SADR EXTENDS CEASE-FIRE
Powerful Shi'a cleric Moqtada al-Sadr announced Friday that he has extended a cease-fire order to his Mahdi Army by another six months. Sadr's decision to halt the activities of the Mahdi Army last August was one of the three critical factors widely credited with the recent drop in violence in Iraq. The US military welcomed the decision, but pledged to crack down on factions that persist in violence. The military also said it was open to dialogue with the Sadrists and "all groups who seek to bring about reconciliation in building the new Iraq." [AP, 2/22/08]
THOUSANDS OF TURKISH TROOPS CROSS INTO NORTHERN IRAQ
Thousands of Turkish troops have crossed into northern Iraq Thursday in their hunt for Kurdish PKK guerrillas, a move that could destabilize the region. The US military says it believes the operation is of "limited duration." However, a U.S. official expressed concern about the scale of the Turkish operation, calling the offensive "not the greatest news." The U.S. is strongly allied with Turkey but is anxious not to see any action that might further destabilize Iraq. Turkey has promised its force would "return home in the shortest time possible after its goals have been achieved." Turkey has carried out at least one, smaller ground incursion, as well as frequent air and artillery strikes, against suspected PKK targets in Iraq since parliament authorized the army to act in October 2007. [Reuters, 2/22/08, BBC, 2/22/08]
SECTARIANISM HAS COMPLETELY RUINED THE DE-BATHIFICATION LAW, RECONCILIATION EFFORTS
Despite a new de-Baathification law passed on Jan. 12th, many ex-Baathists still remain on the fringes, and further polarization would cause them to continue the suspected funding of militants. Critics say the new "Accountability and Justice" law is even stricter than the first and offers even fewer chances for thousands of embittered, high-ranking Ba'athists to return to the fold. There is also concern that the law will trigger a fresh Baathist purge, as 7,000 in the Ministry of the Interior will have to retire and a considerable number in the Defense Ministry could loose their jobs. [CS Monitor, 2/22/08]
US sponsored "Reconciliation and Accountability" law was scrapped by sectarian politicians who were more interested in "justice" than reconciliation. That law, drafted a year ago, offered pensions to high-ranking Baathist government employees and gave lower-ranking members the chance to return to their jobs. All employees of Saddam-era security agencies were covered by this. Ahmed Chalabi's controversial de-Baathification commission was to be dissolved. But in sharp contrast to the intention of the original law, the new law passed on January 12 keeps the commission in place indefinitely and simply changes its name. The new law:
* Bans all those who worked in what it terms "oppressive agencies" from ever getting jobs in the security forces.
* Bans many mid-level Baathists from holding jobs in the judiciary and the Ministries of Defense, Interior, and Finance.
* Calls for "the complete cleansing of all public, semipublic, and civil society institutions as well as Iraqi society as a whole from the influence of the Baath Party."
Warning of a possible clash between Iraq and the US over the law's implementation, Chalabi says Washington has no right to impose its will on the majority Shi'a who still want retribution for past injustices. A Sadrist loyalist in parliament, who is head of the judicial committee said, "We in the Sadrist movement worked effortlessly to completely change the essence of the law as it was [originally] presented. Our goal is justice." [CS Monitor, 2/22/08]
VIOLENCE CONTINUES TO RAGE
Four people were killed and eight wounded when a suicide bomber detonated an explosives-filled vest at a mosque in the Sunni Arab town of Fallujah. The bombing took place around mid-day at the entrance of Al-Rahman mosque in the centre of the town in western Iraq's Anbar province. A police major was among the wounded.