Attacks On Us Forces Continued Thursday

*Attacks on US forces continued Thursday and Friday. In Samarra, four mortar rounds were launched at a US military base late Thursday, and three of our boys were wounded in that attack. The base in Ramadi was luckier–it received two mortar rounds Friday morning, but no one was injured. As a result of the constant attacks on US forces in Falluja, they are largely withdrawing from this Sunni Arab city west of Baghdad and leaving it in the hands of the Iraqi police they had trained. Many of the police were threatening to resign if the US troops did not withdraw, because they were afraid of being caught in the crossfire. This move seems to me wise, but of course it carries the risk that anti-American forces inside the city, whether Baath loyalists or Sunni fundamentalists, might now be freer to organize further attacks on US forces. The Falluja police will have to forestall that if they are to avoid having the Americans feel as though they are forced to come back in.

*The civilians at the top of the Defense Department did no planning for post-war Iraq other than hoping to hand it off to corrupt businessman Ahmad Chalabi, according to Jonathan Landay and Walter Strobel of Knight-Ridder. In an excellent, probing piece, they show that Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Feith & Co. froze out the CIA and the State Department, and even disregarded the opinions of seasoned US military officers. I know for a fact that the State Department did very extensive planning for the post-war period, in which Iraqi intellectuals who are friends of mine wasted enormous amounts of time, since Feith just threw it in the garbage can. Likewise there were military conferences that gamed the post-war situation, but none of their recommendations were taken seriously. I couldn’t bring myself to be against the war because I warmly welcomed the removal of the genocidal Saddam Hussein. But the smallness of the troop force sent in and the clumsy and disastrous way the Defense Department has handled the post-war period has outraged me, and this article confirms many of my own impressions. The hawks just wanted to defang Iraq as a favor to Ariel Sharon in Israel, and appear not even to have known much about who lived in Iraq or what it is actually like. Paul Wolfowitz appears not to have known about the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala! The likelihood that ordinary Iraqis were going to suddenly become pro-Israeli Tories under American tutelage was always just a video game fantasy of these nerds at the top of the DoD.

*The Iraqi Governing Council of 30 is expected to declare itself Saturday in Baghdad. Some members, like the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, had objected to being appointed to the council by Paul Bremer, the American civil administrator. So they have decided to do as Napoleon did, and just crown themselves. Of course it is all a legal fiction–they are there because Bremer appointed them. Though it is true that the council includes groups like the Shiite al-Da`wa Party that have long standing as indigenous opposition organizations fighting the Baath, and they can’t have been the Americans’ first choice for inclusion. So there has been input into membership on the council from Iraqis, and from the Iraqi political reality. It is good news for the Bremer administration that SCIRI has decided to come aboard rather than to go into the opposition. But neither al-Da`wa or SCIRI is nearly as popular as the Sadr Movement, which is not represented, by its own choice. This gap may become a problem.

*Hazim al-Amin continues his excellent series on Shiite firebrand Muqtada al-Sadr in al-Hayat. I noted his impression that it is the young people in East Baghdad who follow Muqtada, with older folks devoted to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. Also his impression that there are a lot of street ruffians and other disreputable characters, including lower-level ex-Baath elements, in the movement. He notes the paradox that the Sadr movement has imposed a lot of puritanical rules in East Baghdad, making women veil and threatening cinemas and video shops and liquor stores. Yet so far the Sadrist cadres have not clashed with the US forces even once, and they are safer in Sadr City than in most other parts of Iraq. He mentions that the Sadr Movement is still fragile, and that Ya`qubi, one of Muqtada’s father’s students, has founded al-Fadilah, a political party aimed at organizing the Sadr Movement as a voting bloc. Al-Fadilah is not loyal to Muqtada but to the principles of his late father, Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr. It was also fascinating to see the hints of a rift between Muqtada and Sayyid Kazim al-Haeri, whose appointed agent he supposedly is. Al-Haeri has so far declined to return to Najaf from Iran, though he sent his brother to open an office, and this failure to return appears to have annoyed Muqtada.

*Sheikh Tantawi, Rector of al-Azhar Seminary in Cairo, has condemned all suicide bombings and radical extremism, at an Islamic conference in Malaysia. For the first time, his condemnation extended to suicide bombings against Israelis. He had earlier maintained that such operations were licit insofar as they aimed at liberation of Muslims from foreign rule. Now he seems to be at last issuing a blanket condemnation of terrorism, and urges that radical books be suppressed. A lot of Muslim authorities appear to have been shaken by the Casablanca and Riyadh bombings of May, which underscored that the terror was likely to encompass the Middle Eastern countries that initially bred it. But, I wish he wouldn’t play up censorship as the answer. It isn’t. More open discourse and political freedom in places like Egypt is.

*Anwar Mu’awiya al-Umawi, leader of the Yazidi sect in Mosul and Dohuk provinces, has demanded that the new Iraqi constitution recognize his religion as equal to the others in Iraq (az-Zaman). He also wants the largely Yazidi areas to be their own state rather than under Kurdistan (Kurds are mostly Sunni Muslims). Mainstream Iraqi Muslims see the Yazidis, who follow a folk religion, as satan-worshippers. Esoteric folk religion in the Middle East depends on symbolic reversals. Thus, the Islamic story is that the Fallen Angel Iblis fell because God ordered him to bow down before Adam, and he pridefully refused. The Yazidis say that bowing down to anyone but God is anyway wrong, so Iblis was being tested and passed the test. It is probably not politically feasible to have the constitution recognize Yazidism as equal to Sunnism and Shiism in Iraq. But if it recognizes freedom of religion and speech, then the Yazidis would have the same rights as everyone else.

*US troops arrested Mulla Ali Baber, leader of the al-Jama`ah al-Islamiyyah in Kurdistan, along with members of his entourage, on the road out of Sulaimaniya to Dukan.

*A Saudi truck caravan of 30 vehicles delivered food aid for children to Baghdad. This sort of thing is another reason for which the Americans are just unlikely to be as influential in Iraq as Gulf neighbors in the long run.