Monday, October 02, 2006

Significant political timing in Baghdad coup allegations

There was a whole series of surprising announcements in Baghdad on the weekend, causing Azzaman to run a full-page headline on Monday on "Baathist plans for a coup d'etat", backed up by charges by Sadrist Shiite parliament-member Araji to the effect a vice-president and a deputy-premier have both been involved in terror (not naming them, but indicating there are two of each, and there wasn't any question he was referring to the Sunnis in each case, namely vp Tariq al-Hashimi; and vice-premier al-Zobaie).

Al-Hayat, for its part, led with statements by national security adviser Rubaie (Shiite) to the effect the authorities had arrested an al-Qaeda person who "confessed" that he was involved with one of the bodyguards of Irqai Accord leader Dulaimi (Sunni) in a plot to bring in a lot of wired cars, including into the Green Zone; and just for completeness Rubaie said the bodyguard in quesiton had "confessed" to this plot as well. Al-Hayat also reported the accusations by Araji noted above, but in a more skeptical way, noting only that he didn't name them, nor did he indicate any evidence.

Al-Hayat notes that there is interesting political timing. Today (Monday October 2) is the day scheduled for second-reading of the federalism bill. There had been a move by some Sadrists and other Shiites to band together with Sunni groups in opposition to this (being both more of the "nationalist" than of the "federalist" persuation). Al-Hayat notes that the events of the weekend put this alliance in jeopardy, particularly considering the sweeping denunciations by the Sadrist Araji of the main Sunni group in parliament (the Accord Front). Araji went so far as to say that the Accord Front was exploiting its relationship with the Sadrists to provide support to the "takfiiris" (Sunni extremists who consider Shiites heretics and try to kill as many of them as possible). And Araji said the whole National Reconciliation process is a sham.

On the other side of this, Al-Hayat quotes in detail remarks by an Accord member warning against letting these statements lead to a complete break in the relationship between Sunnis and Shiites in the political process, considering that a lot of what Araji said was based on inaccuracies, and in any event there isn't any evidence for any of it.

(There is one part of this that only Azzaman and not Al-Hayat reports, and that is that last week there were Baath-related websites indicating "comprehensive" preparations for a coup, including nicknames of the leaders, said to be persons of high rank in the former regime; and including "code" involving instructions for various of the old-regime security and military units to start carrying out specific tasks once the order was given to begin the struggle. Azzaman notes there isn't any independent authentication of this, saying only that a government person assured the reporter than anything like this on the web is analyzed and dealt with, you shouldn't think it is just being ignored.)

What exactly is the "missing link" here, missing that is from the Western coverage of this?

It is the context. Iraq currently has a coalition Shiite/Sunni government, with a project for National Reconciliation. Just on the eve of second-reading of the federalism bill (an important milestone in the debate between the federalists and the "nationalists", for want of a better term), there is this series of announcements that could blow apart, not only the Reconciliation scheme, but the whole idea of coalition government at the center. The Western headlines about "Shiite calls for a cabinet shake-up" don't really get to the point of all of this, leaving readers bewildered by lists of seemingly random acts of violence, obscuring even the major polical guideposts.