British investigators have finally started checking into MP George Galloway and his role in the Oil for Food scandal at the United Nations. The London Times reports that their diplomats have approached Tariq Aziz, the former deputy prime minister under Saddam Hussein, to see if he will talk about Galloway’s relationship with the Hussein regime:
BRITISH diplomats in Baghdad have asked Tariq Aziz, Iraq’s former deputy prime minister, to help an investigation into allegations that George Galloway was given cash by Saddam Hussein under the Oil-for-Food programme.
The diplomats made the secret approach through Mr Aziz’s lawyer this week on behalf of Parliament’s so-called “sleaze buster”. The lawyer, Badie Izzat Arief, claimed that they offered to try and secure Mr Aziz immunity from prosecution on any charges arising from the Oil-for-Food scandal.
Embassy officials want to meet Mr Aziz, 70, in the US-run detention centre where he is held with other top members of Saddam’s regime to put a series of questions from Sir Philip Mawer, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.
Sir Philip is investigating claims that the MP for Bethnal Green & Bow took money under the UN Oil-for-Food programme — a charge that Mr Galloway strenuously denies and about which he has already successfully sued and won damages from one national newspaper.
Galloway won a lawsuit against the London Telegraph for publishing the documents uncovered by the Coalition forces that showed him receiving oil futures for his efforts to support Saddam and opposition to military action. In the UK, truth is not an absolute defense to libel, and the paper lost on the basis of the damage the documents caused to Galloway’s reputation. Since then, more evidence has been found of Galloway’s corruption, and in January the Brits hauled off “thousands” of documents on the scandal and its relation to British politicians. At the time, the Guardian (UK) reported that the British would consider opening an investigation; apparently it took them longer than expected, but they have done so.
Galloway’s reaction reflected the strange, contradictory, and combative nature of the Saddam shill himself. He noted that Aziz had had heart attacks, strokes, and been denied medical treatments, implying that Aziz would make a less-than-credible witness due to his Coalition-imposed infirmities. In the very next breath, he then proclaimed confidence that Aziz would clear him of all charges. Perhaps only such a confused and handicapped witness could do so.
Aziz, for his part, is not likely to cooperate. He has steadfastly refused to testify to Saddam’s crimes, rejecting all arrangements for immunity for his cooperation. His lawyer tells reporters that Aziz’s health is deteriorating, but the most interesting information to come from Aziz’s counsel is that the British visit by investigators is their first since Aziz’s surrender in April 2003. One has to wonder whether the British simply did not want to hear about backbencher complicity in Saddam’s corruption if they have never bothered to ask about it.
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi appeared on video earlier this week, exhorting Iraqi Sunnis to join the insurgency and defeat the United States. Today the Iraqis gave an answer to one of his lieutenants, only the message will not get hand-delivered, thanks to the Iraqi security forces:
Iraqi commando forces acting on a tip raided a house where Hamid al-Takhi and the two other insurgents were hiding in Samarra, a city 60 miles north of Baghdad, said police Capt. Laith Mohammed. All three were killed in a gunbattle.
Mohammed said al-Takhi had been responsible for many insurgent attacks against coalition forces and civilians in the area.
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq — the country’s most feared insurgent group — appeared in a video earlier this week trying to rally Sunni Arabs to fight Iraq’s new government and denouncing Sunnis who cooperate with it as “agents” of the Americans.
Apparently, Zarqawi needs to hone his presentation skills. In an area heavily populated by the same Sunnis that he called to terrorism, the Iraqi security forces got hot intel on a key member of the insurgency and adeptly canceled his ticket. That speaks volumes for two reasons. First, the Iraqi civilians didn’t buy Zarqawi’s nonsense, not while his lunatics blow up everyone in sight, and they have reacted by giving out better and more useful intelligence to security forces. Second, this appears to have been an exclusively Iraqi operation. The emergence of the new Iraqi Army and police forces show the country’s increasing ability to stand on its own.
That should become even easier after the leading cleric in Iraq, Ali al-Sistani, not only endorsed the new Iraqi Prime Minister but also called for a dissolution of all militias, including the Shi’ites. Nouri al-Maliki met with Sistani yesterday and got an endorsement for the government push to absorb all militias into the military structure. Sistani released a statement pressuring all factions to comply:
“Therefore, weapons must be exclusively in the hands of government forces, and these forces must be built on a proper national basis so that their loyalty is to the country alone, not to political or other sides,” a statement from al-Sistani’s office said.
Maliki wants to build a civilian-controlled security force, one that has no loyalty to anything except the democratic government, and the endorsement of Sistani provides a critical piece of that effort. Maliki told the cleric that he will appoint defense and interior ministers without any connections to existing militias. Sistani agreed with this approach and urged him to make security his first priority. This impacts no one more than Moqtada al-Sadr, his ostensible acolyte but more practically his biggest rival. Sadr’s Mahdi Army will have the highest profile in this push to eliminate sectarian militias, and it will prove interesting to see if Sadr can withstand Sistani.
The resolution of the political impasse in Iraq has paid dividends. Let’s hope this continues. If it does, Zarqawi may have more video sessions in his immediate future.
While Europe ponders its problems with large and isolated Muslim communities in their midst, suffering from unemployment and refusing to assimilate, its citizens have begun looking towards the ummah for solutions to their own economic woes. Der Spiegel reports on the newest ethnic restaurant in Irbil:
Now, finally, just in time for the World Cup, Iraqis have the opportunity to savour German cuisine and culture following last week’s opening of the country’s first German restaurant, in the northern city of Arbil.
The “Deutscher Hof Arbil” was set up by Gunter Völker, a former German soldier who already runs a German restaurant in the Afghan capital of Kabul. The restaurant will stage parties to mark highlights in the German calendar such as the Oktoberfest beer festival and carnival. Its musical offerings will range from Oompah band classics to local Kurdish tunes.
For Völker, the prospect of unemployment at home in Germany is worse than any safety concerns in war-torn Iraq. “I’m not fit for Germany any more,” he told Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung. “There are more people on the dole than job vacancies there.”
The former cook for peacekeeping forces in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Macedonia has found better opportunities working among the Kurds of Irbil than in Germany. Der Spiegel reports his “dubious” claims that he finds both travel and residency in Iraq easier and more secure than the inner city of Berlin. Given that Volker has located his other venture in the former hot spot of Taliban rule, I would presume that Volker knows a bit more about it than Der Spiegel’s skeptical reporter.
Perhaps Europe should wonder at their approach to economics when their most enterprising citizens find it ncessary to travel to war zones to open new businesses and experience economic success.
The Iraqi National Assembly has wasted no time after the Shi’ite compromise on Ibrahim al-Jafaari’s withdrawal and has begun forming the national-unity executive for which America has pressed since the December elections. The division of power among the top slots remains as it did before, with the Kurds holding the presidency and the Sunnis and Shi’a taking the two vice-presidential positions:
After months of political deadlock, Iraq’s parliament convened Saturday to select top leadership posts, launching the process of putting together a new government aimed at pulling the country out of its sectarian strife.
Before the session, Shiite lawmaker Ridha Jawad Taqi said all sides agreed on a package deal for the top spots: Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, would remain as president for a second term, with Sunni Arab Tariq al-Hashimi and Shiite Adil Abdul-Mahdi holding the two vice-president spots.
In its first vote, lawmakers elected Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, a Sunni, parliament speaker.
This last position hold special import for the Sunnis, who presumably have the most influence with the native insurgents. The key to ending that part of the terrorist activity in Iraq will be to establish credible access to the political process for the Sunni minority in the central region of Iraq, where oil is scarce and their economic prospects look less engaging than in the Kurdish and Shi’ite regions. The Sunnis need Iraq to hold together to avoid having control of a rum consisting mostly of Baghdad and its environs, a development that likely would leave them destitute and stuck between two protostates that would recall Sunni domination in very unpleasant terms.
For this reason, I believe most Sunnis will grasp this opportunity to work within the system to maintain Iraqi unity. They know that a civil war and fracture of the nation impacts them most, and they need to find a way to keep the Kurds and the Shi’a from spinning away and taking the mineral resources of Iraq with them. The Shi’ites knew this as well, which is why they stuck with the highly unpopular Jafaari for so long. When the Kurds backed the Sunnis on Jafaari, the Shi’ites finally realized that they could not win the battle, but waited as long as possible to get as many concessions as they could. It took Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani’s rhetorical kick in the fanny to get the majority Shi’ite coalition to finally recognize reality.
One assumes that the parliamentary action this morning indicates that the Cabinet issues have been resolved and that portfolio assignments are set. If so, it delivers a long-delayed blow to both the foreign and native insurgencies in Iraq. The first permanent constitutional government in Iraq has shown that democracy can survive in a polarized Arab state, although it seemed a close-run thing. It also shows that the Sunnis can win a political battle when needed, a lesson that should encourage them to support the political process more enthusiastically than before. With those developments, the insurgents will find themselves ever more isolated and ineffective. The battle for Iraq has been lost by the insurgents.
Late word out of Iraq has Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jafaari ending his bid for re-election to the position, paving the way for a national unity government that would signal stability to the Iraqi people:
Under intense domestic and American pressure, Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari dropped his bid to retain his job on Thursday, removing a major obstacle to forming a new government during a time of rising sectarian violence.
Leaders from each of Iraq’s main factions — Sunni Arab, Shiite and Kurd — called the decision a breakthrough.
“I believe that we will succeed in forming the national unity government the people are waiting for,” Adnan Pachachi, the acting speaker of Parliament, said at a news conference at the Convention Center inside the fortified Green Zone.
But while Mr. Jaafari’s capitulation after two months of resistance could indeed resolve the stalemate, daunting political challenges lie ahead. Leaders are battling over high-level posts, and a new government will need to revive a moribund civil sector and inspire confidence in public leadership.
Moreover, the likely candidates to replace Mr. Jaafari lack political stature, raising questions about whether they will be any more effective than he in leading a struggling government at a time of widening violence.
The candidate itself will not matter as much as the consensus that puts him into office. The leader of the Kurds has already stated that they will not oppose anyone else nominated by the Shi’ite caucus. That will probably be echoed in less dramatic terms by the Sunnis, meaning that the new PM will at least have a unified assembly as a start.
The New York Times report stresses the importance of American pressure on Jafaari’s decision. That cuts both ways; it shows that the Bush administration has worked overtime to resolve the impasse, but it also means that the Iraqi insurgents will still use that as an excuse to claim American control of a supposed puppet regime in Baghdad. However, what this appears to be is an intervention by the ever-present Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who has repeatedly intervened with recalcitrant Shi’ites to push them into negotiated agreements rather than the diktats which have snarled political processes in Iraq.
In any event, Jafaari’s capitulation is good news, and hopefully it will break the logjam that has left Iraq without an executive since the January elections.