In its Thursday/Friday edition, Azzaman featured this across the top of its front page: "Official in American center for security studies: Maliki refuses to include over 100,000 Awakening volunteers in the Iraqi security apparatus", naming Colin Kahl as the author of the warning. Then it its weekend edition, the paper's top front-page story was based on the Agence France Presse story about Sadrists signing the blood-oath, and the heading read: "Mahdi Army announces keeping up the fight and its rebellion against the order to freeze its activities". The actual AFP story quoted a person signing the oath to the effect he would prefer to fight but will follow Moqtada's orders. There was nothing in the story about a rebellion.
Conversely, Azzaman, along with the Washington media machine, has little to say about the crisis of confidence in the government, reflected in the dramatically low voter-registration turnout. There was a report last week that Sistani had issued an order for people to register, something that has been subject to various comments. An AlQuds alArabi op-ed writer writes that this is a throw-back or a remnant of the days when the occupation government had to rely on sectarian religious leaders to get people to acquiesce in its projects, something the writer says isn't working any more. On the contrary, writes Haifa Zankana, an important lesson the people have drawn from the corruption and lack of government services is its non-sectarian nature. And an AlHayat writer quotes Shiite cleric Jawad al-Khalasi:
Sheikh Jawad al-Khalasi told the Maliki government to stick to the statements officials have made about the wthdrawal of American forces by 2011, adding: All of the religious elements support a schedule for withdrawal, and if the government sticks to the announced schedule, it will enoy the absolute support of the religious figures.And in case you don't listen to al-Khalasi, the AlHayat journalist goes on to cite none other than Adel AbdulMahdi, who reaffirmed Sistani's re-affirmation of the importance of Iraqi independence and sovereignty, and this is twinned with the get-out-and-vote pitch:
[On the Kirkuk issue, he urged all politicians to prioritize the unity of Iraq].
[Then on the reported Sistani call for voter-registration]: He doubted what certain media have reported [about Sistani's statement]. And he said the news is not correct. The marjaiyya makes its announcements in an official way, and not by satellite TV. He accused local satellite TV stations belonging to [political] parties of spreading [their own] ideas.
He explained that "the poor turnout of electors at the registration offices has motivated some politicians and parties to have recourse to Sistani in order to correct [people's] attitudes", and he added: "The people's lack of confidence in the authorities, and the worsening of the crisis in [government] services are among the main reasons behind the people's desisting from registering their names at the election offices."
[AbdulMahdi said:] "The withdrawal of the multinational forces should be by a defined deadline, and in the meantime during their presence there should be Iraqi control over legal and operational matters". And he indicated that the marjaiyya "stressed the necessity of participating in the elections, and is a supporter of the democratic election process."I don't think it takes too much reading between the lines to understand the dynamics: The Maliki government, supported by the Najaf hierarchy, faces a crisis of popular confidence reflected in the low voter-registration turnout, and turns to Sistani for support, on a sink-or-swim together approach. At the same time, in order to compensate for the lack of popular support based on governance, the Maliki government and the hierarchy are left with one remaining claim to popular support, and that is a tough stance on the American withdrawal. And this could be what accounts for the intransigence in the withdrawal negotiations.
By contrast, what you could call the coalition media (which now seems to include Azzaman) frame the issue quite differently, namely as a configuration of military issues, were they exist and even where they don't exist, with General Maliki seen as the overconfident commander in the war that is Iraq. It's not the whole story, to say the very least.