*Reporters on the ground in Majar al-Kabir, southern Iraq, have begun to piece together what may have happened there Tuesday when 6 British troops were killed and several more wounded in two distinct attacks. The story as I see it goes this way: Paul Bremer set a deadline of June 16 for Iraqi militiamen to turn over their machine guns and other heavy weapons. (Ordinary Iraqis are allowed to keep a pistol or a rifle at home, but not to carry it on the street). When Tony Blair was in Basra, Paul Bremer told him that the British in the south were being too permissive and that the Badr Corps of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq was taking advantage of the British to establish its hegemony in the Shiite south ( – The Scotsman, 26 June). The current American administration in Iraq sees SCIRI as linked heavily to the hardliners in Iran and as a Trojan Horse for Iranian influence in Iraq. As a result of the American pressure, The same policy of confiscating weapons was adopted in the South by British Maj. General Wall, with a June 16 deadline.
Majar al-Kabir is a sort of frontier town bristling with weapons. It is one of the places that the Marsh Arabs settled when Saddam’s forces drained their swamps and reduced them to poverty. The Marsh Arabs were organized politically and paramilitarily by the Iraqi Hizbullah Party. A Marsh Arab sheikh rules nearby Amara. Because of the Bremer/Wall policy of disarming Iraqis, British troops were committed to Majar al-Kabir to do house to house searches. As you all know, Middle Eastern men are very touchy about their women and about incursions into private, domestic space. The British troops in Majar appear occasionally to have been harsh in these incursions. Besides, the heavily persecuted Marsh Arab men would not want foreigners coming and taking their weapons away from them. They have learned that they need to protect themselves. One rumor circulated that a British soldier clowned around with a woman’s underwear during one of the searches.
So, by Monday afternoon the townspeople were fed up, and a crowd gathered to demonstrate. It got out of hand. The British troops, who were accompanied by some Iraqi police that they were training, initially fired rubber bullets. The Iraqis thought they were being shot at for real, and returned fire. They killed two British soldiers. The other four retreated to the police station, where one was killed in a hallway. At some point they became so threatened that they switched to live ammunition. The townspeople insist that the British shot down four young men of Majar. The crowd then closed on the ramaining three British troops and killed them. They may have captured them first and then executed them. (- Peter Almond, UPI). This was a classic anticolonial crowd action, deriving from the occupiers’ attempt to disarm the population.
But then there was a separate attack on a British paratroopers convoy in the same area, using rocket propelled grenades. That attack wounded one British soldier and destroyed two vehicles. This attack may be related to the town riot, but it wasn’t the same kind of phenomenon. Townspeople do not have and know how to use rocket propelled grenades. This was done by a trained paramilitary or military force. It might have been Iraqi Hizbullah Marsh Arabs from Majar, who had at some point received arms and training from Iran to fight Saddam. It might have been Badr Corps, working for SCIRI. Or it might even have been a surviving Baathist unit trying to foment trouble between the Coalition and the Shiites of the south.
By the way, I gave an interview to AP’s Borzou Daragahi in which I said about searching females and domestic space: “Rather than preventing violence, the practice could spark more clashes, said Juan Cole, a history professor and Mideast specialist at the University of Michigan. “Many riots have been set off in colonial history by heavy-handed Western interventions in private life,” said Cole.” Check out Mr. Daragahi’s web site at http://www.borzou.com/. In response to my remarks, posted at Fox News, I received several angry emails from readers insisting that coalition troops were not being heavy handed and that crowd control is not a problem. The bad news is that this incident could be only the beginning.
*US-trained Yemeni special forces attacked the Aden-Abyan Islamic Army in the mountains of Hadhramawt on Wednesday, killing 6 of the militants. The Islamic Army has been linked to al-Qaeda. They had assaulted a medical convoy on Saturday. In 1998 they took tourists hostage.
*Three members of the terrorist Khalidi Faction were arrested in Mecca by Saudi authorities. Apparently the faction was behind the Riyadh bombings, for which 12 other arrests have already been made. The bomb maker himself has eluded capture.