As the Iraqi government tries to stave off chaos within its borders, it proved yesterday it cannot even maintain order in its own parliament building when fisticuffs broke out between four Shiite lawmakers, all Arab dailies report.

In its leading story, “Fists clash between Sadrists and Maliki’s coalition in parliament,” the Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat states that blows were exchanged by two members of embattled Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Shiite-led Iraqi National Alliance and two members of Shiite militant Muqtada al-Sadr’s splinter movement after the former party proposed creating a parliamentary committee to investigate whether certain Iraqi Shiite leaders have been acting as agents of Iran.

The ensuing altercation prompted Osama al-Nujaifi, the speaker of the Iraqi parliament, to postpone the hearing. According to the London-based Al-Hayat, former prime minister Iyad Allawi of Kurdistan Alliance is taking advantage of the internal Shiite discord by encouraging lawmakers from his party to express support for the massive protests sweeping the country that threaten Maliki’s fragile coalition by boycotting all Iraqi National Alliance ministerial committees. None of this bodes well for Iraqis trying to build a consensus for national unity.

“Some say that the division of the country is a solution in and of itself,” writes Hussein Ali Al-Hamdani in an op-ed in A-Sharq Al-Awsat called “Unspoken division.” “The option of dividing the country is better than the option of a sectarian war. . . What is needed to overcome this current crisis? We need logical, rational dialogue far from the sectarianism that currently divides us.”

Tariq Humeid, the outgoing editor-in-chief of A-Sharq Al-Awsat, writes in his own piece, “Maliki in the footsteps of Assad,” that Maliki is completely botching any chance for building unity and is heading down a similar path as his discredited Syrian neighbor.

“Instead of trying to deal with the crisis calmly and wisely. . . Maliki promotes sectarianism,” Humeid writes, and blames “outside forces” for fomenting his own home-grown chaos. His supporters “are carrying signs that say, ‘We will not allow Turkey and Qatar to sow discord and destruction in Iraq.’ This is exactly what Assad has been saying since the outbreak of the Syrian revolution!”

‘Instead of trying to deal with the crisis calmly and wisely… Maliki promotes sectarianism’

Meanwhile, in an attempt to solidify some sense of stability, Iraq has decided to completely shut down its border crossings with Jordan, the Cairo-based Al-Masry Al-Youm reports. The move, which will greatly harm trade between the countries, was confirmed by Petra, Jordan’s official news agency, which said that the borders will be closed as of 6 a.m. Wednesday.

Predominantly Sunni protesters in Anbar province, who are demanding the cancellation of the Terrorism Act, which they believe unjustly targets their community, successfully cut off the road linking Baghdad with Syria and Jordan 12 days ago.

In Saudi Arabia, maids ordered to leave the kitchen, find Islam

Saudi Arabian housewives are finding themselves in a serious bind since members of the country’s Council of Senior Scholars issued a prohibition against domestic servants who practice a polytheistic religion from cooking meals for Muslims.

Sheikh Abdullah Al Manea, a leading representative of the council, told Al-Arabiya that “it is completely unacceptable for Saudis to hire domestic workers to cook who condemn Islam with their other faiths. . . these maids are idolaters.”

He did not say that maids could not be used for cleaning. In a country that relies heavily on imported domestic servants from the Indian subcontinent, such a statement may have provoked mayhem among Saudi Arabian women.

‘Taking these maids away from the affairs of cooking may give them an opportunity to receive a call from God and get these maids to convert to Islam’

Manea is quoted in Al-Quds Al-Arabi as saying that “taking these maids away from the affairs of cooking may give them an opportunity to receive a call from God and get these maids to convert to Islam. If they converted to Islam, then they would be allowed to cook once again. . . if the worker remains a Buddhist, however, any Muslim who buys their food is a sinner.”

It is expected that, in response to the prohibition against cooking, Saudi families may halve their servants’ salaries. This may induce many Buddhist and Hindu foreign workers to convert to Islam, mainly to keep their wages.