Guerrillas Killed At Least One Us

*Guerrillas killed at least one US soldier at Diraa Dijla, west of Baghdad, and wounded others, on Weds. according to Reuters/via al-Hayat. Other guerrillas launched a rocket propelled grenade attack on US troops near Samarra, wounding two. The Washington Post reports that such attacks are frequent throughout Iraq, but most fail because the troops are out of range or because the ammunition is a dud. One soldier talked about a grenade bouncing off his helmet that turned out to be a dud. Now, that’s what I call a lucky man. The attacks that wreak no damage tend never to be reported in the press.

I think our troops are under a lot more stress and plain anxiety than anyone in the US can imagine. I lived in Beirut during the first years of the civil war, and that was when I learned the meaning of the Arabic phrase, “white fear.” It’s when the mortar shell or sniper fire could come from anywhere, any time, with total unpredictability. I remember volunteering at the AUB hospital and a physician told me about operating that day on a little boy with a bullet wound in his stomach. His parents had sent him out to buy bread, assuming that a sniper would not shoot a child. He died on the operating table. The US should swallow some pride, get a UN resolution authorizing the rebuilding of Iraq, and transfer a lot of our guys out of there, replacing them with troops more acceptable to the locals or with Iraqi troops. In his testimony yesterday, Wolfowitz all but admitted that we are looking at troop levels of about what we have (nearly 150,000) in Iraq for the next year. Wolfowitz also argued against “the wrong kind” of UN resolution, presumably one that would lessen the US role in reshaping Iraq. It was easier to listen to anti-UN rants before it turned out that the Security Council’s skepticism on WMD was entirely justified . . .

*The rotating chairmanship of the Interim Governing Council among nine members is a sad commentary but entirely predictable. You couldn’t have Kurdish leader Talabani serve as president without also having his rival Barzani do it. (Barzani is an example of how anything can be forgiven; he collaborated with Saddam as recently as 1995-1996 to take Irbil for his Kurdistan Democratic Party with the help of Baath tanks from Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.) So that’s two. Then, you couldn’t have the Shiite revolutionary al-Da`wa Party (Ibrahim Jaafari) do it without also having the rival Shiite Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Abdul Aziz al-Hakim) do it. That’s four. Then you have to balance secular Shiite Ahmad Chalabi with former Shiite former Baathist officer Iyad Allawi. And, of course, the two Shiites have to be balanced by Sunnis Adnan Pachachi (secular) and Muhsin Abdul Hamid (religious) of the Iraqi Islamic Party. And I guess Muhammad Bahr al-`Ulum gets on because he is respected by the others. So with all the balancing of rivals, you end up with nine presidents. Each serves for a month in turn, guaranteeing that little is likely to be accomplished.

They are going in alphabetical order, like divas in a Hollywood blockbuster. (The order is by the Arabic alphabet and by first names. Ibrahim Jaafari in Arabic begins with an alif for Ibrahim, the first letter of the alphabet (alif supports the glottal stop, hamza, which can serve as a chair for any of the three vowels, the equivalents of a, i or u). By my reckoning, next month it should be Ahmad Chalabi, and then Iyad Allawi, then maybe Jalal Talabani. They don’t say whether they are going by straight alphabetical order or by the abjad system, which is the letters ordered according to their numerical value, as in the Kabbalah’s gematria. Either way, the jim of Jalal follows closely on the alif. Of course, it may taken them a while to decide whether to use the ordinary or abjad order, so Jaafari may get a proper term while they work it out. They kept saying they would appoint a cabinet of ministers to run the government ministries within two weeks, but now it looks like it is slipping to more like six weeks. Since the US can hardly extricate itself until these politicians manage to write a constitution, I am depressed about the pace of accomplishment so far. If they can’t decide on a chairman that would serve for, say, 6 months, how are they going to make timely decisions about a constitutional convention? And will it be able to frame a constitution in six months, so that elections can happen in 2004 or early 2005?

*Adnan Pachachi, leader of the Independent Democratic Bloc and member of the Interim Governing Council, denied rumors that he had met with Israeli Labor leader Shimon Peres. He said they were lies and calumnies. He reaffirmed that Iraq would not recognize Israel until there was a Palestinian state.

*Hundreds of Iraqi unemployed continued their sit-in at a building opposite Coalition HQ in downtown Baghdad, according to Al-Sharq al-Awsat. They are said to be organized by the Unemployed Workers’ Union. They want jobs or $100 a month in unemployment benefits . . . Al-Jazeera says that hundreds of them protested their economic hardship on Wednesday. Also on Wednesday, 1,000 demonstrators came out in Karbala to protest “increasing drug abuse and distribution of pornographic movies in the governorate.” (Drug use and drug smuggling do seem to be an increasing problem).

*The US has cancelled plans to appoint a female court judge in Najaf because of protests by clerics and by lawyers, including women, according to the NYT. Rachel Roe, who is in charge of rebuilding the Najaf court system, said “I don’t think that government institutions should be controlled by religious organizations. I was under the impression that Iraq was going to have a secular government. I might have been wrong.” Uh, the likelihood that Najaf was going to be secular was rather low. The country, now that’s a different matter. Even at a national level, you’re likely to see a strong influence of fundamentalist interpretations of Islamic law. Interestingly, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani appears to have issued a fatwa that did *not* exclude the possibility of a female court judge (this appointment would have been to the secular system, anyway). See http://www.nytimes.com/2003/07/31/international/worldspecial/31JUDG.html?ex=1060228800&en=261960b254fb6160&ei=5062&partner=GOOGLE

*Good news about the partial revival of the southern Iraqi marshlands by good rains and local people’s efforts in destroying dams is reported by Richard Hottelet for CSM. Saddam’s destruction of those marshes and of the Marsh Arabs or Madan tribes as a people is among his more horrific acts, classed by some international lawyers as a form of genocide. It is unlikely that they can be revived to more than 45% of their original extent, and it is unclear that the scattered Madan will return in any large numbers. Hottelet reports of one fisherman that when he saw the water running again, he said it was like looking on the face of God. See http://www.modbee.com/24hour/opinions/story/956597p-6696672c.html