Sunday, April 09, 2006

Iraqi Leaders Assail Egyptian President's Talk of Civil War

Edward Wong, The New York Times:
Iraqi leaders joined together to denounce President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt today for publicly asserting that Iraq was already engulfed in civil war and that Iraqi Shiites were loyal to Iran. READ MORE

Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a conservative Shiite, President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, and Adnan Pachachi, a secular Sunni Arab who is the temporary speaker of the Iraqi Parliament, held a news conference to vigorously rebut Mr. Mubarak's accusations.

Mr. Mubarak, a Sunni Arab, had made the remarks in an interview on Saturday with Al Arabiya, a popular Middle Eastern television network.

"The comments have upset Iraqi people who come from different religious and ethnic backgrounds and have astonished and upset the Iraqi government," said Mr. Jaafari, who is fighting to keep his job.

"What also drew our astonishment was that he described the security problems in Iraq as civil war at a time when our people have proven that they are avoiding sectarian war," he added.

Mr. Talabani said: "The Shiites' patriotism cannot be questioned. They are pioneers in the national struggle."

The leading Shiite party in the country, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, demanded that Mr. Mubarak apologize for his statement and threatened a boycott of the Egyptian government if he refused to do so.

The Supreme Council, led by Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, is especially sensitive about being portrayed as being more loyal to Iran than Iraq, because the party was founded in Iran in the early 1980's and has a militia that fought against Iraq during the eight-year Iran-Iraq war, in which a million people died. The Supreme Council entered Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein and is trying to live down its history of fighting against Iraqis.

Mr. Mubarak told Al Arabiya on Saturday "that Shiites are mostly always loyal to Iran and not the countries where they live."

"Naturally Iran has an influence over Shiites who make up 65 percent of Iraq's population," he added.

Many Iraqi Shiites distrust Iran because of the historical Arab hostility toward the Persians and because of the bloody war between the two countries in the 1980's. But some of the ruling parties now in Iraq are very close to Iran. They include the Supreme Council, the Islamic Dawa Party (Mr. Jaafari's group) and the organization of Moktada al-Sadr, the militant cleric who has led two uprisings against the Americans.

The American ambassador here, Zalmay Khalilzad, has been authorized by the White House to open discussions with Iran on issues involving Iraq. Mr. Khalilzad told Fox News today that a meeting would not be held until after the Iraqis form a new government. "We do not want to give the impression that the United States is sitting with Iran to decide about the Iraqi government," he said.

Mr. Talabani said some Iraqi leaders would take part in the talks, including the prime minister, the president, the speaker of Parliament and Mr. Hakim.

In recent weeks, the White House has increased its warnings to Iran over the Iranian nuclear program, and The New Yorker magazine and The Washington Post reported over the weekend that the Bush administration was considering plans for possible military attacks against Iran.

Mr. Mubarak's comments on civil war touched on the biggest question confronting both Iraqis and Americans here these days: Has one already begun? Many people say it has, including Iraq's former prime minister, Ayad Allawi, an ally of the White House. The deadly bombings of Shiite gathering places, presumably by Sunni Arab insurgents, adds to the evidence; the health ministry said today that the death toll from a triple suicide bombing of Mr. Hakim's main mosque on Friday had risen to 90, with at least 175 injured.

Mr. Khalilzad contends that the sectarian violence will abate once a unified government is formed. But Iraq's political talks are deadlocked now over who should be prime minister; the Shiite bloc is divided over whether Mr. Jaafari should be their nominee, and the Kurdish, Sunni Arab and secular blocs oppose him. The Shiite leadership held a meeting today in which officials decided to form a three-person committee to hold further talks with the opposition blocs.

Mr. Pachachi, the temporary parliamentary speaker, said today that he would convene the second session of Parliament soon, even if there is no agreement on a government.

Violence continued to flare across Iraq today. In the southern town of Qurna, believed by some to be the site of the Garden of Eden, the mayor and his wife were gunned down in their car this morning. In Baghdad, concealed bombs in five different locations killed at least four people and injured at least 16. Police in the capital found five bodies at three sites; the victims had been tortured and shot.

In Kirkuk, to the north, an assailant threw a grenade at an American convoy. The Americans killed him and discovered he was an Iraqi Army officer, said Col. Yadgar Abdullah of the Iraqi police.

Iraqi forces in Baghdad arrested 30 men on Saturday who had been part of a private guard force stationed outside the Hamra Hotel compound, popular with Western journalists, an Iraqi police general said. The men had been recruited from the hostile Anbar Province and had served as the militia of the owner of the Sumerland Hotel, adjacent to the Hamra.

Reporting for this article was contributed by Abdul Razzaq al-Saiedi from Baghdad, and Iraqi employees of The New York Times from Basra and Kirkuk.