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NSN Iraq Daily Update 2/13/08

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THE IRAQI PARLIAMENT IS DYSFUNCTIONAL AND ON THE VERGE OF COLLAPSE

Speaker threatens to disband Iraq's fragmented parliament- new elections would take place within 60 days. Sunni Mahmoud al-Mashhadani said the body is so riddled with distrust it appears unable to adopt the budget or agree on a law setting a date for provincial elections. This would further undermine Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's shaky government, which is limping along with nearly half of the 40 Cabinet posts vacant. The disarray highlights the shortcomings of the U.S. troop "surge" -- an effort to bring down violence to allow the Iraqi government and parliament to focus on measures to reconcile differences among Sunnis, Kurds, and Shi'a. One-third of parliament must request the dissolution and a majority of lawmakers must approve. Al-Mashhadani said on Tuesday he already had sufficient backing for the move from five political blocs, but he refused to name them. [USA Today, 2/12/08]

Kurds want 17% of national income- Shi'a and Sunni's blame them for lack of movement on new budget. Shi'a lawmakers walked out of the rare night session Tuesday when the Kurds refused to drop their demand to lump the budget vote together with two other contested measures, prompting one Shi'a lawmaker to call for a disbanding of parliament. Kurdish politicians have refused to back down as the 17% formula was applied to past budgets. Some Sunni and Shi'a lawmakers sought to lower it to about 14%, saying the Kurdish population is closer to 14% of Iraq's total than 17% as Kurds insist. There has been no census in decades. "We believe the crisis of trust continues to grow and will affect the work of government. We have to admit now that the political process has failed and call for the disbanding of parliament and early elections," Sadrist lawmaker Bahaa al-Araji said after the fractious session. [USA Today, 2/12/08]

Budget and amnesty laws are pushed through in a package deal when many lawmakers walked out on the session. On Wednesday, Iraqi lawmakers passed the 2008 budget and an amnesty law that could prompt the release of thousands of prisoners from the country's jails. Parliament also passed a law on provincial powers that will define relations between Baghdad and local authorities, paving the way for provincial elections later this year. Scores of lawmakers had stormed out of the legislature on Tuesday evening, blocking a vote on the bills in a sign of the distrust between the country's Shi'a, Sunni Arab and Kurdish politicians. But parliament convened again on Wednesday and despite a walkout by some lawmakers, managed to overcome a row over voting procedures to pass the three measures as a package. Maliki's government has struggled to make headway on other key laws, especially legislation that would equitably share the country's vast oil reserves and lay the framework for foreign investment in the sector. [Reuters, 2/13/08]

AWAKENING MOVEMENT FACING MULTIPLE THREATS

Internal Sunni rift, as well as external sectarian pressures, threatens U.S. strategy in Iraq. The so-called Awakening Movement (Sahwa) is under growing pressure on multiple fronts, but their greatest enemy may be the growing rivalries from within as the movement's pro-US Sunni tribal chiefs battle for power and influence. The movement's leaders are also pushing for a greater voice in the government, a move that has tangled them within Baghdad's notoriously vicious political scene. Additionally, an estimated 147 members of militias within this movement, now called Sons of Iraq instead of Concerned Local Citizens (CLC) by the US, have been killed in attacks attributed to Al Qaeda since October. Hundreds of Sahwa militiamen threaten to quit their jobs unless the Baquba provincial police chief-- a Shi'a--be fired for sanctioning alleged crimes against the Sunnis. Finally, despite U.S. pressure, Iraq's Shi'a-led government has delayed drafting Sahwa members into the police and Army, as only 10% of the 77,000 Sahwa members have been accepted for training for police and Army jobs. Only 490 have completed the training. [CS Monitor, 2/13/08]

KURDISH GOVT. HIGHLIGHTS STARK DIFFERENCES WITH THE REST OF IRAQ

A delegation from the increasingly autonomous Kurdish region is expected to travel to Baghdad to try and resolve some of the outstanding issues that divide the country. The main issues are the future of Iraq's oil industry, the status of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, the national budget, and who should pay the salaries of Kurdish fighters (the peshmerga). There is growing resentment amongst Arab politicians about the gains and increasing autonomy the Kurds have shown since the fall of Saddam, which was exacerbated when the Kurds began signing independent oil contracts. In Irbil, the seat of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), the Kurdish flag flies from all the government buildings, while the Iraqi flag is nowhere to be seen. At the airport, passports are stamped, Republic of Iraq - Kurdistan Region. The labyrinthine visa rules that apply in the rest of the country are not in force here. Dr Mohammad Ihsan-- a cabinet minister in the regional government--said, "The Shia are afraid of their past...They have nothing to be scared of in the future because they are a majority. Sunnis are afraid of the future, but they had a great past ruling the country. We Kurds are the ones who are afraid of both the past and the future." [BBC, 2/12/08]