Throughout March, the Iraqi parliament held only three sessions, passed five laws and did not discuss a single decision concerning public affairs. Al-Monitor has examined parliament’s activity for this month and noted that it did not discuss any laws. Even the laws that were passed in March had been discussed earlier in February and January.
The Iraqi writer and journalist Sarmad al-Taki took note of the large number of Arabic books featured in a Kurdish stronghold that continues to struggle with Arabs over its rights. He sees the fair as a major shift in the Middle East. “It is a cultural phenomenon to see Arabic books in Kurdistan, in the sense that deep transformations are coming to pass in the Middle East. We see many prominent Arab intellectuals coming from different countries to Kurdistan, discussing the affairs of the Middle East, buying books, planning new projects for books and moving closer to the Iraqi culture, with which the precarious situation in Baghdad hampered them from becoming acquainted,” said Taki.
Every year on March 21, Kurds across the Middle East celebrate the festival of Nowruz. It marks the beginning of the Kurdish New Year and coincides with the beginning of the Iranian New Year and has symbolic significance for Iraqi Kurds.
In this week’s Al-Monitor roundup of the news out of the Middle East,
- The Senate confirmed Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense as the United States announced $60 million in non-lethal aid to the Syrian Opposition Council;
- Al-Monitor continues to watch the disastrous consequences of the war in Syria for the region, including Israel, Iraq and Lebanon, and especially the rise of jihadist forces linked to terrorist groups;
- Iran puts Syria in play after the P5+1 meetings.
In today’s Al-Monitor photo of the day, Iraqi filmmaker Koutaiba Al Janabi was one of many prominent Arab artists at the Arab Screen Independent Film Festival: Documentary and Short Films in Benghazi.
Iraq’s ports are enjoying an unprecedented period of prosperity and the Iraqi government is close to opening a new container port in the south, writes Omar al-Shaher. December revenues from Iraqi ports were the highest in history, and the government is preparing to open a new container port in Basra this spring. The port initiatives have been partly funded with US government aid, leaving one US official complaining to Al-Monitor that Iraq hadn’t given enough credit to the US:
"There are vital projects that we funded and implemented using private American money… It is surprising that the Iraqi authorities have not mentioned this.”
Agriculture in Iraq is experiencing a downturn as farmers leave their family trade for more lucrative government positions with steady salaries and government benefits, writes Omar al-Shaher for Al-Monitor. As one farmer tells him:
Agriculture is a hard task to perform and does not provide a steady livelihood; I have a family whose needs I must meet. At times, I make $500 per month, other times only $100 and on occasion I don’t earn anything at all. The Iraqi soldier receives a salary of $1,000 monthly. Why not ensure a fixed and stable income for my family?
“Martyrs,” painted in 1972 by Dia Azzawi, is one of many works lost after the Iraqi Museum of Modern Art (the former Saddam Center for the Arts) was looted. See more photos from the Middle East in Al-Monitor’s galleries.
Iraq is threatening to cancel orders for US F-16 fighter jets following complaints that the jets contain Israeli-made recording devices:
The Committee in particular and the Parliament in general refuse the existence of this Israeli device in the F-16 aircraft, and if it is not removed, we will seek to cancel the contract and replace the aircraft with others from different sources.
Meanwhile, Iraq has of late increasingly turned to Russia as a major arms supplier.
Hakim al-Zamili, a member of the security and defense committee in Iraq’s parliament, discussing Iraq’s $4.2 billion in arms deals with Russia made in the second half of 2012. Writing in our Iraqi media partner Azzaman, journalist Nidal al-Laythi explores how Russia is quietly and quickly filling the void left by the United States in supplying arms to Iraq.
Some Iraqi politicians will boycott meetings of parliament to protest the exclusion of women on Iraq’s election authority body, reports Omar Sattar in one of our Arab media partners,Al-Hayat. Safiya Suheil, an independent member of parliament, toldAl-Hayat:
Women are being marginalized to a large extent in the Iraqi political life, in general, and in all the legislative, executive and judicial institutions, in particular….We demand that women be allocated a seat in the IHEC and other institutions, and that is in accordance with the legal quota for female participation in parliament, which is at least 25%.
|—||Kurdistan leader Barham Salih, in an exclusive interview with Al-Monitor’s CEO Andrew Parasiliti about the Iraqi political crisis and what we can learn from the experience in planning for Syrian reconstruction.|
In an exclusive interview with Al-Monitor CEO & Editor-at-Large Andrew Parasiliti, Dr. Ali Aldabbagh, spokesman for the government of Iraq and a close adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, said that Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi is “connected directly to groups who killed, assassinated and performed terrorism.”
If you haven’t read it yet, take a look at Andrew’s full interview here - lots of great insights into how Iraq’s government views its relationships in the region and the overall security situation.