Saturday, May 10, 2008

Wiggle-room (With an update on continued US airstrikes)

You will perhaps think me picky, reader, but I was looking forward to a definitive statement from Aswat al Iraq/Voices of Iraq about the nature and content of the agreement referred to in the previous post, so as to put to rest all the ambiguity. Imagine my disappointment on finding that there are slight but potentially important differences between their Arabic-language version and their English-language version.

(1) The Arabic version quotes Dabbagh as referring to "talks between the UIA and the brothers from the Sadrist trend to support security and stability in Sadr City and [other] areas where there have been security problems, and an agreement was reached, consisting of 14 points, between the Sadrist trend and the UIA, which transmitted the views of the government. The English language version says this: "'There are talks between a UIC [=UIA] delegation and the brothers from the Sadrist bloc, and a 14-point agreement was reached,' Ali al-Dabbagh told VOI on Saturday". The thing about the UIA "transmitting the views of the government" isn't there. (And in neither the English nor the Arabic version is their any mention of the American forces or the Maliki-Bush relationship, so the question of the government's actual status in this is important).

(2)The Arabic version quotes Dabbagh's version of one part of the agreement as follows: "Among the clauses is an end to armed manifestations (muthaahira or muzaahira if you prefer) clearing Sadr City of all explosive devices and mines, closing illegal courthouses..." and so on, compared to a slightly different expression in the English language version, which runs as follows: "'The agreement included the clearing of Sadr City of all explosive charges and mines, the closure of all illegal courthouses, ending all armed activities and acknowledging that the Iraqi government is the sole party that runs security issues and decides sending any forces to any area to impose order and security,' Dabbagh noted". So "an end to armed manifestations" in Arabic has become "ending all armed activities" in English. If I am remembering correctly, this expression about "armed manifestations" or something very like it, was part of the compromise agreement between the Lebanese government and Hizbullah for the implementation of the UN resolution that followed the July war of 2006 and called for disarming Hizbullah. The idea had to do with keeping weapons out of sight.

(3) On the question of picking up wanted persons, there is an interesting (?) difference as well. The Arabic version quotes Dabbagh as follows: "On stopping military operations in Sadr City, Dabbagh said: 'Military operations in Sadr City are in pursuit of outlaws, because there are people that are wanted by the law, and we expect that the Sadrist trend will cooperate in the government extending its authority.'" the English has something quite different, as follows:
Zaynab al-Kanani, a member of parliament from the Sadrist bloc, had said on Friday that several Sadrist delegations under Sheikh Ubaydi have met with members from the UIC and other parliamentary blocs during the past couple of days to reach a solution to the crisis between the government and the Sadrists.
She said the outcome of the meetings was good but there are still some pivotal issues pending consultations and might take some time to reach an agreement over.
"One of these issues is the handover of more than 40 gunmen against whom arrest warrants were issued," Kanani said.
Ubaydi, however, said the agreement provides for "the right of the Iraqi security forces to conduct raids in search of wanted people in accordance with controls and citizenship rights [no doubt meaning "subject to due process and civil rights"."
So the conclusion is that there is probably a lot more grey-area wiggle-room that might appear on the face of it. Because

(1) It still isn't exactly clear what the relationship is between the "government" and the UIA in this, or what the government's actual obligations are under this, or the relationship between this "agreement" and its other "agreements" for instance that with the United States.

(2) There seems to be a clause about banning "armed manifestations", which could indicate an informal compromise something like what was adopted in the 2006 case of Hizbullah.

(3) There is still ambiguity about the potential scope of Iraqi army arrest operations, which depending on your reading, could be limited to execution of existing outstanding arrest warrants, arresting of anyone as long as it is subject to due process and civil rights (prompt charges or else release, for instance), or a more general obligation on the part of the Sadrists to help the government extend its jurisdiction.

In short, the whole package of unclarity in this probably marks this as what we call in Japanese an agreement "with the irridescence of a butterfly's wings."

*Voices of Iraq posted this at 9:30 pm Baghdad time on Saturday May 10:
Baghdad, May 10, (VOI) – Three large parts of Sadr city were subjected to heavy bombardment that was continuously carried out by U.S. helicopters, starting from Saturday 3:30 p.m. until now, despite the Iraqi government and representatives of the Sadr movement having signed an agreement to stop confrontations in the city.

Reporter of Aswat al-Iraq – Voices of Iraq – (VOI) said that airstrike operations covered the areas of Jameela, al-Gayiara, and al-Dakhil, but he could not contact medical sources to learn whether there were any casualties among Sadr city's residents.


Blogger Helena Cobban said...

Maybe 'manifestations' is a better translation for muzahiraat than 'demonstrations'?

'Manifestations' conveys both the sense of (whether implicitly or explicitly) the public showing of arms, as such, and-- as per the French-- unarmed, political demonstrations.

But you're right to note that it does carry both meanings.

1:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Aloha, Badger! Al Jazeera is reporting...

Al-Obeidi, who took part in the negotiations conducted in Baghdad, said the two sides had reached agreement on most issues.

"The two groups agreed on 10 of the 14 points discussed. The agreed points do not include disbanding of Jaish al-Mahdi," he said, referring to the group's al-Mahdi army militia.

Al-Obeidi said: "The agreement stipulates that the government's security forces have the right to make raids and searches [in Sadr City] for those who are wanted but by following the principles of human rights."

Al-Maliki's government is dominated by Shia parties that want al-Mahdi army to be disbanded before provincial elections in October.

Al-Sadr's group argues that it needs its weapons for self-defence as long as other Shia and Sunni groups backed by the US military and al-Maliki's government retain their weapons.
So 10 of the 14 have been agreed to JAM is not going to disband... Now, will the Americans jump on board?

1:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And here is how Arab Monitor reports it:
Moqtada al-Sadr's movement and the Iraqi government announced they reached an agreement to end the armed confrontation that ravaged Sadr City for seven weeks. In his statement to Agence France Press, Moqta al-Sadr's spokesman, Sheikh Salah al-Obeidi said the Mahdi Army forces agreed to open all roads leading to Sadr City and to abstain from carrying weapons in public. According to government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh, the agreement permits the government's armed forces to "raid and search any place it suspects there are heavy and medium weapons" in Sadr City, while Sheikh al-Obeidi said the agreement does not include the disbanding of the Mahdi Army militia.
(Copied in full before it goes behind the pay wall.)

3:01 PM  
Blogger badger said...

There's another point that might or might not turn out to be important here. In Gaza last year, the US-supplied Fatah fighting outfit unexpectedly collapsed, and that was what led to the Hamas "takeover". In Basra recently this year, during the initial "campaign" and throughout the center and the south, there were a lot of defections from the Iraqi Army. And in the last few days in Beirut, one of the factors some point to is that the expected "reinforcements" from the north of the country--Sunnis who were expected to be up for a sectarian war--weren't. These are possibly manifestations of the general idea Sadr played up when he talked about the olive-branch and Koran approach, namely that people generally don't like killing and tormenting their neighbors and compatriots, by and large, unless they are higher-ups with agency-type connections with the occupier. In those three cases, expected fighting forces collapsed, something that only became apparent after the fact. In this case, is it possible Sadrists think there aren't enough hard-line Badr people to continue any campaign of harassment in the absence of the US forces, so that this could turn into something like the Hizbullah "compromise" after the July war? (Just don't carry arms in public...)

3:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Aloha, Badger! A quick question, who initiated the process? Whom established the initial 14 points or demands, of which 10 where met... Mark from Ireland and Erdla, both of Gorilla's Guides, told me it was Sadr who started the process and laid out the points, I don't dispute them, but it doesn't make sense to me for Sadr to be dictating the terms...!

2:05 AM  
Blogger badger said...

My impression is that it was the UIA side (for instance there are the remarks by Sagheer in the AlHayat account mentioned in "UIA politicians get involved...") but needless to say there's a lot we don't know...

4:36 AM  

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