*One US soldier was killed by a sniper in Baghdad on the US Independence Day, and 17 were wounded by a mortar attack in Balad. A little later Iraqi insurgents ambushed a US convoy near Balad, and the US took out 11 of the attackers. The low grade guerrilla conflict thus continued unabated. Indeed, it looks like the Sunni opposition is getting better organized and having more successes, according to the Washington Post.
*There was a big attack on a Hazara Shiite mosque in Quetta, Pakistan, on Friday, where 2000 congregants were worshipping. The Hazara Shiites, from the center of Afghanistan, had been especially targetted by the Taliban and their allies among Sunni extremist groups. They form part of the Karzai government. There are still a lot of Afghan refugees in northern Pakistan, and this incident appears to be a case of their carrying on feuds from the old country in their host environment. That is, the Taliban have struck from beyond their supposed grave. The attack provoked rioting in Quetta, as it was no doubt intended to. The Taliban are still attempting to disrupt Pakistani society as an adjunct to their efforts to disrupt Afghan society. Shiites are probably about 13% of Pakistanis, amounting to some 18 million persons. This sort of incident is likely to make them stronger supporters of the Musharraf government, which has been cracking down on the Sunni radicals, and so may backfire on the perpetrators.
* Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, called Friday from Najaf for greater United Nations involvement in rebuilding and reconstructing Iraq. Al-Hakim has been increasingly unhappy with American-governed Iraq, so in a way it is not strange that he should turn to the international community. But the Iraqi Shiites mostly despise the UN for doing nothing to help them against Saddam, so actually this call may be a sign of growing desperation on his part. It should be read as, even the UN would be better than Bremer.
*Agence France Presse reports that “US troops on Friday released a Shiite Muslim leader [Sheikh Ali Abdul Karim Madani] in this town northeast of Baghdad, a day after his detention sparked a protest by thousands of his supporters, according to an AFP correspondent at the scene.” The some three thousand protesters were scattered by a bomb of unknown provenance, which killed one of their number.
This release follows a pattern of arrests of radical Shiite clerics by US forces in the past month or so, wherein they are taken in, detained, and when thousands of supporters gather to protest, they are released. Typically they are more circumspect after their release. But I have complained before that this pattern may make it look to the protesters as though it was their protests that secured the release. I suspect it would be better to give the man a good talking to before actually detaining him, though perhaps that is being done.
*Christian women in Basra are having to veil themselves from head to toe when they go out for fear of harassment from hardline Shiites, according to an eyewitness report from a worker for the Vatican there. Here’s part of the interview:
Q: What is the effect of this Shiite pressure on the life of the Christian minority in Iraq?
Siebrecht: I myself saw how Christian women cover themselves from head to toe for their own safety when going out into the street, otherwise they might be attacked or suffer abuses. This is the reality in Basra. We didn’t see this in Baghdad or in the north, in Mosul. The situation is better there. The Shiites are stronger in the south and that is why they try to exert pressure.
Q: Are the fundamentalists’ demonstrations of force an attempt to impose a radical Islamism?
Siebrecht: It’s hard to say. None of the people with whom we spoke — nuncio, bishops, priests — could tell us what might happen. All hope that the present situation will not serve to strengthen Muslim fundamentalism. But no one can exclude this possibility, at least in the south.