Iraq steps deeper into a sectarian quagmire
Arabic media review

Iraq steps deeper into a sectarian quagmire

Iran's supreme leader speaks of the next president's characteristics and Algeria's president suffers a stroke

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki speaks during Convergence of religions conference in Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday, April 27, 2013 (photo credit: AP/Karim Kadim)
Former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki speaks during Convergence of religions conference in Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday, April 27, 2013 (photo credit: AP/Karim Kadim)

The security situation in Iraq continues to preoccupy Arab dailies on Sunday, as five soldiers were killed by anti-government protesters the previous day, pushing the country further into the throes of civil war.

“Maliki: Cross-border sectarianism has returned to Iraq,” reads the headline of London-based daily Al-Hayat, as it reports the redeployment of the Kurdish forces, the Peshmerga, around the city of Kirkuk, a move that has “increased the intensity of the conflict between Baghdad and Irbil.”

Al-Jazeera, a Qatar-based news channel, carries a speech by Prime Minister Nouri Maliki in which he charges that “sectarianism is not necessarily locally produced, but is imported.” Tribal leaders in the central Iraqi city of Ramadi, capital of the predominantly Sunni Al-Anbar province, have warned Maliki of the recurrence of the Hawija incident, in which dozens of anti-government demonstrators were killed and injured by army forces last week.

Al-Arabiya, a Dubai-based news channel, interviewed one of the Anbar tribal leaders, Sheikh Ali Hatem, on Saturday. Hatem said that demonstrators in the province will forcefully oppose any attempt to disperse anti-government activities by force.

Hatem added that the men suspected of shooting the soldiers are being tracked down, and will be handed over to the Iraqi government. The statement followed a 24-hour stay declared by the central government to the tribesmen to hand over the perpetrators.

Ahmad Abu-Risha, a tribal leader in Al-Anbar, told Al-Jazeera that three suspects have already been apprehended by the tribes, a fact that proves that Iraq’s (Sunni) tribes “care more about the lives of Iraqis than the government.”

Meanwhile, Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat interviewed men injured in the village of Hawija last week and hospitalized in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. According to the daily, the men recounted “terrifying” stories of what took place, with one man claiming that the soldiers were given direct orders to kill demonstrators.

In an op-ed titled “the Iranian pincer, from Anbar to Qusair,” A-Sharq Al-Awsat columnist Abdul Rahman Rashed ties the sectarian violence in Iraq and in western Syria.

“On the one hand, Maliki wants to portray himself as the defender of Shiites by persecuting the Sunnis, in order to weaken his Shiite competitors who threaten him politically. Therefore, he has insisted on marginalizing and persecuting his Sunni political rivals, and ignore his Shiite rivals. On the other hand, Maliki is an ally of Iran’s, and he is pushing Iraq to aid the Syrian regime. He has opened Iraqi airspace and land for the passage of massive Iranian military support to Assad.”

Maliki, claims Rashed, is completely committed to sustaining the Assad regime at the behest of his allies in Iran. That, in his view, is the only explanation for Maliki’s heavy-handed military intervention in strategically insignificant western Iraq.

Khamenei outlines characteristics of next president

In a rare public statement, the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, on Saturday outlined the characteristics of the next Iranian president.

According to A-Sharq Al-Awsat, which leads with the story on its front page, the president elected on June 14 must be “steadfast and have a transparent strategy on economic issues, and he must stay clear of political wrangling.”

Al-Hayat reports that Khamenei also warned against attempts by the “enemies of the nation” to drive a wedge between the people and the regime” by inciting citizens to eschew the elections.

Algerian president in bad health

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was flown to Paris on Saturday for medical tests following a “transient stroke,” Al-Jazeera reports quoting the official Algerian news agency.

A doctor at the Val de Grace hospital in Paris said the health condition of the 76-year-old leader was “not worrying,” but Al-Jazeera nevertheless reported that his condition was “unknown.”

In an unrelated event, Bouteflika fired his brother Said Bouteflika from his position as presidential adviser. According to Algerian daily Le Quotidien d’Oran, the reason for the dismissal was “personal differences” and not his involvement in corruption.

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