Us Forces Were Ambushed While Leaving

*US forces were ambushed while leaving an ammunition depot between the cities of Ramadi and Habbaniya on Tuesday, but took no casualties. They fought back, killing five Iraqis and capturing one.

*There have been five attacks on US troops in the largely Shiite town of Miqdadiya (pop. 300,000), 50 miles north of Baghdad, in recent days, including ones using anti-tank weapons, hand grenades, and one suicide attack (AFP via al-Zaman). They don’t appear to have produced US casualties. One wonders how much of this sort of thing is going on in the towns of the Sunni triangle without our hearing much about it (although the town might be majority Shiite, it is in the Sunni area and the attacks are likely Fidayee Saddam or Sunni radicals). Miqdadiya is in Diyala province, where a new regional council was set up on Monday, including Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds and Turkmen. Diyala is a mixed province on the border with Iran. The regional council has just appointed a new governor, Abdullah Hasan Rashid al-Juburi, a notable of the Sunni Juburi tribe of northern and eastern Iraq who had been in exile in London (-Agence France Presse). I hadn’t seen anything in the US newspapers about regional councils; are they being formed by the US military, or in consultation with the Iraqi Governing Council? It is a refreshing break from most Middle Eastern political custom to have the governor chose from the province, rather than from the center, and I hope that can be institutionalized.

*Egypt has joined India, France, and Germany in refusing to send troops to Iraq, rebuffing an American request (-az-Zaman). Robert Reid of AP pointed out that the daily attacks on US and Iraqi forces have helped deter other countries for volunteering to make their men sitting ducks in Iraq. The justice of the US cause has also been badly damaged by the inability to find weapons of mass destruction or even significant programs to produce them, which also discourages others from wanting to get involved. US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld admitted recently that we may need to send more men to Iraq in addition to the 140,000+ who are already there, and that they would be there some time. (He earlier rebuked Gen. Shinseki when the latter suggested we would need 200,000 troops in Iraq for some years to rebuild and provide security).

France made explicit that French troops could only be involved after a period of United Nations trusteeship over Iraq. US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld shot his mouth off last spring about the “old Europe” and pointed to the support for the Iraq war from the former Soviet bloc. But Lithuania and Estonia aren’t sending many troops now that we need them, and with all due respect, they aren’t capable of what the French are capable of (the French have a mobile gendarmerie with extensive experience in the global South, which would be very useful at this point). Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz was boasting about how France would be “punished” for failing to support his trumped up charges against Iraq. When the whole record is examined, it seems increasingly clear that France was objectively right, and Rumsfeld was wrong about almost everything.

What I dislike most about these two is that they are bullies. When they were after al-Qaeda, I was happy about it, because al-Qaeda is made up of bullies, and who better to take them on? But they endangered us all by taking the focus off al-Qaeda. And, the way in which Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz villified everyone who disagreed with them about Iraq and tossed aside NATO and the United Nations as a framework of international action sickened me. The horrible thing is that the people who are paying for this arrogance and disregard for the truth are our poor troops on the ground. The 3rd ID is stuck in Iraq for the foreseeable future because India declined to send a division after all. Poetic justice would be for Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz to have to man checkpoints in Falluja.

*Mourners at the funeral of Shaikh Ahmad al-Wa’ili in Kazimiya employed the procession to protest against the Governing Council that announced itself July 13, saying it was unacceptable because it was unelected. I presume these protesters are part of the Sadr Movement, which refuses to cooperate with the US presence. It was a tacky thing to do at a funeral. (Newsday via al-Zaman).

*Ayatollah Muhammad Taqi al-Mudarrisi of Karbala warned against the Lebanonization of Iraq and called for a pluralistic government in Iraq on Tuesday. He said it must respect the rights of minorities in a national framework. He said it should be an advanced state, but retain moral values, it should be a state characterized by liberty but within the framework of the law. He cautioned against Iraqis dividing along ethnic and political lines and falling into civil conflict of the sort Lebanon underwent 1975-1989. He said that the various political factions and activities require greater consultation and cooperation among themselves in order to exit from the crisis. He emphasized that the problems of the country were not limited to just one, such as the American occupation, the continued existence of Baathist elements, or the collapse of national institutions. Rather, all of them had to be faced, and required a “public reason” (`aql jam`i) that could think them through with profound wisdom. He rejected the idea of attempting to force Coalition troops out of the country, saying that he wanted that outcome eventually very much, but not in a way that would plunge the country into a new war it might not survive. He said, “We want to build a modern country, but not at the price of losing our independence. We want the return of our institutions, but without the dominance of a single sectarian group; we want pluralism without chaos; we want unity without oppression.” He ended by saying that it would not be right to have a silent majority and a vigorous minority, since that would be fertile ground for dictatorship.

Mudarrisi is the leader of the Organization of Islamic Action, which is a largely Karbala-based party. He founded it in 1979 before being forced by persecution to go to Iran. It was briefly part of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, but split over differences. It is accused of sending agents over into Iraq to blow things up (i.e. of terrorism) during the 1980s. It also had a Damascus branch, though, and wasn’t as close to Ayatollah Khamenei as the Hakims of SCIRI were. He came back to Iraq in April with a retinue of 60 men, and was arrested by the Mujahidin-i Khalq, who turned him over to the US. His brief incarceration provoked demonstrations in Karbala. He was released after 12 hours. Karbala has been roiled in recent weeks by a fight over the right to give the Friday sermon from the mosque attached to the shrine of Imam Husayn, between followers of Muqtada al-Sadr and followers of Grand Ayatollah Sistani (in the end they have decided to alternate). The OIA doesn’t seem to be involved and may lack the strength of these two other tendencies.

Al-Mudarrisi also told al-Hayat on Tuesday that it would be “suicide” for Shiites to launch attacks on the Americans, and he clearly thinks they are needed to provide order for the time being. It is not clear whether he fears the reestablishment of the Baath if they suddenly leave, or whether he is afraid that Muqtada al-Sadr will behave like a Lebanese warlord with militias, and plunge the country into civil war. His speech on Tuesday quoted by al-Zaman sounds moderate and almost Rousseauan, appealing to reason rather than primarily to revelation, and stressing Iraqi pluralism as an antidote to dictatorship or social chaos. It resembles a speech made by Muhammad Bahr al-`Ulum in Baghdad a couple of weeks ago, which also stressed pluralism. (Bahr al-`Ulum is now serving on the new Governing Council). But al-Mudarrisi appears to be terrified that the security situation in the country could deteriorate rapidly and decisively.