Between explosions, the ministers will be sworn in today
Behind the murderous terror in Iraq, there is also a world of corruption and profiteering.
Baghdad has two wholesale markets for fruits and vegetables. Both supply fresh produce to shop owners and both set their prices each day.
However, even when the city is going through hard times, and perhaps because of them, there are those that are making a profit on these staple items. They are the black marketeers who buy the fruits and vegetables from the wholesale markets (which is considered safer than making the dangerous trip to the farms) and hoard them in large refrigerated warehouses.
That way, when a large-scale terror explosion takes place in the city - occurring in clusters of five or 10 car bombs per day in recent times - the wholesale markets lose customers, and the black marketeers turn a handsome profit. They take out the produce from the refrigerators and sell it at inflated prices. According to reports from Baghdad, the black market profits almost double in this operation.
In the southern city of Ziqar, the district governor decided to disperse a new police battalion that began working only a week ago. This was because he discovered that the battalion commander had decided to pay his soldiers huge salaries and take a tithe for himself. Moreover, the soldiers' families bribed the commander to recruit their sons into the battalion, thus guaranteeing the family a nice income.
In Baghdad, there are reports of a constant "transfer" of medications from government clinics to private ones. The reason is that Iraqi doctors and medics are permitted to work in both state and private clinics, and consequently, they make a practice of maintaining their private clinics at government expense.
Last week, 11 directors general of public services, such as the water service in the Karbala district, were dismissed because "they are not suitable professionally." The real reason: large-scale embezzlement of funds.
These are just a few examples of the mosaic of daily life in Iraq that can be gleaned from reading the daily Iraqi press. But it is these examples that best represent the true difficulties that the new Iraqi government, declared just last week, is facing.
Six women in the government
Three weeks after the parliamentary elections in Iraq, which marked the beginning of an independent Iraqi government, the heads of the large parties managed to reach an agreement on the appointment of the president, the Kurdish Jalal Talabani, and the prime minister, the conservative Shi'ite Ibrahim al-Jaafari. But this prime minister, a family physician by education, who led the subversive Al-Dawa religious organization, needs more than three weeks to reach an agreement on the division of most of the government portfolios.
According to the agreement, 17 of the ministers are Shi'ites, eight are Kurds, six are Sunnis and one is a Christian. Incidentally, six of the ministers are women.
The big disagreement is over the type of portfolios each group will receive as well as the number of portfolios the Sunnis will receive; after all, they had mostly boycotted the elections and those who did participate won very few percentage points. The elections give the Shi'ites an absolute majority of 180 out of 275 members of parliament (140 from Al-Jaafari's party and 40 from the party of the outgoing prime minister, Iyad Allawi). But Al-Jaafari and the rest of the Shi'ite leadership understand that despite this, they have no alternative but to include the Sunnis.
The reason is twofold: First, the Shi'ite and Kurdish leaderships believe that only by including the Sunnis will it be possible to start conducting negotiations with the separatists and terror organizations carrying out wholesale terror attacks and thus bring calm to Iraq. The second reason is political. The Iraqi parliament must author a new constitution and in accordance with the timetable set out for the entire process of transfer of government, the constitution must be ready for presentation for a referendum within 15 weeks. According to the temporary constitution, which is currently in force, a majority of those polled in three districts can veto the constitution. The Sunnis (like the Kurds) can mobilize a majority to do so in at least three districts and thus topple the new constitution and halt the entire process of establishing the government in its tracks. This gives the Sunnis far greater political power than their proportion in the population, which totals 15-20 percent. This could cause the great achievement of the formation of an elected government in Iraq to come crashing to the ground.
It is clear to the Al-Jaafari government that even the inclusion of the Sunnis in the government does not yet guarantee the elimination of terror. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi or those who act on his behalf continue to intimidate and harm anyone willing to cooperate with the new government, both because it receives its religious inspiration from the Shi'ite sages, led by Ali al-Sistani, and because it is still acting under American auspices.
American intelligence attributes the attacks that kill dozens each week to Ahmad Fadeel al-Nazal al-Khalayleh, who is also known as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi or Abu Taysir. Al-Zarqawi is not a new name to the annals of terror. Before the war, he was described by then-secretary of state Colin Powell as the contact between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda. Powell based this on evidence that Al-Zarqawi received medical treatment in a Baghdad hospital after being injured in an American attack on Afghanistan in which he lost a leg. Before that, Al-Zarqawi's name came up in an investigation conducted by Jordanian intelligence following the assassination of American diplomat Lawrence Foley in Jordan in September 2002. The two men arrested in connection with the assassination - a Libyan, Salem Saad Ben Suweid, and a Jordanian, Yasser Fathi Ibrahim, who received $18,000 dollars for the murder - admitted their connection to Al-Zarqawi.
Another connection to the murder in Jordan came when the Turkish intelligence happened upon a mobile phone conversation held by one of Al-Zarqawi's associates with the assassins just before they killed Foley. The Turks arrested the associate and passed the information on to Jordan and the United States. Al- Zarqawi's presence in the Kurdish region was apparently reported by Syrian intelligence. Al-Zarqawi, 38, is married to a Palestinian woman and is allegedly in charge of raising money and funding Al-Qaeda activities in the Persian Gulf, Yemen and Jordan. In 1995, he established a small radical Islamic organization called "Bayat al-Imam" (Oath of Allegiance to Imam), in the city of Zarqa in Jordan. He was arrested that year by the Jordanian authorities and sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment, but released by royal pardon in 1999, when he left Jordan for Afghanistan. In late 2000, he arrived in northern Iraq. Cassettes recently made public on Internet sites indicate that Al-Zarqawi is still alive, but even if he is not, the followers of his organization have succeeded in undermining security in Iraq.
In any case, Al-Zarqawi's organization is not the only one of its kind. At least a dozen armed organizations and gangs are known to be active throughout Iraq. There has been a massive recruitment of Iraqis into the security forces - the interior minister says some 250,000 people have been mobilized. Still, the Iraqi security forces together with the American forces are having great difficulty in cutting down the number of terror attacks. Last week, for example, it was reported that a site had been found containing more than a million weapons, including anti-tank rockets, mines and other explosives. Presumably numerous similar sites have yet to be discovered that are being used by the terrorists.
No less worrying are reports that among the Iraqi forces are quite a number of elements that are collaborating with the terror organizations. Interior Minister Bakr Solagh Jabr has announced that his ministry will begin immediately to investigate charges of corruption and reports of espionage for the terror organizations. However, he also admitted that his forces do not have enough arms and other means to fight the terror.
If it is assumed that the war against the different forms of terror in Iraq will take many years, it is difficult to say for now when Iraq's new government, which is to be sworn in today, will be able to start supplying the country's citizens with services and at least remove itself from the list of corrupt countries.
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