Saturday, March 24, 2012

The costly Arab Summit underwhelms Iraqis

At the start of the Iraq War, the United Nations estimated there were 34,000 Palestinian refugees in the country. The Thabet organization has issued a press release stating that the 7,000 Palestinian refugees still "in Iraq are the target of killing, displacement, and systematic detention." It is asking for the Arab Summit League (the summit is scheduled to take place in Baghdad next week) to address the issue. It is among several issues that Nouri al-Maliki would prefer to keep off the agenda. KUNA notes, "The Arab Laywers Union (ALU), a non-government confederation of the bar associations of the Arab countries, on Saturday urged the upcoming Arab Summit to confront the dangers of fragmenting the Arab nation."

Ramad al-Fatash (DPA) reports Nouri declared today that 9 countries have confirmed their participation in the summit. He refused to list them but he did insist on Iraqi television, "More presidents and kings continue to say they will come to Baghdad." AFP notes that Iraq has now spent (in US dollars) $450 million on the summit. Al Mada observes that Baghdad hosted the summit in 1978 and in 1990 but that didn't prepare for today where already the streets are full of security forces and the people are barely present, giving it the appearance of a ghost town. Al Rafidayn explains the summit means the Iraqi theatre will be closed, TV shows wills top filming, that the Iraq stock market will shut down (Sunday through Wednesday), that cultural meeting places in Baghdad will be vacant, that the Iraqi Federation of Football has had to postpone games, that printing press will be closed -- making newspapers near impossible and that the media will have a very hard time covering the summit and that the Iraqi people will have an even harder time finding Iraqi coverage of the summit. Already noted this week was that the security measures in Baghdad was making travel throughout the city cumbersome and lengthy and that this had led to an increase on produce and goods sold in the local markets. The prices only continued to increase as the goods continued selling despite the high prices. Dar Addustour notes that the goods sold better than usual due to people attempting to stock up ahead of the summit when mobility will be even more limited. All of which may explain Al Mada encountering a lack of enthusiasm (at best) and hostility (at worst) from Iraqis when they try to gauge reaction to the planned summit. The people feel it is a show for the leaders and may allow certain countries to get certain things but that it will mean little for Iraq and that it means even less to their own lives.

That may also be a reaction to the large amounts of money spent on the summit at a time when Iraq still lacks potable water in most areas, still suffers from high unemployment, etc. A large portion of the money spent has gone to 'beautifucation' in a way that might please the late Lady Bird Johnson but possibly few others. Lara Jakes (AP) explains, "As it prepares for the estimated $400 million pageant, downtown Baghdad looks little like the battle-ravaged capital it has been for years. Freshly planted flowers adorn squares and parks across the capital. Roads have been repaved, trash swept up, buildings repaired and painted, and brightly colored lights drape trees and streets."

Al Rafidayn reports that Nouri told reporters yesterday that all the logistic and security planning for the summit had been completed. Al Sabaah notes that today he was scheduled to meet with Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani to provide them with a reporting of what is planned and what precautions have been taken.

It'll be interesting to see the response to Nouri's order that no Iraqi politician attends without his permission -- not even the leader of political blocs. Al Mada reports that Nouri's people have made a list of 70 Iraqi politicians whom they've invited to attend and that they are the only ones. Otherwise, there are standing orders for Iraqi forces to prevent any politician in the Green Zone from attempting to enter the summit -- this order apparently allows for shooting. Jalal Talabani is a leader of a Kurdish political party -- and some see him as a leader of Kurds, at least in Baghdad -- but, as president, he is supposed to preside over the summit so presumably his name doesn't need to be on the list. Political opponents of Nouri's state that he's attempting to monopolize both the summit and the guests who will be attending.

The following community sites -- plus the Guardian, Jane Fonda, the ACLU and Indybay Media, -- updated last night and today:

Our focus is Iraq, we're not covering the recent tragedy in Afghanistan. But Michael Jansen is a reporter we've often noted for Iraqi coverage (usually with the outlet the Irish Times) so we will note Jansen's "Opposite sides of same coin" on the massacre. Kat's "Kat's Korner: Carole's back catalogue" went up earlier this evening. She has another music piece that will go up Sunday morning.

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