The case provided a window into the intense political differences in Iraq even among Shiite Muslims. Although some Shiite lawmakers and security commanders said they thought the accused men might have helped facilitate terrorist attacks, they rejected reports that the group had been hatching a coup attempt -- a grave worry among the ruling Shiite coalition.
The arrests also raised fears among some lawmakers that the government of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki was using authoritarian tactics reminiscent of Hussein's regime to reinforce its power and thwart rivals.
Shortly after his arrival home, Bolani convened a news conference and denounced the arrests."This story . . . is a fabricated one," Bolani said of the allegations against the men. "It is not based on any facts, security or intelligence."
The above is from Ned Parker and Saif Hameed's "Iraq releases detained security officers" (Los Angeles Times), reporting on what happens after the big arrests, trumpeted by some reporters (not ones at the Los Angeles Times or the Washington Post) as a sign of just how wonderful, groovy and strong Nouri al-Maliki was because he prevented a coup! A coup, they told us, a coup! There was never any proof for that and the whole thing always smacked of the Jessica Lynch 'rescue mission' (that's not an insult to Jessica Lynch -- she never tried to deceive the American public). It took a lot of 'innocence' to buy into the notion that a coup was about to take place -- but thwarted by al-Maliki! -- just because al-Maliki said so.
Repeating from earlier this week, al-Maliki may be taken out at some point. He may be forced out of office or he may be 'retired' to the grave. He is the US puppet and most likely any attempt to oust him will come from the US or be US-backed. An opposing, out-of-power group in Iraq might plan to assassinate al-Maliki and might pull it off, but that wouldn't be a coup. And for a coup to work at this tage in the 'new' Iraq's history, it would require US backing. The problem there is it's so much easier for the US to send al-Maliki packing then to go to the trouble and expense of a coup. Despite all the testimonials the press offered to him earlier this month, he is neither that popular, nor that powerful. He is a puppet and a weak one at that. Tomorrow the Bully Boy could decide it was time for him to go (or in late January, Barack could) and it could be done in a series of phone calls with no violence unless al-Maliki was foolish enough to have forgotten he was a puppet. His public support is shaky and its already taken care of to publicly humiliate him if that need happen. (The US has already stocked up on how to do that.)
So the coup allegeations never made sense. You'd have to have some real loons in some levels of the Iraqi government who didn't grasp the dynamics of what they saw around them and honestly believed they could take over. (Take over without US backing.)
There is only one grouping in Iraq currently that could stage a coup without US backing: the Kurds. They have the money, the forces and the military and security intelligence to do so. Were they to stage a coup, they could potentially paralyze the US for a few minutes because they have built up relationships with US officials. (As opposed to Moqtada al-Sadr who would quickly be ordered killed.) But the Kurds have no motive (and weren't the accused in this little fantasy the New York Times originally tried to pass off as fact). The Kurds are not interested in ruling a nation-state called Iraq. They want a federation (splitting the country into regions with the Kurds controlling the northern region). So the only group that currently has the resources and abilities to stage a coup is the group that doesn't want to and, in fact, looks at the bulk of Iraq as if it were Baltic Avenue and Mediterranean Avenue. Yes, they want a land grab on the areas immediately around the Kurdish region -- but those are the oil-rich areas.
Along with the much hyped 2004 'rescue,' the al-Maliki-stops-coup! nonsense should have reminded people of Basra back in Februrary. Remember how that was supposed to prove al-Maliki was strong, decisive and commanding. That wasn't reality. And a few noted that in real time but by April, when Petreaues and Croker were testifying to Congress, the idea that al-Maliki showed any 'strength' in February (or March) should have flown out the window. (al-Maliki pushed the operation before it was ready to go and did so over US objection. Look up Ryan Crocker and David Peteraues' Congressional testimonies if you've forgotten or missed it during April.) And yet in the immediate news cyle of it's-a-coup! there were outlets that did refer back to the attack on Basra (the one al-Maliki fumbled and that US forces had to lead on as a result).
2008 has really been about the White House trying to convince Iraq, the US and the world that al-Maliki is competent, skilled and a leader. It's not taken. Even among US officials, that lie has not taken hold. So the real question right now is where the story came from? Was the 'coup' something al-Maliki came up with all on his own as a cover-story that would make him look good or was this one last-ditch effort by the White House -- an attempt to shore up al-Maliki's reputation before the next president is sworn in?
In the New York Times this morning, Campbell Robertson and Tareq Maher offer "24 Officers to Be Freed, Iraqi Says" which includes the following:
The minister, Jawad al-Bolani, in a series of interviews and at a news conference on Friday, insisted on the innocence of the officials detained on charges of aiding terrorism and having inappropriate ties with political parties, including Al Awda, an illegal party that is a descendant of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party.
"It's because of the competition of the provincial elections," Mr. Bolani, who arrived in the country on Friday after a week away, said of the arrests in an interview. "It's just electoral propaganda, and that’s playing with fire."
In his forceful rejection of the charges, Mr. Bolani was careful not to mention names and was not specific in explaining how these arrests could benefit anyone specifically in the prelude to the crucial provincial elections next month. But it seemed, at least temporarily, to be a serious blow to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, given the crackdown's close association with him.
It also seemed to raise the temperature of Iraqi politics, possibly fueling a rivalry between Mr. Bolani and Mr. Maliki, both prominent Shiite politicians, in a way that could damage either or both of them. Attempts to reach the prime minister’s spokesman were unsuccessful.
Sudarsan Raghavan's "Arrests Based on a 'Lie,' Iraqi Interior Chief Says" (Washington Post) observes:
Critics of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have described them as a move to gain an advantage ahead of next month's crucial provincial elections, which could alter Iraq's political balance of power. Maliki's aides have denied those accusations.
The prime minister and his Dawa party are facing competition from other Shiite parties vying for influence in Iraq's predominantly Shiite oil-rich south. His rivals now include Bolani, an independent Shiite, who recently founded his own political party.
Raghavan also reports on Judge Dhia al-Kinani's decision to explore how Muntadar al-Zaidi ended up injured. Muntadar is the world-famous journalist who threw both of his shoes at the Bully Boy of the United States on Sunday. Arrested and imprisoned for his actions, Muntadar was also beaten. Raghavan notes that Muntadar's family launched a public protest yesterday over the fact that they have still not been allowed to see Muntadar.
Along with the family, many others are protesting throughout Iraq in support of Muntadar. Sahar Issa's "More Iraqis rally to cause of reporter who threw shoes at Bush" reports:
[MP Bahaa al] Araji joined more than 70 protesters outside Baghdad's Green Zone, a secure area that includes the Parliament and Maliki's residence. Araji said Zaidi should appear in court no later than Thursday.
"We know that the judges themselves feel for him and, God willing, he will be with his family soon," Araji said. "Tomorrow we will submit a formal request that Zaidi should be allowed visits by his family."
Iraqis in different cities have protested every day this week for Zaidi, and Friday's rally brought together a handful of politicians, Zaidi's siblings and a mix of protesters from several provinces outside of Baghdad.
"Because of Muntathar, I lift my head high. And to be frank, I haven't been proud to be an Iraqi for five long years of humiliation," said Sheikh Mohammed al Inizi, a leader in the Sons of Iraq movement, which brought Sunni tribes together with American forces to fight terrorist cells.
"We should call him Muntathar al Iraqi -- not Muntathar al Zaidi; all of Iraq is his tribe now," Inizi said.
Iraq's Sunni vice president Tariq al-Hashemi is in Turkey today. Starting December 24th, al-Maliki is supposed to begin a diplomatic mission and one of the scheduled stops is Turkey. Also expected to visit Turkey is Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari.
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