Arab commentators are calling Iraq a “rolling flame ball” as the death toll mounts from Sunni-Shia clashes and battles between Iraqi security forces and anti-government paramilitary groups over the issue of Sunni discrimination.
The latest report from the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya reveals that gunmen have totally seized the town of Sulaiman Bek, just north of Baghdad, and cut off the main road leading to the Kurdistan region. Security forces have completely withdrawn and it is unclear when they might launch a counterattack.
The upsurge in violence is the worst Iraq has experienced in many months. It began two days ago when thousands of Iraqi Sunnis launched protests in the northern city of Hawija, near Kirkuk, to protest the discrimination of the Sunni population by the Iraqi government.
According to the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki viewed these protests as a security threat and sent the military to Hawija to put a stop to them. In the ensuing violence, around 50 protesters were killed, along with three security officers. This has sparked intense clashes in Iraq, including a car bombing orchestrated by al-Qaeda Iraq in Baghdad, resulting in over 125 dead and 268 wounded in the melees.
Maliki, for his part, has kept silent on the violence while his government maintains that the protesters in Hawija were in fact violent insurgents. In response, two Sunni ministers have resigned from their posts in protest, stating they want no part in serving “a bloody government.”
The Saudi-owned A-Sharq Al-Awsat quotes Hamid Saadi, a spokesman for the Iraqi Shiite Alliance, as saying that “during an emergency meeting of the group in the presence of Maliki, it was agreed that what happened (in Hawija) shows that gangs want to tamper with the security of the country.”
Many Iraqi politicians disagree with that assessment and are concerned that further attacks will follow.
“The situation is tragic and dangerous and all parties in the government must work together to calm the nation,” said the Kirkuk regional governor Rakan Saeed.
The leading editorial in Al-Quds Al-Arabi says that “Malik’s government committed a massacre against peaceful protesters chanting political slogans. These people are supposed to have the right to a free and democratic Iraq, regardless of their sectarian identity.”
‘The man responsible for this crisis is none other than Nuri al-Maliki’
“The man responsible for this crisis is none other than Nuri al-Maliki,” the editorial continues. “As the head of state, he is solely responsible for the policies that have angered and marginalized a broad sector of the Iraqi people. He has concentrated power in his hands and consolidated the political process in Iraq. Mr. Maliki should recognize his mistakes, review his policies, abandon stubbornness, abandon the belief that excessive use of force can bring him to control Iraq.”
Arab Idol turns awkward as Kurdish question brought up
A contestant on the reality show “Arab Idol” came under fire from one of the main judges for declaring her country as Iraqi Kurdistan, instead of simply Iraq.
Iraqi Kurdistan is a semi-autonomous region of northern Iraq of 5 million people that has ambitions to become independent from the rest of Iraq.
Al-Quds Al-Arabi reports that the judge, Ahlam Al-Shamsi, a famous Emirati singer, told the contestant that “Kurdistan is an integral part of Iraq… I am against the country title that says you are from Kurdistan.” The contestant in question, Barwas Hussein, does not speak fluent Arabic to any degree and was not even capable of having an exchange in Arabic with the berating judge. Hussein, the first person from Iraqi Kurdistan to be a contestant on the show, participated with the help of a translator.
“I want your introduction to say you are from Iraq and not Kurdistan,” Shamsi reiterated. Hussein reportedly smiled, nodded her head, and mouthed the words “Iraqi Kurdistan,” to imply she rejected the judge’s preference.
The other judges on the show, from Egypt and Lebanon, remained silent and looked distracted during the awkward exchange.
Arab social media sites have seen a buzz of support for the Emirati judge’s comments. ”The program is called Arab Idol. If she doesn’t want to be a Arab, she shouldn’t be granted the right to participate on the show,” one person wrote on the wall of the television show’s Facebook page.