Ambush Of British Troops Near Amara

*The ambush of British troops near Amara that killed six of them on Tuesday was probably the work of bandits, according to Kim Sengupta and Patrick Cockburn of The Independent. The south of Iraq has been plagued by banditry for years. Under Saddam, some of it may have been social banditry, in which Shiite tribesmen or desperadoes defied the Baath regime with their robberies and were hidden by peasants or Marsh Arabs. Organized crime, a sort of Iraqi Mafia, seems clearly responsible for the theft of cable, which is stripped to the copper wiring and melted into blocks for sale in Iran. The lost cable makes it difficult for the US and Britain to restore electricity, which no doubt pleases the mafias. After all, crime is best carried out in the dark, and chaos and public discontent can abet it. The neocon hawks in Washington thought that in taking over Iraq they were getting a sort of Arab Germany, brutal but disciplined. In fact, the brutality of Baath rule came from the country’s near ungovernability, not from success in imposing order. It will be no easy matter to impose order on Iraq. The British and Americans had been talking about a quick reduction in force of their militaries in Iraq, but now such measures are on hold. Indeed, more troops may have to be sent.

*An eyewitness account appears in az-Zaman today of a running street battle in Baghdad between the US army and an armed group of bandits. So much for things returning to “normal.”

*Journalists continue to bring into question the American assertions that things are returning to normal in Iraq. AFP reported that Baghdad was without electricity for a full 24 hours a couple of days ago. According to Charles Clover of the Financial Times for 25 June: “Life in Baghdad often seems at variance with the optimistic pronouncements coming out of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) . . . Police have returned to work but are seldom seen on Baghdad’s streets, where cars are stolen in broad daylight and traffic jams are constant. Heaps of rubbish lie in the street – closing even the entrance to the central bank – yet sporadic clean-up campaigns seem designed more for publicity than for effect. Power seems to be off far more than the average of four hours a day that the CPA says is the case.” A similar article for the Independent notes that a shopkeeper laughed when he hear Paul Bremer’s assertion that things were returning to normal. He said he doesn’t open his shops because the banks are closed and he has no place to put the money– if he kept it in the shop or at home it would just be stolen. Clover worries that if things go on like this for a few more months, public disenchantment with the CPA will grow to dangerous dimensions.

*Hundreds of Iranian students have been arrested for the recent protests, not only in Tehran but also in Mashhad, Yazd and elsewhere. The Iranian government has banned any further demonstrations off university campuses, but says it will not interfere with gatherings at universities. Some clerics have called for harsh penalties to be imposed on student leaders of the demonstrations. According to AFP via Asharq al-Awsat, Iranian officials are claiming that a large proportion of those arrested were actually high school students.