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Wed

20

Jun

2007

Juan Cole Roundup on Iraq - Middle East
Wednesday, 20 June 2007 11:14
by Juan Cole

111 Killed or Found Dead in Iraq on Monday
Al-Maliki to Ankara


Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has accepted the Turkish government's invitation to visit Ankara. Al-Maliki says he is worried about PKK terrorism.

Al-Maliki should be careful. When his predecessor, Ibrahim Jaafari, flew to Istanbul for talks on Kirkuk, the Kurds in the Iraqi parliament and government engineered his downfall, with the help of the Sunni Arab MPs and the US ambassador.

The good news is that Iraq is not the most unstable failed state in the world according to a new study. The bad news? Only Sudan is worse.

30 tortured bodies were found in Baghdad on Monday and military and political violence took at least 181 more lives.

Two car bombs in the Saidiya section of Baghdad killed 9 persons and wounded 25, according to Reuters. The US fought pitched battles against Mahdi Army militiamen in Maysan Province (from which the British military had earlier withdrawn), leaving some 20 persons dead. The militiamen were suspected by the US of importing explosively formed projectiles from Iran. There was plenty of other mayhem in various part of the country. For instance, "A car bomb killed five Interior Ministry special forces personnel and wounded six others in the town of Samarra, north of Baghdad, police said."

There was also fighting between Iraqi government troops and the Mahdi Army in Nasiriyah.

Iran is open to further talks with the US about security in Iraq, according to its foreign ministry.

A warm congrats to Rajiv Chandrasekaran for winning the UK Samuel Johnson Prize for his "Imperial Life in the Emerald City. For my interview with Mr. Chandrasekaran, see here and here.


The Situation in Gaza

I have been traveling and not able to spend as much time as usual scanning the news, but of course have followed the events in Palestine with dismay.

It is to be expected that a lot of comment in the United States on these events will be rife with racist attitudes and polemical dismissals. The Palestinians have long been demonized by the Western media, apparently for not going along quietly with their expulsion from their homes, the large scale theft of their land, and their reduction to an almost slave-like status of statelessness. Palestinians are not intrinsically more violent than anyone else, not essentially less able to administer or govern than anyone else. Few countries have not had civil wars or at least major civil conflicts. The question should be not "Why are Palestinians like that?"-- which is a racist question-- but what social and economic factors are driving the present conflict?

Why is it that so little analysis is offered of why things have developed as they have? Isn't anyone interested in the important differences between Gaza's economy and that of the West Bank? Gaza is much poorer and much more isolated from the world. Is it any big surprise that its population is more radicalized and might be drawn into supporting Hamas?

The Gazan population is being thrown into more misery by an Israeli blockade of electricity, fuel and even food. (Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says that it will be a humanitarian blockade; if you believe that, I have a bridge over the River Jordan you can purchase inexpensively from me). UNRWA is warning against the blockade. With an unemployment rate of 50% and widespread malnutrition, caused by the ordinary everyday Israeli pressure on Gaza, the territory's population can't take much more extra deprivation without an immense human toll being exacted.

It seems obvious that Hamas will be overthrown in Gaza, jointly by Mahmud Abbas, Israel and the United States. But it seems unlikely that Mahmud Abbas will gain any genuine authority there if that is how he comes to power. And, the events of the past few days have driven a nail into the coffin of Bush's "democratization" program for the "Greater Middle East." The Haniyah Hamas government had come to power in free and fair elections, but was immediately boycotted, starved of resources, and actually often simply kidnapped by the Israelis; and is now being put out of office in a kind of coup. The people of the Arab world are not blind or stupid. If this is what the "Greater Middle East" looks like, it will too closely resemble, for their taste, the colonial 19th century, When Europeans dictated government to Middle Easterners.

If Bush and the Israelis couldn't live with a Hamas electoral victory, they should have exluded Hamas from running a year and a half ago. The Egyptians don't let explicitly religious parties contest elections, and a similar rule could have been made in Palestine. Holding an election, having people win it with whom you won't deal, and then overturning the election with militias, is a recipe for violence and instability. That's what happened in Algeria in the early 1990s, and it caused untold suffering.

The Israelis may be sighing a sigh of relief that the Palestinians are busy fighting one another for the moment. But what has happened is not good for Israel in the medium to long term, since I suspect it signals the end of the possibility of a viable Palestinian state. And, if you don't have a two-state solution, ultimately the likelihood is that Israel will be stuck with the Palestinians as citizens. The world is not going to look the other way forever as they are kept stateless, poor, landless and hungry.

PKK Leader Warns Turkey on Incursions

Michael Howard of the Guardian interviewed a Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) guerrilla commander in northern Iraq. Money graf:


'The Turkish army faces "a political and military disaster" if its generals give orders for a cross-border offensive, Cemil Bayik, one of the two most powerful figures in the Kurdistan Workers party, or PKK, told the Guardian at a hideout in the Qandil mountains on the border with Iran. Mr Bayik said his units did not seek a fight, but "would defend ourselves if attacked". It could become "a quagmire for them [the Turkish army] and create space for Iran to interfere in Iraq also," he said. '


Bayik's mindset is revealed when he talks about Turkish plans of 'annihilating Kurdishness.' Actually, things have changed in the past 30 years, though the good Lord knows that much remains to be done in ensuring that Turkish Kurds are first class citizens (not a goal that will be reached by thuggish, murderous PKK tactics). First of all, Turkish Kurds have spread all over Turkey as guest workers. There are millions living in cities such as Istanbul and other industrial centers. Political scientists studying their voting patterns have found that they vote like other Turkish citizens living in the same place. That is, Kurds in Istanbul vote like the Turks in surrounding neighborhoods. There is no pan-Kurdish political identity in Turkey. Only a tiny proportion of Turkish Kurds supports the PKK, which has a very nasty history as a far-left terrorist group that killed thousands. (In this interview, Cemil Bayik as much as admits that his group is still actively killing Turkish soldiers and police in Eastern Anatolia; this is the point of his posturing that the PKK no longer targets civilians [also untrue].)

The issue of the Kurdish north in Iraq is not theoretical. Reuters reports political violence in Iraq on Sunday and among the major incidents were these two:

'KIRKUK - A car bomb killed three people, including two Kurdish security force members, and wounded four other people in Kirkuk, 250 km (155 miles) north of Baghdad, police said.

KIRKUK - A U.S. soldier was killed in an explosion in Kirkuk province on Saturday, the U.S. military said in a statement.


McClatchy adds, "Two civilians were killed when gunmen opened fire targeting their truck on Al Abbasi- Biji street southwest Kirkuk city Saturday night."

This violence is a result of a struggle for oil rich Kirkuk among Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen, a struggle that will intensify later this year over the planned referendum that will bring Kirkuk into the Kurdistan regional confederacy.

Other attacks reported by Reuters included a roadside bomb in Baghdad that killed 2 US soldiers on Saturday, a suicide carbombing near Baiji north of Baghdad that killed 3 Iraqi policemen and wounded 7 others, and an attack on policemen in the southern city of Nasiriya (probably Mahdi Army) that wounded one of them.

Then there was this:

'BAGHDAD - The body of Filaih Wadi Mijthab, the managing editor of the state-run al-Sabah daily newspaper, has been found in Baghdad's Sadr City neighbourhood, his newspaper said. He was kidnapped on Wednesday. '


The Iraq War has been among the hardest in history on journalists, and now another martyr to truth-telling has fallen.

McClatchy adds other attacks on Sunday:

'Three Iraqi soldiers were injured when an IED explosion targeted their patrol in Al Eskan intersection in Al Mansour neighborhood downtown Baghdad around 2 p.m.

Seven civilians were injured when mortar shells hit Salman Bak district in southeast Baghdad around 5 p.m.

Five bodies were found in Baghdad. . .

Two policemen were killed and 7 of their colleagues wounded when an IED explosion targeted their patrol near the entrance of Siniyah district north of Tikrit city early morning. . .

Medical and security sources said that 17 residents from Jizani Al Emam village had been killed and injured in the ongoing clashes that started Saturday between the residents of Jizani Al Emam village, one of the villages of Khalis town and what is called the Islamic State of Iraq. . .

At least 4 civilians were killed and 10 were wounded in a suicide bombing. The incident happened afternoon in Jbil district south Falluja when a suicide wearing a vest bomb detonated among the civilians who had gathered to renew their Falluja residency badges. . .
There was also violence in an around Baquba in Diyala province. Kurds and Turks: Will they or Won't They?

Joshua Partlow has a good article in WaPo on the military friction at the Turkish-Iraqi border. It is based on interviews in Iraqi Kurdistan and with US military officials, however, and oddly lacks the perspective from Ankara.

I was just at an International Relations conference at Middle East Technical University in Ankara. I didn't seek out any serving Turkish politicians or diplomats for comment, but did talk informally to academics and retired ambassadors and officials of wide experience. I didn't advertise these conversations as interviews for a public article, however, so I won't name them. Anyway, they can't speak officially.

But here is what I heard them to say. First of all, the atmosphere in Ankara (Turkey's capital) is of extreme anger about the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government giving safe haven to guerrillas of the Kurdish Worker's Party (PKK). I mean livid.

It should be remembered that leftist PKK guerrillas kicked off a low intensity war that left 35,000 persons dead in Turkey since 1984. In other words, PKK's campaign and the reaction to it have done 10 times more damage to Turkey than al-Qaeda has done to the United States. And, that is not even taking into account that Turkey is a fourth the size of the US, so you could say 40 times more. In the piece just linked, F. Stephen Larrabee estimates that "Since January 2006, PKK cross-border raids from safe havens in northern Iraq have led to roughly 600 deaths, many of them members of the Turkish security forces."

In other words, the Kurdistan Regional Government is playing the Taliban to the PKK's al-Qaeda, from the point of view of the Turkish government. It is harboring 5,000 PKK fighters. Turkey has a strong and impressive military tradition and does not take casualties in its security forces lightly. What is going on is clearly a casus belli.

It is quite amazing that the Bush administration has so far winked at this situation! Such a 'war on terror.'

Turkey has a new chief of military staff, Yasar Buyukanit, who is a Kemalist hardliner. He has warned against creeping fundamentalism in Turkey and has minced no words about the PKK threat.

The alleged recent border incursion by several hundred Turkish troops 2 miles into Iraq in hot pursuit of PKK fighters probably did occur, virtually everyone I talked to said. One observer suggested that Turkey might thereby be attempting to 'change the rules of engagement' with the PKK over the border. Such incursions are also opportunities for intelligence gathering. Turkish special ops teams have penetrated deep into Iraqi Kurdistan on occasion.

One reason the border incursion was a surprise is that Prime Minister Rejep Tayyip Erdogan's AK Party gets some support from Turkish Kurds. So why would he risk alienating them on the eve of an important election?

The order for the border incursion probably did not come from that high up. The Turkish commanders at the border have enough authority, I was told, to do a little hot pursuit like that without prior clearance if they feel it is important for military reasons.

So Erdogan probably wishes it hadn't happened. Kurds in Turkey are disproportionately rural or of recent rural origins and are typically more religious than urban Turks. Since the AK Party has a mild religious coloration, it holds some attraction for them.

Erdogan's rush to say that Turkey should deal with PKK guerrillas based in Turkish territory before it worries about those in Iraq was for the benefit of his Kurdish constituency. That sentiment clearly is not shared by Buyukanit and the Turkish military, which has a say in such matters under Turkey's system of dual sovereignty, where the military is the ultimate guardian of the values of the republic and doesn't care for the AK Party anyway. I think Partlow put too much emphasis on Erdogan's statement, which was clearly a piece of electioneering and isn't definitive in the Turkish system.

There was a recent bombing in Ankara that killed 14 persons, and in which PKK is suspected. It has denied responsibility. One retired Turkish diplomat said he accepted the recently advanced thesis that it was the work of a Turkish Maoist who is sympathetic to the PKK. Another observer found this charge hard to believe. Blaming a far-left Turk, however, would have the effect of reducing tensions with the Kurds, and would therefore serve Erdogan's purposes. I have no way of knowing the reality.

I brought up with several observers my nightmare, that the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq will certainly annex Kirkuk later this year, and that there may be as a result clashes between the Kurds and the Turkmen minority. Iraqi Turkmen, some 800,000 strong, have been adopted by the Turks of Turkey as sort of little brothers. I can't imagine the Turkish public standing for a massacre of Turkmen, and hundreds of thousands of people in the street could force Buyukanit to act decisively.

My colleagues universally agreed that the potential was there for an escalation of the crisis under such conditions. No one said I was exaggerating the risks. One former official who is an expatriate said that before he arrived in Ankara last week, he did not know just how angry people there were over this issue. He is now convinced that the situation is serious.

Partlow points out that if Turkey did take on the Iraqi Kurds over the haven they have given the PKK, the US would likely be forced to support Turkey, a NATO ally acting against a terrorist threat.

Partlow quotes Massoud Barzani as saying that Turkey has a problem with the existence of Kurds. This is a vast exaggeration. The status of Kurds in Turkey has substantially improved over the past two decades. Barzani neglected to mention the 35,000 dead in PKK's dirty war, or that he is actively harboring 5,000 PKK guerrillas. He recently went so far as to imply that if Turkey intervened on the Kirkuk issue, it would result in terrorism in Diyarbakir (a city in Turkey's eastern Anatolia). It was a shameful performance.

So I don't think Partlow's sanguine conclusions are justified. I think the situation in the north has entered a phase of continual crisis in which things could spiral out of control at any moment.

I continue to be just amazed that no one in authority in Iraq is taking any steps to try to avert such a crisis. I earlier suggested a partion of Kirkuk province before the referendum as a way of defusing the tensions. But it seems like that the referendum will be held in the whole province and that the whole of it will go to Kurdistan. Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul has said that this development would be a cause for war in and of itself.

The train wreck continues to unfold.

US Paramilitary Casualties Covered Up
Sistani condemns Attacks on Sunni Shrines, Mosques
Pakistan Rallies Condemn US


Highly paid "security guards" play an essential role in the US war against Iraqi guerrillas. They form a paramilitary, which has inevitably taken great numbers of casualties (they sometimes actually guard US troops!) Turns out that they have been taking casualties at far higher rates than the Pentagon or its private contractors have ever let on.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has signed a contract with UNESCO for the immediate rebuilding of the al-Askariya Shrine at Samarra, which was blown up again this week. The Sadr movement has suspended its participation in parliament until the shrine is rebuilt, and al-Maliki depends on those 32 votes. Muqtada al-Sadr, the young Shiite nationalist cleric, has called for a mass protest march on Samarra by Shiites. Al-Maliki is attempting to avoid the likely violence that would result if a lot of Shiites flooded into mainly Sunni Samarra, a stronghold of the Baath Party and Salafi Jihadis.

Angry Shiites bombed another Sunni mosque on Saturday morning, this time at Basra, that of al-`Asharah al-Mubashshirah. Sawt al-Iraq in Arabic says that eyewitnesses report very substantial damage to the edifice.

Shiites in Islamabad, Karachi and other Pakistani cities rallied Friday to protest the further bombing of the al-Askariya Shrine, which they alleged was a US black operation designed to set Sunnis and Shiites against one another and to partition Iraq:



"Demonstrators in Islamabad burnt flags of America, the Zionist regime and Britain and chanted slogans including "Death to America" and "Death to Zionists". [Pakistani] Senator Abbas Kameli told the demonstrators that a conspiracy was hatched to create rift among the Shiite and Sunnis but the people of Iraq have frustrated the conspiracy. He said that attack on al-Askari shrine was aimed at dividing the people of Iraq but the country is united and will remain united. Senator Kameli said thousands of innocent people have been killed since the US-led forces have arrived in Iraq. He added that foreign forces have committed more heinous crimes than Saddam Hussain. "


If you want to know what most Muslims really think about the US presence in Iraq, that about sums it up. The longer that presence continues in its current shape, the deeper and wider the hatred of the US will be.

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani condemned Shiite attacks on Sunni mosques and holy places on Saturday, in the wake of the destruction of the shrine of Talhah b. Ubayd Allah (a companion of the Prophet and cousin of the first Sunni Caliph, Abu Bakr) near Basra and the mosque of al-`Asharah al-Mubashshirah. Talhah had fought Ali, the first Shiite Imam, at the Battle of the Camel.

In a further setback to the Bush-Blair assault on international law, the House of Lords has ruled that European Union conventions on human rights apply to Iraqi prisoners held by the British military. They must be given a right to a fair trial and representation and may not be tortured. The case arose out of the death of a prisoner who had 93 separate injuries.

Some recent US rulings, albeit in lower courts, have the same implication.

The US military in Iraq is launching a "sustained" campaign against "al-Qaeda" in Iraq. Since presumably this is what they have been doing for four years, I suppose it means they will do so now in accordance with better counter-insurgency tactics than just 'search and destroy,' which alienates the local population. The problem I foresee is that the guerrilla resistance to the US military presence in Sunni Arab Iraq isn't just the Salafi Jihadis or what the US calls 'al-Qaeda.' There are 50 cells of all ideological stripes, including four Baath Parties. I don't think the Iraqi Sunnis want us there (I think in polling only 8% said they did, and then to protect them from the Shiites; even the tribes fighting 'al-Qaeda' in al-Anbar province have no love for the al-Maliki government, for the most part).

Sunni Mosque Demolished
Turks Plan Buffer Zone inside Iraq




An important, historic Sunni shrine south of Basra was blown up on Friday, raising fears of further Sunni-Shiite sectarian killings and reprisals, according to Alissa Rubin of the NYT. The town of Zubayr near Basra is largely Sunni, though it is situated in the overwhelmingly Shiite deep south. Iraqi authorities put the large southern port of Basra (pop. 1.3 mn.) under curfew as a result.

Turkey is considering setting up a narrow security zone inside Iraqi territory to stop Kurdish PKK rebels who have been given safe harbor in Iraqi Kurdistan from raiding into Turkish territory and killing and blowing things up. The United States has signalled its coolness to the bruited plan.

Turkish tensions with Iraq are affecting business and investor confidence and even having a global impact. Turkey is the world's 18th largest economy and among the few substantial Middle Eastern states with a prospect of being a fairly developed country any time soon (outside the tiny oil states of the Gulf).

5 more US troops have been announced killed in Iraq. A US F-16 fighter jet crashed for unknown reasons.

Shanty towns are mushrooming in Iraq, posing severe social problems. Khamenei, Global Demonstrations, Blame US
Demonstrations in Sadr City, Basra, Kashmir
3 Sunni Mosques Torched


Iran's Supreme Jurisprudent,Ali Khamenei, managed to blame the Iraqi Baath Party, the Wahhabi sect of Islam, the Salafi Jihadi radicals among Sunnis, and the United States, jointly for the blowing up of the minarets at the al-Askariya Shrine in Samarra. The shrine is among the holiest sites for the Shiite branch of Islam. Iran is the largest Shiite country, with 90% or so of its 70 million people adhering to it. Khamenei is both the head of the Iranian state and the head of Iranian Shiism, and is recognized as authoritative by some Shiites outside Iran, especially the Hizbullah Party of south Lebanon. Most non-Iranian Shiites follow instead Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani of Najaf, who has called for calm. But Khamenei has a big megaphone among Shiites. His laying of responsibility for the bombing at the feet of the US will increase anti-American hatred in the Shiite world. Khamenei's heated and irrational rhetoric, positing a vast conspiracy among various groups that hate one another, is typical of the hardliners in Iran, but it is my impression that in recent months he has tended to leave the wilder talk to his rival Ayatollah Misbah Yazdi and his protege, Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad. I don't think Khamenei's remarks on this matter are a good sign.

The English text of Sistani's statement on the bombing of the shrine can be found here.

There were angry demonstrations by Muslims in Srinagar and elswhere in Indian Kashmir, at which the US was blamed for the Samarra bombing and Bush was burned in effigy: 'The protestors said that the US had launched a war against the Muslim world, and decried its policy in West Asia [i.e. Israel/Palestine]. . . Reports of protests have also come from other parts of the valley like Baramulla, Pattan, Mir Gund Divsar and Qazigund.'

Oh, great. Now Bush's Iraq blunder has made us hated in Mir Gund. He is such a great leader. I'll bet the people of Mir Gund once just ignored the United States. Bush got their attention all right. God talks to him and gives him missions, you know. To rile up Kashmiris in Mir Gund.

Not to mention the Caucasus. And we thought Azerbaijan was on our side.

And Bahrain, for a second day. Bahrain is not that big a place and 6,000 people are a lot there. Are there other good places in the Gulf for a naval base? I'd shop around.

And, wait until Friday afternoon in the Middle East and Asia. Shiites in Karachi, Pakistan, are planning fiery anti-American sermons and demonstrations. They are demanding that Pakistan cut off diplomatic relations with the US.

Tina Susman and Suhail Ahmad of the LAT provide ample anecdotal evidence that a lot of Baghdad Shiites are buying the conspiracy theory that the American military was behind the explosions in Samarra. Some even think that the US generals are in league with al-Qaeda. It is horrible, but I suppose it is ironic that Dick Cheney sent the poor US troops off to fight Saddam in Iraq on the ridiculous grounds that Saddam was in bed with al-Qaeda, so now those lies and conspiracy theories in Washington are being met by similar ones generated by Khomeinist Shiites, tying Cheney to al-Qaeda!

The biggest tragedy is that any sane person would have recognized after 9/11 that the US and the Shiites had a common enemy in Bin Laden and his ilk, and the US could have made up with Khatami's Iran. If the Iraq War had not happened, and the hardliners had not won the summer 2005 Iranian elections, the US position in the Muslim world would have been potentially strong by now. Instead, those great Islam scholars and political geniuses, Richard Perle and David Frum, managed to get Bush to put Iran in a cockeyed 'axis of evil.' It has been downhill ever since.

Meanwhile, in Baghdad, Reuters reports that a curfew and the presence of Iraqi and US troops in the street did not prevent large demonstrations from being held in Sadr City and in southern Shiite cities such as Karbala and Basra. In the capital, the Green Zone took mortar fire, as did the courtyard of the nearby al-Rashid Hotel (an employee was killed and several injured).

Al-Sharq al-Awsat reports in Arabic that Sadr City and some other Baghdad neighborhoods closed up their district gates for security reasons. There were also scattered clashes, it says, between Mahdi Army militiamen and Iraqi government & US forces.

There are reports of fair numbers of Iraqis defying the curfew to flee their homes in Baghdad in fear of sectarian reprisals. Some are showing up in displacement camps outside the city. Some are attacked by militiamen on the way.

South of Baghdad in the cities of Iskandariya and Mahaweel, angry Shiites torched three Sunni mosques.

On Wednesday, 23 bodies had been found in Baghdad, victims of death squad killings. Even with all the security and curfew, 5 bodies were found on Thursday.

McClatchy adds these incidents around the country:



' During the last 24 hours, seven people in Basra were killed in sectarian violence resulting from the Samarra explosions. . .

DIYALA: Around 5 p.m. Wednesday, gunmen planted bombs inside Ali Kamal al-Deen shrine in Arab Thuailib village, destroying the dome and a large portion of the shrine. . .

DIYALA: TV news reports Thursday said the head of Diyala university has disappeared. Earlier, he had reported that 12 university lecturers were killed and 44 others transferred to other universities seeking safety. . .

KIRKUK: Around 12:30 p.m. Thursday, a suicide bomber targeted the municipality building of al-Riadh district (west of Kirkuk) during the weekly session of the board. Six were injured - three soldiers, two policemen and a civilian. . .

ANBAR: Around 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, a suicide car bomber targeted the highway police patrol station in Fallujah, killing two policemen and injuring five others. . .
 

Samarra Fallout
Surge not Working


The Sadr Bloc in parliament [Sawt al- Iraq in Arabic] is threatening to suspend their participation in legislation in protest against the failure to rebuild and protect the Shiite Askariya shrine in Samarra. Often the Iraqi parliament, many of whose members live abroad, cannot get a quorum without the Sadrists (32 seats), who are more likely to be in Baghdad for votes. The Sadrists are blaming "the hidden hand of the Occupation" for the bombing (i.e. it is Bush's fault.) If they really do suspend participation in parliament, it would probably mean that no benchmark legislation will be passed any time soon-- not the petroleum law, not revision of the laws on de-Baathification, not constitutional amendments. Nada. Zilch.

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani called for "self-discipline" and "refusal to target innocents in reprisal" for the blowing up of the shrine's minarets on Wednesday, according to the same report.

There appear to have been Sunni-Shiite clashes at mosques in the southern port city of Basra after Wednesday morning's bombing of the Askariya Shrine in Samarra. Some Sunni mosques were attacked elsewhere but a curfew in the northern cities probably forestalled some of that sort of retaliatory violence.

There was also a big labor demonstration in Basra on Wednesday by former workers at defunct Iraqi state-owned factories (petrochemicals, steel, etc.) who want the Iraqi government to revive these industries [in Arabic via Sawt al-Iraq]. The Bush administration shut down the state-owned factories as part of its plan to destroy Arab socialism, and appears to have believed that the magic hand of the market would miraculously start back up Iraqi industries. The bankruptcy of American laissez faire as a development tool is pretty obvious in the economic catastrophe that Bush visited on Iraq. This big labor demonstration will not be reported in the American press, which generally is pitched to be about and for people who make at least $80,000 a year.

Bahrain Shiites demonstrated in Manama against the further attack on the Askariya Shrine in Samarra. Buying into the widespread conspiracy theories in the region, many blamed the US, and chanted "Death to America." Sunni-ruled Bahrain hosts the most important US naval base in the Gulf. Two-thirds of Bahrainis are Shiites, and they feel disenfranchised by the Sunni monarchy and often resent the base.

An Iranian embassy official in Baghdad admitted that the Samarra attack was probably the work of the Iraqi Baath Party. Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad had blamed the US, while the US fingered "al-Qaeda." The Baathists are the best candidate. Samarra is a Sunni Arab city with a strong Baath cell, and the Baathists are secularists who have a history of being willing to shell religious edifices for political reasons (e.g. attacks on Najaf in spring 1991). My readers who like conspiracy theorists should pay attention to this story; an Iranian observer in Baghdad would likely have some intelligence on this matter. In the first Sawt al-Iraq story cited above, Iraqi Sunni vice president Tariq al-Hashimi also implicitly blamed the Baathists.

One in six US-trained Iraqi policemen are killed or vanish. Makes it hard to recruit police and even harder to recruit police who will actively patrol neighborhoods. This is one problem with the US surge strategy, which is that it depends heavily on getting Iraqi security forces to do neighborhood policing in Baghdad. A high-risk activity.

Violence has surged in Iraq since the beginning of the new security plan according to a Congressional study. There was initially, in February and March, a decrease in sectarian death squad killings (i.e. bodies in the street in cities like Baghdad), but those have mostly gone back up. The significant decrease of attacks in al-Anbar province, which appears to have to do with the chieftains of the Dulaim and other major tribes turning on the Salafi Jihadis formerly active there was offset by increased violence in Diyala and Ninevah Provinces. More suicide bombings are now taking place daily in Iraq as a whole than before the 'surge.' The population of Baghdad Province, about 1/4 of the country, is especially favorable toward militias as a tool of neighborhood self-protection, not an attitude shared by Iraqis in most of the rest of the country.

The report finds that about a third of Iraqis are now in favor of partition of the country. But that statistic is useless if we are not told more about the sample. Some 20% of Iraqis are Kurds, and almost all of them want to secede. If it is a weighted sample with strong Kurdish participation, then it would suggest that few Arab Iraqis favor partition, which is what my guess would be.

One caveat is that studies like this often focus on major attacks, especially bombings, which had some degree of success. But the Lancet study of 1800 households found that 86% of violent deaths come from people just being shot down, and that this sort of violence is common throughout the country, not just in select provinces. Not all of it is political in character (there are Mafia turf wars, tribal feuds, etc., which go along with having a failed state such as that in Iraq). About a third of violent deaths came from US military activities. Since the US has begun bombing Iraqi cities again as part of the 'surge,' deaths from aerial strikes have certainly risen, but these probably are not even counted in the Congressional study. Some 500 Iraqis are probably being killed a day in such daily violence, a fraction of the deaths reported by US wire services, though most of these deaths are not specifically "insurgent-" or "politically" derived.

Reuters reports major political violence for Wednesday. Three US troops were announced killed. Other major incidents:



' BAGHDAD - Four civilians were killed and 10 wounded when several mortar rounds hit residential areas in south and southwestern districts of Baghdad, police said. . .

RAMADI - Four Iraqi policemen were killed and 11 officers wounded by a suicide car bomber targeting their checkpoint outside Ramadi, 110 km (68 miles) west of Baghdad. . .

KHAN BANI SAAD - One person was killed and eight wounded on Tuesday when a truck laden with chlorine exploded near an Iraqi army base in the town of Khan Bani Saad [Diyala], about 30 km (20 miles) northeast of Baghdad, police said. . .

MANDILI - A bomb targeting the police chief of the town of Mandili killed three of his bodyguards and wounded five other people, including the police chief, police said. Mandili is in Dilyala Province, near the Iranian border. . .

KIRKUK - A bridge southwest of Kirkuk connecting this northern city with Tikrit was blown up overnight in a roadside bomb attack, police said. . .



Bill O'Reilly does not think any of this is important, or, actually, thinks reporting what goes on in Iraq is a form of treason. Just remember, as Orwell's 1984 reminds us: "War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; Ignorance is Strength." Samarra Shrine Attacked

The Golden Dome or Askariya Shrine in Samarra had its minarets blown up on Wednesday. The shrine is among the holiest in the Shiite world, dedicated to the father and grandfather of the hidden Twelfth Imam. Millenarian Shiites believe that the hidden Imam will one day return to restore the world to justice and herald the Judgment Day (i.e. he is like the second coming of Christ for Christians).

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani called for restraint. Muqtada al-Sadr called for three days of mourning and blamed the US for being behind the attack. Muqtada likes conspiracy theories. Then Iranian president Mahmud Ahmadinejad joined in with the conspiracy, addressing Washington and saying, "You, by supporting these actions, are making it harder for yourselves."

US officials blamed "al-Qaeda." But it is just the Sunni Arab guerrilla movement or rather one of its cells, which is trying to throw the country into turmoil as an insurgency strategy.

Ahmadinejad's reaction demonstrates how dangerous it is for the US to remain the occupying power in a country full of crucial Shiite shrines. If the US cannot protect them, it will be blamed for the desecration, and Americans will be much less safe.

This is what I said about the February, 2006, bombing of the shrine, which sent Iraq spiralling down into civil war.
 
 
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