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Fri

22

Jun

2007

Juan Cole Roundup on Iraq - Middle East (June 22)
Friday, 22 June 2007 18:23

Kurdistan-Baghdad Oil Deal? US Strike Kills 11 Civilians - Shiites Rally in Najaf, Criticize US

Reuters is reporting that the Kurds have reached an agreement with other parliamentarians on changes to a draft petroleum bill. These changes do not address, as Reuters incorrectly reports, "the equitable distribution of petroleum receipts." There is nothing in the draft law about such distributions, which according to the constitution would require separate legislation by parliament. The agreement is rather about the rights of regional confederacies such as the Kurdistan Regional Government to sign contracts with foreign companies independently of Baghdad. The [Shiite] Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), which dominates provincial administrations in the south, is pushing for the formation of a Shiite regional government on the analogy of Kurdistan, which would also have claims on petroleum finds in its area.

The details of the agreement were not released.

Sunni Arab guerrillas hit a city hall with a car bomb in the small town of Sulayman Bek south of Kirkuk on Thursday, killing 18, wounding 75, and raising political tensions in the town.

14 US troops were announced killed Wednesday through Thursday, as the US pursued campaigns in Baghdad and Baquba against Salafi Jihadis.

The Green Zone took heavy mortar fire on Thursday, sending black smoke above the supposedly safe center for government offices and foreign embassies.

A US airstrike in Baquba missed its target and hit a civilian house, killing 11 persons. This sort of thing fuels my suspicion that the current head-on assault is not going to end the guerrilla war, since in the course of fighting current guerrillas one often creates new feuds and new guerrillas.

Shiites in the holy city of Najaf south of Baghdad held a huge rally to protest last week's bombing of the Askariyah Shrine in Samarra. They roundly denounced the Sunni Salafi Jihadis or "al-Qaeda." Ammar al-Hakim, son of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim (leader of SIIC) spoke, slamming the US security push in Baghdad as inadequate and saying “The security situation in Baghdad, Diyala and other areas shows that the security plan needs revision and development in order to achieve greater results. . ." SIIC has its own paramilitary, the Badr Corps, and I take Ammar's criticism to imply that the US should let him unleash Badr on the Salafi Jihadis and they'd be taken care of in short order. Badr has been relatively disciplined, but has been implicated in some death squad activity against ex-Baathists and Salafis.

In his Friday prayer sermon, Shaykh Ahmad al-Safi of Karbala demanded that top Iraqi security officials resign over the bombing of the minarets of the al-Askariyah Shrine last week. He said it was not enough for them to deplore the action, but that rather they must take responsibility. I presume he was targeting the minister of defense and the minister of the interior. He also decried the bombing this week of the mosque of the 2nd Deputy of the 12th Imam in Baghdad, which killed 87. He decried the tendency in the Middle East to praise the groups who do such things as a "resistance" or as fighting a "jihad." What kind of jihad, he asked, involves blowing up Muslim mosques and killing worshippers? Al-Safi is listened to in Iraq in part because he is a representative in a key holy city of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani,the spiritual leader of Iraq's Shiites, and his sermons are thought to represent Sistani's views. I'd say Sistani is probably at this point pretty done out with the al-Maliki government.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has formed, according to this Arabic report, a committee to oversee the arming of tribal groups who are fighting the Salafi Jihadis. He is doing it despite his own concerns that the move will in the long run just create more militias and security problems for the central government. (A lot of the Sunni tribesmen willing to fight "al-Qaeda" are also deeply opposed to al-Maliki).


Al-Maliki's government faces gridlock in parliament in part because of the Sadr Movement, which has 32 seats and forms part of the United Iraqi Alliance, al-Maliki's bloc. The Sadrists have withdrawn from the national unity government and suspended participation in parliament. Al-Maliki also lost the 15 delegates of the Islamic Virtue Party (Fadhila), which is strong in Basra in the south. He is essentially a minority prime minister but can't get much legislation pushed through under these circumstances. He is exploring a new configuration in parliament, joining his Da'wa Party (24 seats), SIIC (30 seats), the Kurdistan Alliance (53 seats), and the [Sunni Arab] Iraqi Islamic Party. The new coalition would have 160 seats in the 275-member parliament and would comfortably be able to pass legislation (if everyone showed up; the last vote was taken in a parliament where only 144 MPs attended, a bare quorum). The problem is that fundamentalist Shiites, fundamentalist Sunnis, and separatist, often socialist Kurds, don't amount to a stable coalition.

Leila Fadel of McClatchy interviews a Mahdi Army commander, who has been on a killing spree against Sunnis and claims to have received training in Iran. He says the Mahdi Army will one day lead a revolution in Iraq similar to that of Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran. He is obviously a braggart, but if a tenth of what he says is true, it is chilling. He also explains why dozens of bodies are still showing up in Baghdad every day, despite the US security push.

20 bodies were found in Baghdad. There was a bombing in Madaen, and a mortar strike on a Shiite neighborhood in south Baghdad.

McClatchy reports:

'Diyala:
Around 2 pm , 6 people were killed and 3 others injured at Barghash village in Balad Rouz (40 km east of Baquba) when clashes took place between gunmen and the residents of the village , Diyala Salvation Council reported . . .

Around Thursday noon, Khalis hospital ( 15 km north of Baquba) has received 3 dead bodies in two different incidents. . .

Around Thursday noon, terrorists bombed a primary school in Qara Taba village ( 79 km north of Baquba) causing great damage to the building . . . '

KARBALA:
Today , Kerbala cemetery had got 130 unknown dead bodies which had been brought from Baghdad morgues as they have been there for more than three months without been identified . Thus th whole number of the unknown dead bodies buried in Kerbala reached ( 3627) .

BASRA:

Basra ( 549 km south of Baghdad) - A British soldier was killed by mortar attacks on the multi forces headquarter in Hakimia neighborhood in the midtown of Basra city yesterday evening , the spokesman of the British forces said.
Fred Kaplan at Slate on how Rudy Giuliani sloughed off when serving on the Baker-Hamilton Commission on Iraq.

Cole's Advice to Hillary on Iraq
Reply to Edwards on the South Lite

The Chicago Sun Times has a run down of what the Democratic presidential candidates recently said, some of it Iraq-oriented. Actually, I would argue that everything in this election is tinged by Iraq.

The article, like many others, notes that at Hillary Clinton's speech at Take Back America, the Code Pink antiwar demonstrators were out in fewer numbers this time and that she got support from other parts of the crowd. The demonstrators objected when she blamed what went wrong in Iraq on the Iraqi government. They were right to protest.

If I were advising Senator Clinton on what to say about Iraq, this would be it: "Our troops have fought courageously and with great skill against the totalitarian, genocidal Saddam Hussein regime and its security forces. They did their job, but the Bush administration did not do its. Bush failed to secure a United Nations Security Council resolution for the war, depriving the war effort of key international support and casting the administration as an outlaw regime in the eyes of much of the world. There was no planning for the aftermath of the war. Stupid decisions were taken to dissolve the Iraqi army, to fire thousands of experienced bureaucrats and teachers, to marginalize the Sunni Arab community, and to deliver Iraq into the hands of expatriate carpetbaggers, some of them overly friendly with the ayatollahs in Tehran. Neither the US military nor the Iraqis bear the primary blame for the subsequent catastrophe. It is on the shoulders of the Bush administration. The administration has so spoiled the situation that there is no longer any hope of a military solution. Any solution to this festering crisis must be political and diplomatic. The US military is essentially being ordered to support some sides in a multi-pronged civil war against others, but without any real hope of having being able to triumph decisively in these low-intensity guerrilla wars. That is why I favor getting our troops out of Iraq and insisting that regional powers, NATO and the UN now come in to bring about a political resolution, even as the world ensures that a nonsectarian Iraqi military is trained, equipped and deployed for the protection of all Iraqis."

Caveat: I am not giving my own speech above. I'm just taking what Senator Clinton often says and rephrasing it so that the blame is put where it belongs, which is not on the poor Iraqi public but on Bush-Cheney. I think she'd find this approach a stronger rallying cry and also that it would allow her to occupy a higher moral ground.

The Sun-Times article mentions that John Edwards is hinting around that Clinton and Obama cannot win in the South and that he can. I agree with him that this issue has to be part of Democratic strategizing, but I disagree with his point of view on it. Edwards's ticket couldn't take his own state, North Carolina, in 2004, and it is unclear that that would change if he were at the top of the ticket. And anything south of North Carolina is Republican territory, which Edwards cannot win, either. So what is in play? Virginia, Tennesee, West Virginia, southern Ohio, Arkansas, etc. The South Lite. They can still swing either way.

Ordinarily Edwards might have a better chance in the mid-Atlantic states than his main rivals. But 2008 will be a peculiar election, because many Republican voters are likely to stay home out of discouragement. At the moment, many key constituencies in the Republican Party (e.g. the evangelicals, the small-government conservatives, the Libertarians) feel unrepresented by the front runners. Fully a third of evangelicals voted Democratic in the fall '06 election!

I am not sure at this late date, and given the money already raised by front runners, a Fred Thompson candidacy is plausible, and he's the only one on the horizon who could help fix this problem on the Republican side. Even he would have the Iraq albatross around his neck, which is likely to discourage Republican voters from coming out. I think a third party run by Bloomberg/Hagel would draw off Republicans 2-1 against Democrats, just as Ross Perot did in 1992. In the absence of such a consideration, the Democrats will win because right of center independents defect to them and because Republicans are too disheartened to come out in force.

These considerations might in fact allow Clinton and Obama to take Virginia and Tennesee and West Virginia. The remarkably good showing that Harold Ford made in the Tennesee senate race last fall underscores what I am saying.

So I agree with Edwards that one key to a Democratic presidential win in '08 will be the South Lite. And in ordinary times he might in fact be better positioned to win there. But in '08 the independents are leaning Democratic and evangelicals are likely to either bolt the Republican Party or stay home, and I think Clinton and Obama both are electable in the South Lite.

Barack Obama wants 45 mile a gallon automobile fuel efficiency as a way of reducing US dependency on Middle East petroleum. I'm all for that, but I don't think he appreciates the engineering challenge here or the pinch the middle and working classes would feel from the big spike in the cost of automobiles. It is also a global market, and if the US stopped making low-efficiency luxury cars, SUVs, etc., the likelihood is that the public would just import them, sending more jobs overseas. Being in the Detroit area, I'm not sanguine about most Americans wanting to drive around in dinky little cars or wanting to spend more for a local one than one made overseas. In other words, I'd like to hear more from Senator Obama about how this would work exactly, so as to avoid driving more Michigan jobs overseas.

And, just a word of advice to Senator Obama: the petroleum market is just one global market. It doesn't matter whether the US gets petroleum from the Middle East or from Venezuela. In fact, the Saudis deliberately make petroleum deals with US firms so as to make political points, when from a market point of view they could just let the contracts fall where they may. You can't fix any problems by switching which countries you buy petroleum from. It is like trying to get the level of the water in your bathtub lower in one corner. Can't be done. It is just one bathtub and level will equalize throughout.

Dennis Kucinich wants a massive government program to retrofit homes for solar and wind energy. I don't know if homes are the place to start, but I agree that solar and wind would become more viable if the government threw a lot of money at them. Personally, I'd start by making the Defense Department and the military as green as possible. This would have the advantage of being attractive to the Republicans, of getting the corporations on board, of potentially giving our military advantages in the field, and of being hard for the conservatives to argue against.

29 Bodies Found in Baghdad
Erdogan Warns on PKK


29 bodies were found in Baghdad on Wednesday, according to McClatchy. There was also mortar fire in Baghdad, an attack on police in Mahawil, and US military clashes with the Mahdi Army of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

About that orphanage that the Iraqi government was running, where the children were starved and abused? The Iraqi government says it really wasn't so bad. And moreover, the US troops that rescued them were the ones who abused them. So there. Nyaah! Yep, the Bush administration has a real friend in Baghdad all right.

Steve Negus reports in the Financial Times on the PKK hideout in Qandil, Iraq, near the Turkish border:


' Their Qandil base, and two smaller enclaves closer to Turkey, have for the past two months been drawing world attention, with the Turkish military saying it is ready to strike across the border at the PKK as soon as it gets the green light from Ankara’s civilian leaders. Dozens of Turkish soldiers have been killed in recent months in clashes with the PKK inside Turkey, and the Kurdish guerrillas have been blamed for bombings that have caused civilian casualties, prompting the calls for a military assault. '
Meanwhile, Turkish PM Tayyip Erdogan said it was the responsibility of the US and the Iraqi government to curb the PKK, which the US has formally designated a terrorist group. But he also said, "If needed we will take the necessary steps [for a cross-border operation] because we cannot allow the PKK any longer to carry out attacks . . ."

Ben Lando of UPI reports that a key author of the Iraqi draft petroleum law has turned into a critic because of recent revisions. These changes weaken the role of the federal government. I wouldn't expect that law to be passed any time soon, or its provisions to stand up over time anyway. Apparently Dick Cheney's entreaties that the parliament not take a summer recess have fallen on deaf ears. And in the current chaos, I doubt you could get a quorum of the MPs into the Green Zone for a vote.

Everyday Apocalypse in Iraq
War of the Mosques
142 Dead on Tuesday

142 persons were killed or found dead on Tuesday, and Wednesday morning two Sunni mosques in towns south of Baghdad were blown up.

On Tuesday, a huge truck bomb in Baghdad blew up a Shiite mosque dedicated to an important religious figure and killed 87 persons, wounding 214. This site was dedicated to Muhammad bin Uthman bin Sa`id al-`Amri, the second of at least four Deputies (wakil) who Shiites believe acted as intermediaries between the Hidden Twelfth Imam and believers during his first or "minor" Disappearance. Shiites believe that the Prophet Muhammad should have been succeeded by his close family and descendants. The 12th Imam, a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, they say, went into hiding as a small child in 874 AD after the death of his father, Hasan al-Askari, who had been put under house arrest by the Abbasid Caliphate. During the "minor disappearance" the Twelfth Imam was said to send letters to the Shiite community, and for many years sent them, they say, through Muhammad b. Uthman.

Many Iraqi Shiites, poor, bewildered, under siege by multiple political and military forces, have become millenarians and believe that the hidden Twelfth Imam will now come back any day as the Mahdi, the apocalyptic Guided One, who will restore the world to justice in preparation for the Judgment Day.

The Sunni Arab guerrillas know that this millenarian hope and fervor sustains many Shiites and that they are touchy about it. That is why they have twice bombed the shrine at Samarra, dedicated to the father and grandfather of the Imam Mahdi, and now have hit in such a powerful and gruesome way the mosque-shrine of the Imam Mahdi's second Deputy. (A traditionalist account of the Deputies of the Imam can be found here).

Hope for the coming of the promised one is all most Shiites have left, and the desecration of sacred sites associated with the Mahdi (analogous to the return of Christ for Christians) is especially likely to set off reprisal attacks against Sunnis. Since the guerrilla strategy in Iraq is to provoke a Sunni-Shiite civil war as a way of making the country ungovernable and forcing the Americans out, attacks on symbols of the Twelfth Imam are especially effective.

One unfortunate side effect of this shrine-destruction strategy is that the shrines are revered in Iran, as well, and President Mahmud Ahmadinejad is a millenarian especially devoted to the cult of the Twelfth Imam. Sentiments of the Iranian public are also being stirred by these attacks (not to mention Hizbullah in Lebanon, and Shiites in Pakistan, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, who increasingly blame the US for the desecrations). Religious politics is politics, and the US is being wrongfooted in a major way here.

The signs of the coming of the Twelfth Imam in Shiite tradition are as follows:
'The Sign consists of the following traits: the people will neglect prayer, squander the divinity which is conferred on them, legalize untruths, practice usury, accept bribes, construct huge edifices, sell religion to win this lower world, employ idiots, consult with women, break family ties, obey passion and consider insignificant the letting of blood. Magnanimity will be considered as weakness and injustice as glory, princesses will be debauched and ministers will be oppressors, intellectuals will be traitors and the reader of the Koran vicious. False witness will be brought openly and immorality proclaimed in loud voices. A word of promise will be slander, sin and exaggeration. The sacred Books will be ornate, the mosques disguised, the minarets extended. Criminals will be praised, the lines of combat narrowed, hearts in disaccord and pacts broken. Women, greedy for the riches of this lower world, will involve themselves in the business of their husbands; the vicious voices of the man will be loud and will be listened to. The most ignoble of the people will become leaders, the debauched will be believed for fear of the Evil they will cause, the liar will be considered as truthful and the traitor as trustworthy. They will resort to singers and musical instruments...and women will horse ride, they will resemble men and the men will resemble women. The people will prefer the activities of this lower-world to those of the Higher-World and will cover with lambskin the hearts of wolves."
Muqtada al-Sadr has alleged that the entire point of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq was to keep this decadent situation in place and to forestall the coming of the Mahdi by planting military bases around Iraq and the Persian Gulf. He says that the US Pentagon has an enormous file on the Mahdi.

In other words, the US and militant Sunni Arabs are felt by many Iraqi Shiites to be playing the role of Dajjal or "Anti-Christ", a figure whose purpose is to forestall the coming of the Imam Mahdi. Shiite tradition holds that the Mahdi will come together with the Return of Christ, and that the returned Christ will kill the Dajjal. (Ironically, some of the US troops fighting the Shiite millenarians may be evangelicals who also believe that the Return of Christ is near; Iraq is a wonderland for apocalytpicism).

Ideologically, the shrine bombings of the past week and a half are far more important than any mere military maneuvers. If the US cannot arrange for the shrine of the Imam Mahdi's Deputy in Baghdad itself to be protected better than that, it will never succeed in Iraq's religious politics, no matter how many ink spots it creates.

The US offensive in Baquba, the capital of Diyala province northeast of Baghdad, is intended to root out Salafi Jihadi forces among the Sunnis that have come to dominate entire neighborhoods and entire towns in the province, which lies between Baghdad and Iran. But most of the forces involved seem to be American and Shiite (the 2,000 'paramilitary police' mentioned are surely from the Badr Corps paramilitary of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council [SIIC], the leading Shiite party with links to Iran). Diyala has a Sunni majority, and a lot of the problems in that province began politically in the first place because SIIC has dominated it politically. In the short term, this operation may 'pacify' Baquba. But likely it will inflict tremendous damage on the city, will cause a lot of the 300,000 or so inhabitants to flee and become refugees, and will likely not change the political situation, which is Shiite dominance of Sunnis along with some Kurdish separatist plans for parts of the province. Falluja had 2/3s of its buildings destroyed and tens of thousands of its former inhabitants are living in tent cities in the desert with bad water, and Falluja is still not secure--kidnappings, shootings, mortar attacks, even car bombings are all still taking place there and in its environs.

There is also heavy fighting between Mahdi Army forces and Iraqi government troops in Nasiriya in the south, with British troops allegedly giving some support to the government side. Typically the 'Iraqi government' forces are actually drawn from the Badr Corps and so this is in a way two Shiite militias fighting one another. These clashes have reinforced the determination of the Sadr Movement MPs to suspend their participation in the parliament, which probably therefore lacks a quorum for the rest of the summer. The Sadrists say an agreement has been reached with the governor of Nasiriyah to end the fighing.

And on the northern front, a Turkish court has opened an investigation into Kurdistan president Massoud Barzani on charges that he is actively harboring PKK terrorists.

Vigil for Detained Iranian Intellectuals

Amnesty International is hosting a vigil in New York next week for three detained intellectuals, including my friend Haleh Esfandiari. I urge everyone who can attend, to do so, and make a special plea to fellow bloggers to publicize this event. (The bigger it is, the more successful it will be; a small showing is dangerous). Details below.

For background see these IC columns:

Protest Letter from MESA on Haleh Esfandiari's Detention

and

Haleh in Prison.

As readers know, I cancelled my own participation in a conference in Tehran at the end of June because I could hardly sit in a nice hotel room in that city knowing that Haleh was in the notorious Evin Prison just a few blocks away.

Again, please link the hell out of this announcement and lets get up a blog mob for the vigil.

==================

Amnesty International

In May the government of Iran arrested four Iranian-Americans: prominent U.S. scholars Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh, journalist Parnaz Azima and activist Ali Shakeri. Esfandiari, Tajbakhsh and Shakeri remain in detention without being able to see family, lawyers, or the ICRC. All four face serious charges stemming from their efforts to promote an Iranian-American dialogue and scholarly work and could be sentenced to long prison terms.

JOIN AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL, THE AMERICAN ISLAMIC CONGRESS AND HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH AS WE CALL FOR JUSTICE AND FOR THE RELEASE OF THE DETAINED IRANIAN-AMERICANS Haleh Esfandiari

SPEAKERS TO INCLUDE SHAUL BAKHASH, HUSBAND OF HALEH ESFANDIARI, AND ZAINAB AL-SUWAIJ OF THE AMERICAN ISLAMIC CONGRESS

WHERE: Dag Hammarskjold Plaza at 1st Avenue and 47nd Street across from the United Nations Plaza

WHEN: Wednesday June 27, 12 noon to 1 pm

Feel free to bring signs calling for freedom for the detained Iranian-Americans. This is to be a non-political and non-partisan action advocating human rights

For more information contact Sharon McCarter 202-691-4016 or Amnesty International USA 202-675-8755
 
Juan Cole Blogs at Informed Comment at www.juancole.com
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