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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Iraq Updates - Parliament and Entry Through Kurdistan

Two issues are prominent in Arab media headlines on Iraq now that coverage of the elections has died down a bit.

First, the Iraqi National Assembly has been unable to elect a new speaker of the parliament, despite several attempts, to replace current speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani. The various political factions have been unable to come to an agreement on who the candidates should be, prompting several walk-outs to ensure no quorum was available. The latest is that the voting has been delayed until 18 February. Mashhadani is from the Sunni Tawwafiq bloc and the position is considered by many Sunnis to be part of the three-way sectarian power sharing agreement, under which the Shia have the prime ministership, the Kurds the presidency, the Sunnis the vice presidency and evidently the speakership. Other parties are not so convinced. The parliamentary deadlock over the issue is indicative of the continuing contentious nature of the Iraqi political system and the difficulty of exceeding the sectarian bounds set by the early success of political parties that were organized along sectarian lines. It does seem, however, that Iraqi politicians are becoming more adept at handling these issues with the passing of each deadlock. Al-Dustour reports in Arabic here.

Second, in a crackdown on Kurdish attempts to act as a semi-state, the Ministry of the Interior has announced that foreigners shall not enter Iraq through Kurdish border crossings without official visas from Baghdad and that those who did enter without an Iraqi visa would be arrested. For his part, a Kurdish representative spoke to Kurdish support for this decision. This represents Baghdad's attempts to expand its control and services across the country and to assert the unity of Iraq. The central government's capacity is still sorely lacking in this campaign, but it is slowly on the rise. With regard to Kurdistan, however, the biggest issue, Kirkuk, is still looming on the horizon. Al-Hayat reports in Arabic here.

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