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    Middle East
     Feb 10, 2007
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How the 'security' charade plays in Baghdad
By Sami Moubayed

DAMASCUS - An estimated 85,000 US and Iraqi troops are expected to patrol Baghdad's streets as part of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's US-inspired security plan to combat sectarian violence.

Fifty-four police stations, with 25,000 police officers, have been placed on high alert to combat the Mehdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr, the Badr Organization of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq's Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, and armed insurgents allegedly from al-Qaeda and the Ba'athists loyal to the late

president Saddam Hussein. Ironically, both the Mehdi Army and
the Badr Organization are allied to the premier.

On the first day of the security surge on Wednesday, 22 Iraqis were killed in Baghdad. Twenty-four hours later, US and Iraqi troops stormed the Iraqi Ministry of Health and arrested the deputy minister, Hakim al-Zamili, who is accused of being a member of the Mehdi Army.

Zamili is also accused of smuggling arms in ambulances and using ministry vehicles to evacuate members of the Mehdi Army from Sadr City during an Iraqi-US raid on the Baghdad Shi'ite slum. He is also said to have diverted huge sums of money to the Mehdi Army.

The Ministry of Health, after all, is a stronghold for Muqtada and has been used for undercover Sadrist activity since last May. The Americans know this, and tolerate it to bolster their friend Maliki. The prime minister knows this and tolerates it to maintain support within the Shi'ite community. And the Iraqi Sunnis also know this.

Yet Zamili's arrest means very little, since he is neither a political heavyweight nor one of the brains of the Mehdi Army. His arrest is nothing more than a public relations stunt by the prime minister, who wants to show the world (read US) that he is not being soft on the Sadrists, as his opponents have been saying for months. He knows - and the Americans know - that the Baghdad security plan will not seriously target the Mehdi Army, as this would mean Maliki's destruction in Shi'ite politics.

A gruesome reminder for Sunnis
While all of is going on, a video has surfaced in parts of the Arab world showing the beheading of an Iraqi woman, believed to be Atwar Bahjat, a 30-year-old reporter for Al-Arabiyya TV who was kidnapped and murdered on February 22, 2006 (see Remembering Atwar Bahjat, March 16, 2006).

Atwar was a devoted Sunni whose murder in Samarra (probably by Shi'ite militiamen) enflamed Sunni emotions and led to vicious sectarian killings, including the torching of mosques, that continue a year later. The sudden appearance of the video will deepen the Shi'ite-Sunni rift and make Maliki's security plan all the more difficult to implement.

In addition to security, Maliki has equally pressing issues to tackle. One is political co-existence between Shi'ites and Sunnis. The temperature was raised when members of the ruling United Iraqi Alliance of Shi'ite parties asked in Parliament for the expulsion of Arab Sunnis from Baghdad. The Sunni Speaker, Mahmud al-Mashadani, snapped back, saying that non-Arabs (in clear reference to pro-Iranian Iraqi Shi'ites) should also be expelled from the capital.

Another problem is the 4 million refugees who have in recent days received much attention in the Arab and Western media. One reason is that Syria, by enforcing visa regulations, has made it more difficult for illegal immigrants to stay on its territory. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, this is the largest movement of people in the Middle East since the Arab-Israeli war of 1948 led to a massive exodus of Palestinians from Palestine. Reportedly, one out of every seven Iraqis has been displaced since 2003, with violence uprooting 1,300 Iraqis per day, totaling about 40,000 a month.

Since coming to power last May, Maliki has failed on security, he has failed on political co-existence, and he has failed on refugees.
This brings into question his leadership - something touched on in the United States' National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq, which was released in part on February 2. The 90-page document, much anticipated in the intelligence community, sheds serious

Continued 1 2 

Slouching toward D-day (Feb 9, '07)

An uphill battle on Baghdad's mean streets (Feb 9, '07)

Shi'ite power a law unto itself (Feb 8, '07)


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