Less than two weeks after Iraq’s provincial elections, the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki welcomed a large high-level delegation from Iran. Iran’s Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki led the delegation, which visited Baghdad on February 11 and included representatives from the Central Bank and oil, trade, and energy ministries. Mottaki met with his Iraqi counterpart, Hoshyar Zebari, as well as Prime Minister al-Maliki and President Jalal Talabani.
Provincial council elections in 14 of Iraq’s 18 provinces on January 31 strengthened Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Dawa Party, a militant Shia Islamic group, while also bringing many Sunnis who had boycotted the 2005 elections back into the political process. More than 14,400 candidates ran for 440 seats in the councils, which appoint the provincial governor and oversee finance and reconstruction. The three provinces of the Kurdish autonomous region and Kirkuk will hold elections in May.
President Barack Obama's special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, who arrived in Pakistan on February 9, met the next day with President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, and army chief General Ashfaq Kayani during a three-day visit. "I am here to listen and learn the ground realities of this critically important country," the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan quoted Holbrooke as saying upon his arrival in Pakistan.
On February 5, we reported about the fate of the U.S. air base at Manas, Kyrgyzstan, which has played a key role in supplying the heavily American NATO forces in the ongoing military operation in Afghanistan — an operation that promises to expand into an ongoing war in the model of Iraq.
Kyrgyzstan's President Kurmanbek Bakiyev said on February 3 that his government had decided to shut down the U.S. air base at Manas. Manas air base has been the primary refueling and transport point from which U.S. flights into Afghanistan are dispatched, and its importance has grown as convoys supplying the U.S.-led military operations in Afghanistan have increasingly been attacked while traveling over the Khyber Pass from Pakistan.