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Monday, 7 March 2011

The Devils work, Tony Blair’s mess he left behind in Baghdad

political parties that led demonstrations in Baghdad over the past two weeks
said on Monday that security forces controlled by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal
al-Maliki had ordered them to close their offices.

The actions came amid growing concerns that Mr Maliki’s
American-backed government is using force and other measures to stifle dissent
in this fragile democracy, where tens of thousands of demonstrators have seized
on the upheaval sweeping the Arab world to rally for government reforms and better

Officials for the Iraqi Nation Party and the Iraqi Communist
Party said in interviews that dozens of armed security forces had come to their
offices here Sunday, two days after another round of demonstrations.

Though the parties do not have any seats in Parliament, they
are outspoken critics of Mr Maliki’s government. They called the evictions
illegal efforts to weaken them.

“He is breaking the Constitution; he is breaking the law,”
said Mithal al-Alusi, the leader of the Iraqi Nation Party and a former member
of Parliament, referring to Mr Maliki.

Mr Maliki’s cabinet said there was no political motive
behind the evictions, which it called part of a long-standing plan to return
publicly owned buildings to government use.

“The Constitution guarantees the activity of all political
parties, and what was said about banning the Iraqi Communist Party is untrue,”
the cabinet said in a statement.

One of Mr Maliki’s top advisers, Ali al-Moussawi, said the
Ministry of Defence was “in the need of these buildings now.”

The party officials said that members of Iraq’s federal
police force, on orders from Mr Maliki’s office, arrived at their offices on
Sunday and ordered them to leave.

Although the Communists were told their buildings were being
requisitioned for government use, Mr Alusi said he received no explanation why
he was being evicted. He said he would try to persuade Mr Maliki and his
cohorts to reconsider the order.

Mr Alusi said that senior members of Mr Maliki’s Dawa Party
spoke with him five days ago and urged him to align with them. But Mr Alusi
demurred, saying that he had already given interviews standing behind the
protesters and had sent his members into the streets to march with them.

“We support the demonstrations,” he said. “We are in the
streets with our people.”

Jassin Helfi, a Communist Party leader, said that at 8:30
a.m. on Sunday about 60 security personnel came to the party’s headquarters and
the office of the party’s newspaper.

They said they had received an order from the Baghdad
Operation Command, a special brigade controlled by Mr Maliki, saying that the
party had to close its offices within 24 hours, Mr. Helfi said.

The security officers, Mr Helfi said, did not have any
documentation and did not provide an explanation for why the party had to close
its offices.

Party officials demanded some sort of documentation and the
forces returned about an hour later with a letter signed by Mr Maliki, he said.

Last week, Mr Maliki met privately with Communist leaders
and echoed his public statements about the protests, saying that insurgents and
terrorists were using the protests to undermine the government.

“The objective of the meeting was to try and convince us not
to participate in the demonstrations and when we did, our punishment was the
order to close our offices,” Mr Helfi said. “That doesn’t reflect Maliki’s
speech about the right of the Iraqis to protest.”

Critics said the orders from Mr Maliki appeared to be his
latest effort to crack down on dissenting voices behind demonstrations that
have called for anticorruption reforms, better public services and more
accountability from leaders. Scores of reporters and demonstrators were beaten
or arrested after nationwide rallies earlier this month.

“This is part of the violations of public freedoms and human
rights,” said Hanaa Edwar, an activist with the civil society group Al-Amal.
“They feel that these demonstrators are terrorists. Political parties not loyal
to their policies are being attacked. And for what?”

The evictions came as a few hundred protesters in Baghdad
observed the first anniversary of Iraq’s national elections with a “day of
regret.” Violent “day of rage” rallies earlier this month ended with nearly 20
demonstrators dead and dozens wounded and arrested.

In Tahrir Square here, a traffic circle and park that has
become a focal point for the protesters, about 200 people stood behind yellow
police tape and shouted “We want our rights!” and vented their disillusionment
at Iraq’s leaders and the problems plaguing this troubled democracy.

“We had a hope for the best” said Rana Hadi, 24, who said
she voted for Mr Maliki and his coalition. “But we were wrong. Nothing
happened. Nothing changed.”

Although bombings and power outages are still daily
occurrences, violence has dropped sharply over the past year, with 184 people
killed across the country last month. Electricity production and oil output
have both ticked up.

But a year after the elections and three months after Iraq’s
leaders ended a long political standoff and formed a government; Mr Maliki has
not finalized his government and is still personally overseeing the powerful
army and police forces.

Cracks continue to form that could undermine the partnership

 On Monday, eight
members of the multisectarian Iraqiya coalition announced they were splitting
off to form their own party, a new fracture in a large coalition backed by many
of Iraq’s Sunni minority.

In Tahrir Square, some demonstrators dyed their index
fingers red and thrust them into the air, a bitter echo of the purple-stained
fingers that smiling Iraqi voters, emerging from the polling stations, had
waved on Election Day.

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