

Under terms negotiated with the militia, U.S. troops remain south of a three-mile-long wall it constructed to bisect Sadr City. Militiamen put up heavy resistance in April and May as the wall was installed, and U.S. armored vehicles and airpower were integral to the operation. Even now, the Iraqi army commanders acknowledge they are dependent on the United States for resupply and air support. A cease-fire has largely held since the Iraqi troops arrived but the army's capability to stand alone against the militia remains untested.

"Now we are waiting for the cease-fire to stop so we can show the Iraqi army what we will do to them," said Ali, a 21-year-old member of the militia who showed off IEDs [improvised explosive devices] and said that most of the group's heavy weaponry had been moved or well-hidden before the Iraqi army arrived.


The Iraqi Army has taken up positions on Shwader Street, where thousands of Sadrists pray outdoors each Friday. On a recent Friday, men from the Sadr office linked arms to prevent young men from confronting the army. The presence of the army at Friday prayers has heavy overtones of the previous government, which forbade such large gatherings entirely.

Keeping young men like Ali in check might be Sadr's greatest challenge as he tries to maintain a cease-fire ahead of the provincial elections scheduled for January.

Tayyera Sadrieen's spokesman, Saleh al Obaidi, said that the Iraqi government is using the agreement to allow the Iraqi army and the U.S. military to arrest criminal elements of the militia to attack the Sadrieen as a whole.

Al Obaidy said that Friday prayers have been shut down at Sadrist mosques across the south and that as many as 10,000 Sadrists are in U.S. and Iraqi custody.

The U.S. military and government claims Iran heavily supports the militia, a charge al Obaidy said is exaggerated.

"We have the right to cooperate with anyone who can help us here and there, including the Iranians. But we are not the followers of the Iranian decision," he said. "Our agenda is working against the occupation."

David Enders reported from Iraq on a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting

Signature reveals Obama's intelligence, pride





Updated at: 0745 PST, Saturday, January 24, 2009
WASHINGTON: The first official signature of Barack Obama reveals a man grounded in action, compassion, generosity and diplomacy, a handwriting expert said yesterday.

From his penmanship, writing analyst Caro Duncan sees a highly intelligent man who thinks fast and adapts to any situation.

"It is a bit of a relief for the whole world," Duncan, from the Australian Institute of Graphology, said. "He's very diplomatic and tactful, capable of seeing the big picture and is at his best when he's handling complex matters."

The pronounced and embellished initials B and O reveal his pride and ambition, according to Duncan. He is self-confident and relishes the recognition of his own accomplishments.

Their size and position shows a love of the limelight, a pattern usually seen among actors and performers.

There is also a love of culture in there, an open mind to other people's opinions and ideas.

"His inauguration day signature is a little more stretched than usual, which is very literal, it means that he's got a lot on his shoulders," Duncan said.

"There's always been an awareness of others in his handwriting but he reaches out that little bit more in today's signature - he is genuinely listening." There is disappointment there, too, Duncan said.

His Christian name is slightly more coherent than his surname, hinting at disappointment with his father or family.

They are pangs the left-hander is able to face on his own. While left-handers usually slope to the right President Obama does not, showing his self-sufficient nature.

Bart Baggett from the Handwriting University says his handwriting is comparable to former US Presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan with but one omission - a high and long t-bar indicating extremely high self-esteem and visionary thinking.

"Obama crosses his Ts at an average height, reflecting a good self esteem and humility," he said.

Before George W. Bush became president in 2000, graphologist Katie Darden analysed his writing and found a strong persistence and resistance to being told what to do - a desire to make his own way and stand firm on issues that mattered to him.

"These characteristics, if taken to an extreme, could result in some interesting stand offs," Darden wrote 9 years ago.

Americans everywhere looked to the inauguration day signature and hoped President Obama's pen would eventually prove mightier than President Bush's sword.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Khomeini Shakes the World

February 11, 1979


On the first day of February, 1979, an Air France jet touched down in Tehran carrying a famous passenger on a journey of historic importance. When that passenger emerged from the plane, he looked on his native country for the first time in nearly 15 years. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini had been in exile since 1964, and now he was returning with a single aim in mind.

It was the same goal that had driven the last several decades of his life: to destroy the American-backed, secular government of Muhammad Reza Shah Pahlavi and found an Islamic state.
He did not have to wait long. By the time he got to Iran, the Shah had already left the country, bowing to extreme political pressure. In his place, a moderate politician named Shahpur Bakhtiar had assumed the duties of prime minister and head of state. By February 11, only 10 days after the ayatollah’s return—and 27 years ago today—Bakhtiar and the other remnants of the Shah’s government had been chased from power, and a provisional government backed by Khomeini had assumed control of the country. Few events since have had such grave repercussions for the United States.

Born in central Iran in 1900, Khomeini was nearly 80 when he returned in triumph. His conflict with the shah stretched back over decades. Before the 1950s he had been generally satisfied to advance his religious convictions by teaching young scholars at the Faiziyeh Theological School, in Qom, Iran, training them to follow his mystical, ascetic ways. In 1951, however, he watched with interest as the reformer Muhammad Mossadegh garnered vast popular support for a nationalistic approach to government. When Mossadegh was deposed by an American-backed coup and the shah’s personal rule was restored, Khomeini understood that there remained a latent demand for sterner leadership.

Gradually he waded deeper into politics, surreptitiously meeting with activist clerics and learning from their experiences. And at the beginning of the 1960s he became the most visible antagonist of Shah Pahlavi. In a series of confrontations with the government, he spoke forcefully against the shah, his accommodating attitude toward the West, and his policy of directing Iran’s oil resources toward the United States and Britain.

The rivalry between the two leaders came to a head in 1963 and 1964. In 1963 the Shah sent troops to Qom to storm the religious academy where Khomeini taught. Until then Pahlavi had successfully undermined his opponents in labor unions and political parties but had left the clergy largely untouched, even though some of them harbored equally defiant sentiments. The government soldiers meant to stifle Khomeini’s students’ revolutionary tendencies, but they had the opposite effect. The killing of two unarmed students ignited widespread public anger. Forty days later Khomeini led huge crowds in rituals of mourning for the slain students, and the gatherings broke into ongoing riots.

The following year the situation deteriorated even further, as Khomeini came to the forefront of Iranian politics by leading rallies denouncing a military pact with the United States. In November it became clear to Pahlavi, his ministers, and his American allies that Khomeini’s activism must stop. Faced with a number of options, among them covert assassination, the shah chose to banish Khomeini from Iran. On November 4, 1964, he and his son were taken to the airport in Tehran and flown from there to a Turkish air force base.


Khomeini spent about a year in Turkey but soon received permission from Iraq’s government to move there. He lived in the holy city of Najaf, Iraq, until 1978, his hostility toward the shah and the United States unabated. Sympathetic activists smuggled his writings into Iran, copied them, and distributed them among the populace—especially among students. Understanding the menace Khomeini still posed, the shah pressured Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to expel him. When Hussein complied, Khomeini left for Paris; there, in the first weeks of 1979, he prepared to return home.

As Iran fell into economic crisis and popular opposition to the shah mounted, Pahlavi, who had been diagnosed with cancer in 1974, ceded control of the Iranian government to the moderate Bakhtiar and left for Egypt. By the time Khomeini returned to Iran, Bakhtiar’s government was tottering. Less than a week after his homecoming, Khomeini formed a provisional revolutionary government in direct opposition to the regime. When the military refused to crush Khomeini’s uprising, Bakhtiar’s government fell apart. On February 11, Khomeini’s followers declared victory on Iran’s state radio.

With his fundamentalist regime in place, Khomeini adopted a militantly anti-American stance on foreign policy. On November 4, 1979, student followers of his seized the American embassy in Tehran, taking 66 American spies and dealing a fatal blow to the struggling Carter presidency. In 1980 the Ayatollah’s government mounted a massive invasion of neighboring Iraq, leading to the protracted and bloody struggle that defined much of America’s involvement in the Middle East during the 1980s. Though Khomeini himself died in 1989, his followers control Iran to this day and continue to embrace his antagonistic attitude toward the United States and the West.

In 2005 Iran elected a new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Before he became president, Ahmadinehad was mayor of Tehran, but before that he was a foot soldier in Khomeini’s fundamentalist revolution. Five former hostages have identified him as one of the students who seized the American embassy. According to one journalist, the Iranian president’s political philosophy can be stated simply: “Ahmadinejad sees his role as promoting the same platform of global jihad he has been actively participating in since 1979.” And the latest battle over Iran’s nuclear capability is a strong sign of that. Thus Khomeini’s seizure of power influences global politics to this day, and the heirs of his revolution continue to threaten the interests and security of the United States.

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http://www.tebyan.net/index.aspx?pid=59073&KEYWORD= Khomeini

Obama should pull out of Iraq by July

Published: Jan. 21, 2009 at 4:58 PM
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WASHINGTON, Jan. 21 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama should pull as many U.S. troops from Iraq as possible before Iraqis vote on the Status of Forces Agreement in July, a scholar says.

The Iraqi government said it would put the Status of Forces Agreement to a vote in July. Baghdad could order all U.S. troops out of Iraq by 2010 if the measure fails at the polls, leaving military officials scrambling to organize a hasty withdrawal.

"Such a tight withdrawal deadline would be very difficult to meet in an orderly fashion -- especially if Washington has not made a robust effort to extract as many troops and equipment as possible by this July," writes Wayne White, an Iraq specialist and former State Department official serving as an adjunct scholar at the Middle East Institute in Washington.

White predicts a "significant" uptick in the level of violence as U.S. forces pull back to their military bases in June under the terms of the agreement, as the primary security buffer between rival political, sectarian and ethnic entities dissipates.

The Obama administration, however, should maintain its resolve to pull American forces from Iraq if such violence materializes and the Iraqi government pressures Washington to send U.S. troops back into the streets, he argues.

"A swift and orderly withdrawal from Iraq would best serve overall U.S. interests," he notes. "That is the standard against which the new administration must judge all actions related to Iraq."

Solar eclipse on Jan 26

Updated at: 1745 PST, Wednesday, January 21, 2009
KARACHI: Pakistan Space & Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO) has announced that an Annular Solar Eclipse (Ring like) will occur on January 26, 2009.

SUPARCO officials said on Wednesday that this type of eclipse occurs when apparent size of lunar disk becomes smaller than the apparent solar disk and lunar disk cannot cover whole of the sun.

Annular Eclipse will be visible mostly over Indian Ocean and part of Western Indonesia. However, partial eclipse will be visible from South Africa, Madagascar, South India, South-East Asia and Australia.

This eclipse (annular or partial) will not be visible from Pakistan.

The partial eclipse will begin at 9:57hrs, while total eclipse begins at 11:02hrs. The greatest eclipse would begin at 12:59hrs. The total eclipse ends at 14:55hrs and partial eclipse ends at16:01hrs.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Arran, the real name of the republic of Azerbaijan

Geography of Iran



An Interview with Dr. Enayatollah Reza

Dr. Enayatollah Reza is a celebrated researcher in the social sciences, especially of historical subjects. His latest studies are focused on the history of Azarbaijan and Aran. He asserts that, based on historical texts, the real name of Caucasus's Azerbaijan is "Aran" and its former name was changed for political reasons. In the following interview, he talks about the content of his upcoming book titled "Azarbaijan, Aran and Albania".

Q: Dr. Reza, you are practically the first Iranian scholar who has researched on Aran and Caucasus's Albania and you have written a book on this. Please explain your views regarding the name of Azerbaijan. Why do you believe that there is only one Azarbaijan, the Azarbaijan of Iran, and that there is no such land called Azerbaijan to the north of the Aras River?

A: Historically speaking, the territory in the Caucasus that lies to the north of the Aras river, was never called Azerbaijan until the year 1918. Giving it this name created difficulties in the first half of the 20th century and in the succeeding years, and these cannot be ignored. History, as well as the works of ancient geographers and Islamic writers bear witness to the fact that the land to the north of the Aras River, which is now known as Azerbaijan, was known before as Albania (Alban). Classical writers, such as Strabon and others, called this region Albania, Armenian, or Alvanak (Aghvanak), while Iranians called it Aran. Aliyov, a historian in the former Soviet Azerbaijan, in his article "Sources Relating the Ancient History of Caucasus's Albania", wrote that in the Parthian era, the eastern part of the Caucasus was called "Ardan". Greek materials referred to this place as "Albania". Barthold, the famous Soviet scholar, believed that in the Islamic era and, according to Arabic sources, this name has taken the forms of "Al-ran" or "Aran", which probably is a transformation of the ancient Parthian name "Ardan".

There is no reason to doubt that Aran was separate from Azarbaijan and that the Aras River constituted the northern border of Azarbaijan, and Aran had never been called Azerbaijan. The academician Barthold most clearly mentioned the Aras River as lying between Azarbaijan and Aran or the ancient Albania (Collected Works, Volume 7, Moscow, 1971, page 123).

Prior to the invention of the name Azerbaijan to designate Aran and Shirvan, Tzarist Russian sources recognized only one Azarbaijan, the true Azarbaijan. The first volume of the Russian Encyclopedia (pages 212 and 213), which was published in St. Petersburg some 102 years ago (in 1890), stated: "Azarbaijan, which was 'Aturpatekan' in Pahlavi and 'Azarbadekan' in Armenian, is the rich industrial northern province of Iran. It borders Iranian Kurdistan and Iraq of Adjam to the south, Turkish Kurdistan and Armenia to the west, Russian Armenia and the Southern Caucasus to the north. Its border is marked by the Aras River". Had the name Azerbaijan been used for the land to the north of the Aras, undoubtedly, this encyclopedia would have used the name "Russian Azerbaijan" just as it had used the designations "Turkish Kurdistan", "Iranian Kurdistan", "Turkish Armenia", or "Russian Armenia". It can easily be seen that only one Azarbaijan existed and that was the Iranian Azarbaijan.

Following the Bolshevik Revolution and the ensuing turmoil in the Russian empire, Turkish politicians of the time became intent on establishing a puppet state in the Caucasus. In 1911, a party named "Mossavat" (Equality) was founded in Baku, which was supported by the Ottoman Turks. It held a joint congress with Turkey's Party of Federalists in 1917. In this congress, the two parties united and called themselves the "Democratic Party of Turkish Mossavat Federalists". Their goal was to unite Turkish-speaking people under the umbrella of Turkey.

The Mossavatis set up a government on 27 May 1918, and called the area the "Azerbaijan Republic". Their capital initially was Gandjeh, but after the occupation of Baku by the Turkish army under the command of Noori Pasha on 15 September 1918, the capital was transferred to Baku and their government was consolidated through the support of the Turkish army. They ruled Aran and Shirvan, calling these areas collectively as the Azerbaijan Republic for two years. This situation continued until 28 April 1920, at which date the Bolsheviks attacked Baku and declared the area as a Soviet republic. The Soviets persisted in using the invented name, calling this territory the "Soviet Socialist Republic of Azerbaijan".

Barthold disclosed the reason for choosing to apply such a name. In page 782 of the second volume of his Collected Works, he noted: "The name 'Azerbaijan' was adopted because it was presumed that through the establishment of the Azerbaijan Republic, the Iranian Azarbaijan and the Azerbaijan Republic will eventually become one." As can be seen, the name 'Azerbaijan' was used with a specific goal that became manifest at a later period. Somewhere else in this same volume, Barthold wrote: "Wherever and whenever a name should be required with which one can refer to the whole region of the Azerbaijan Republic, one can use Aran" (page 703).

From the very beginning, the use of the name "Azerbaijan" for Aran met with the protests of Iranian patriots, including Sheik Mohammad Khiabani and his comrades. But since this naming had been carried out, the Democrats siding with Khiabani decided to change the name of Iran's Azarbaijan to "Azadistan" (land of freedom). This fact was clearly stated in Kasravi's book titled "The Unknown Kings", where he expressed surprise at the use of the name Azerbaijan to refer to Aran, writing: "Why are our Arani brothers destroying their national history and their past at the onset of their national life? This itself is an enormous loss and there is no other example of such a strange deed in history" (second printing, page 265).

After foreign forces entered Iran in Shahrivar 1320 (August 1941), under the tutelage of the Red Army, a party was established in Tabriz called "The Party of Azerbaijan". It was mostly run by immigrants from the Caucasus and the executors of Soviet policy, especially the cronies of Mir-Dja'far Bagherov, the secretary of the central committee of the Communist Party of the Caucasus. At first, the leaders of this party clandestinely advocated the separation of Azarbaijan (from Iran). The excuse they used to carry out their aims was the prevalent use of the Turkish language in this area, which was actually forced upon the people of this region centuries ago, again through the immigration of Turks.

Kasravi wrote: "Their secret aim was separation from Iran" (Nameh-e Parcham, 2 June 1943). Three and a half years later, on 4 September 1945, Caucasian agents created another party named the "Democratic Party of Azerbaijan", which ostensibly advocated adherence to the Constitution and the establishment of provincial and state councils. Its real goal, however, was unification with the Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan. The instigators of this idea for unification invented the names of "South and North Azerbaijan", whereas the land to the north of the Aras River had another name as mentioned earlier.

The leaders of the Democratic Party, who purportedly advocated the establishment of provincial and state councils, openly spoke about their secret aims following their escape from Iran and after finding refuge on the other side of the Aras. A message printed in the 'Azerbaijan' newspaper, which was the official organ of the Democratic Party, explicitly stated: "The people of South Azerbaijan, which is an indivisible part of North Azerbaijan, like all the peoples of the world, have their hopes fixed on the great people and the state of the Soviet Union" ('Azerbaijan' newspaper, no. 213, Baku, 23 December 1950). In another telegram to Mir-Dja'far Bagherov, the chairman of the Communist Party of the Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan, these officials wrote: "Three whole years have passed since the establishment of the Azerbaijan Democratic Party that leads the struggle toward national liberation and the emancipation of the southern part of our motherland Azerbaijan, which has been suffering in the black hands of Persian chauvinists" ('Azerbaijan' newspaper, no. 81, Baku, 8 September 1948).

Following these actions, the terms "North Azerbaijan" and "South Azerbaijan" were skillfully manipulated into books and into translations from Turkish and Russian in order to inculcate this idea into the minds of readers. Some, knowingly or unknowingly, aided in propagating this idea. For instance, these unreasonable terms were included in history and geography textbooks and some of our translators repeated them. This practice has progressed to such an extent that a number of our local newspapers, without paying the least attention and consideration, have used these wrong and damaging terms, even in their recent issues, despite the fact that it is very easy to refute this be aware of the reality.

The author of the book "Corners of Iranian History" wrote: "The unification of North Azerbaijan with Russia played a progressive role and the only government that helped the people of the Caucasus against Iran and the Ottomans was Russia" (see pages 44, 192, 224). Did this reflect the real situation? How then can one explain the resistance of the people of that land in the past and the uprisings of Muslims, including the one led by Sheik Shamel in Daghestan, as well as the present reaction of the Caucasian and Central Asian people, and the Islamic movements in these republics? In many pages of this book, we find the terms North and South Azerbaijan.

These propagandists have been trying to pretend that Azerbaijan is a divided land and that it should be united someday. During the previous years, unification was to be realized with Soviet power. Today, the propaganda has taken another form, with American propagandists having involved Turkey and introduced it as a model. They use the wrong term "Azeri" in referring to the people and the land of Aran. The people of Aran should be called "Arani" as "Azeri" is a term that should be used only for the people of Azarbaijan. There is no link between the title "Azeri" and the people of Aran. And neither is "Azeri" the language of the people of Azarbaijan nor that of Aran. "Azeri" is one of the Iranian dialects, such as Kurdish, Lurish, Gillish, Mazandarani, Balouchi, Bakhtiari, and others. There is no relation between the old Azeri language and Turkish. There still exist in Azarbaijan groups of people living in the mountains speaking the Azeri dialect. The language spoken by the people of Aran is not Azeri nor is it ancient Arani. Rather, it is one of the Turkish dialects that has been mixed with local languages.

In the case of Azarbaijan and Aran, there are some who try to call Aran "Azerbaijan". This is a gross mistake. While the rulers of Azarbaijan ruled over Aran during certain epochs, Azarbaijan is a separate entity from Aran. At times, the rulers of Tabaristan ruled over Gilan and those of Gilan, such as the Buyids, ruled over Tabaristan; yet, Tabaristan and Gilan were separate and are considered separate lands now, even though they are adjacent. No one has ever denied the fact that Aran was under the rule of Iran and belonged to it, but taking the two as the same and using the damaging and wrong term of "North Azerbaijan" is a wrong approach.

I do not understand why some refer only to what they are interested in and ignore most of the well-known writings. Bal'ami's work has long been revered as a Persian work, but, he was a translator of the Tarikh-e Tabari. The point that was noted in the Tarikh-e Bal'ami does not exist in the Tarikh-e Tabari (see Tarikh-e Tabari, Volume 5, page 1979, translated by Abolghassem Payandeh). But one should know that on geographical matters, the views of geographers are preferred. I do not wish to mention all such sources, but to clarify the situation of Azarbaijan and Aran, in the 10th and 11th century, which happens to be the time of Bal'ami, one can see the works of Ibn-e Khordad-beh who was the head of the 'Barid' (postal service) of Djebal (Media), and of Ibn-e Rosteh and many others, provided one is really seeking the truth and is not trying to verify one's own wishes and illusions.

Fanaticism is a sign of stupidity. Some accuse me of viewing the Mossavatis through the eyes of the Bolsheviks. The future will make everything clear and those who seek to deceive will be exposed to the nation. The final judgment will be made by men of reason, not by some ignorant fanatics.

I have not written anything regarding my beloved native land, Gilan; yet, I have dedicated a large part of my life to the study of Azarbaijan. This shows how much affection I feel for the people of Azarbaijan. When during my diaspora I was living in the mouth of the dragon, I did not ignore this sacred duty. My affection for the people of Azarbaijan cost me dearly during my migration. I had to suffer many deprivations. The separatists made my life and that of my family very difficult. I endured all these hardships for the sake of my country, of which Azarbaijan is a part.

Now that an independent republic has been established in the land of Aran, it would have been appropriate if it would stop abusing the name of Azarbaijan and would use its true historical name. Currently, Iran's enemies are unfortunately exploiting the existence of this misnomer by propagating false and misleading information. One example is Radio Liberty, which is run from Munich. It carries out its activities from a budget it receives from the US Congress and its broadcasts show the sinister goals that it seeks against the integrity of our country. You can also find similar things in the propaganda of some other countries. It is bizarre that a number of neighboring republics deviate from being sincere and honest, imagining the Iranian people as being ignorant of the facts. This is not so, as we do see and consider everything.

The government of the Islamic Republic of Iran has proudly carried out its religious and neighborly duties toward the newly independent states bordering it. Even in the initial moments when its neighbors regained their sovereignty, Iran ignored the issue of name and some of their unjust behaviors, hoping that with the passage of time, its brothers and neighbors will pay due consideration and take notice of the facts. The Islamic Republic of Iran could make its recognition of the newly independent republics subject to certain conditions; however, in observing its religious and neighborly obligations, it did not choose to do so in order to enable the emerging states to achieve stability. The steps taken by the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to promote economic cooperation proves this fact. Now it is appropriate for our Aranian brothers to take these factors into consideration and choose a path that will lead to strengthening the ties of friendship.

Q: Recently, in a book published under the title "Speaking with History", Nooreddin Kianoory accused you of repenting from the socialist ideas you had held for many years, that you returned to Iran and joined the regime of the Shah; in general, that you have publicly recanted your ideas and opinions in order to have gain important positions. What can you say about these?

A: Regarding the shift in scientific views, I should say that one is not born a scientist and from the beginning to the end of one's life, the scientific outlook of a person undergoes many changes. This is required for the growth and development of a human being. The distinction between man and animals is that man studies and thinks and through thinking, his perceptions evolve. This is the law of life. Hence, censuring people for changing their minds is inane and unreasonable. Whose intelligence ever remained on the same level as it was during one's youth? Only lunatics and retarded people could be so. Have the scientists who have made great discoveries in the social sciences, remained on their initial level of thought? Man studies every problem and arrives at new concepts and his knowledge develops. The most foolish people are those who think their own ideas constitute the pinnacle of human thought.

As to repentance, I came to Iran under the condition that no one demand repentance from me. I never repented publicly in any media. Those who accuse me of public repentance are liars and I should confess that truly, no one ever asked me to repent.

Equating development with repentance is in itself an indication of the lack of wisdom. In my life, and especially during my migration, I have learned many precious lessons that were not acquired cheaply. But these same experiences taught me not to keep my way of thinking on the same level as it was during my youth. It is surprising that while many of my writings contain many criticisms of Bolshevism and what I had predicted has been realized, still, you find people making such statements. Does this not indicate a lack of originality in their way of thinking and in the way their mind works?

I have been attacked from two sides, but I will bear these attacks for the sake of the integrity of Iran and for the sake of the existence and unity of my homeland. We die and what remains for our children and descendants is the homeland that both the old and the young should be proud of.

When I think about some of the false accusations, I cannot help from being reminded of what the famous Russian writer, Turgenyev, said: "One day a slick, old professional character told me while giving me advice that, 'Whenever you decide to hurt your enemy, accuse him of your own flaws and be ruthless in making such accusations. This is of dual importance. First, with this accusation, you pretend that you yourself are free of such flaws. Second, your accusations appear sincere and honest ... Here you can utilize the reproaches of your own conscience to your benefit. If you yourself are treacherous and devoid of conscience and honesty, accuse your enemy of treachery and dishonesty. If you are servile and subordinate, call your enemy an odious mercenary.'"

Would those who have characterized my book as arising from my feelings of spitefulness and enmity towards the people of Azarbaijan, characterize their own works as the result of their own enmity and personal vendetta against the non-Azeris who are wrongly called Persians? Are they not accusing others of having their own flaws?

I have written a book about Azarbaijan and others have also written articles about it. The right to judge these belongs to the community of (those who engage in) research and (those who follow) reason, not to fanatics and blind ignorants. The issue has been raised, and undoubtedly, it will be studied by researchers, then the facts will become clear. I did not write the book "Iran's Azarbaijan" in order to obtain a post. This favor I will leave to those who seek favors.

In the end I say: If returning to one's own homeland and working in a library as a researcher in the service of culture is the same thing as obtaining posts and affluence, this post and affluence I will gladly offer to Mr. Kianoory. In the 28 years following my return to my beloved homeland, I have only served in literary, cultural and research capacities and I am proud that the result of these efforts has been tens of books, authored and translated, as well as a role in putting together one of the most valuable encyclopedias of the Persian language. Now, we should see whether such services are valuable or whether the lies and the gibberish that some put together in order to sell the results of 50 years of treason, spying, betrayal of one's own country that make people hate everything associated with socialism, as service to their compatriots.
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