Us Mounted Unprecedented House To House

*The US mounted an unprecedented house to house search in Azamiya and Karada, quarters of West Baghdad, on Wednesday, closing off streets and sealing the region, according to az-Zaman. Iraqi police helping in the operation engaged in a running battle with an armed force, which some reports described as looters. The police were supported by US soldiers. In another report, az-Zaman says that US troops used heavy weaponry at Amiriya, another Baghdad suburb, though no details were given. Then there was the incident at the building owned by the Iraqi Manufacturers’ association. The association has elected a new governing council, and it was meeting with the old (Baath-dominated) one to transfer power. A guard for the old council, who also had served as a secret police spy for Saddam, opened fire at the new members. Two were wounded, but US soldiers and the new Iraqi police flooded into the building and arrested three men. Hadi Hasan, 52, owner of a furniture making factory, said that the Coalition had presided over elections for the new council on June 19, but that the Baathists dominating the old one had dragged their feet in turning over power. Nothing in the Western press about any of these incidents, as far as I can see. (On Tuesday, Daoud Salman, the governor of Iraq’s central bank, was the victim of an assassination attempt–gunmen drove by and riddled his car with bullets, wounding two aides. UPI says he himself took a bullet in the leg, but az-Zaman denies that he was hurt). Nope, no sign of security yet.

And, there more attacks on US troops in Fallujah on Wednesday. One rocket-propelled grenade fired toward the US military exploded mid-air, and the other landed outside a US barracks or office building

(-Paul Haven, AP). The assailants got away. Thank God, none of our boys was hurt by either. But that this sort of thing is still going on daily is a bad sign indeed–especially since Fallujah has been a trouble spot and presumably the US has tried extra hard to get security there. The scale of the problem is indicated by the weapons caches seized by the US on Wednesday. Nearly 500 rocket propelled grenades were found in a truck near Ramadi west of Baghdad (four men in the truck were arrested). When you’ve got trucks alongside the road with that kind of munitions in them, you’ve got trouble in River City. The report that a US soldier may have taken his own life at Balad on Monday may be an indication of the kind of pressure our troops are under.

Haven adds: “Meanwhile, the U.S.-led occupation government announced it would begin recruiting members of a new Iraqi army on July 19. Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, in charge of training the new army, said the coalition hoped to have 1,000 soldiers training by August, and 12,000 by year’s end. They hope to train 40,000 by an unspecified date in 2004.”

*A national conference of about 90 notable Iraqi women, the first of its kind in post-Baathist Iraq, is being held in Baghdad. The women seek to project a “collective voice” representing half the Iraqi population. They want to find ways to have a role in the new Iraqi government. Narmin Othman, in charge of higher education in Kurdistan, said in her opening remarks, “Logic dictates that half of society should not be kept away from areas they should be a part of.” US undersecretary of state for world affairs, Paula Dobriansky attended and spoke at a closed session, as did Britain’s secretary of state for trade and industry, Patricia Hewitt. Dobriansky, to her credit, has taken a special interest in the situation of Iraqi women, though some of her rhetoric about the situation under Saddam Hussein is a bit propagandistic. Baathists have been better on women’s issues than most other Arab governments, and if Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shiite leader, ever gets a real say, 1970s Iraq will look like a golden age for Iraqi women. US civil administrator Paul Bremer has pledged that women will be appointed to the governmental council he is forming, but it remains to see if they can win elections when Iraqis finally go to the polls (they don’t do that well in parliamentary regimes in the West, and certainly not in the US). Pakistan and some other countries have tried to solve this problem by having allotted seats for women, often filled on a proportional basis by party. It isn’t something that would appeal to Americans, who generally focus on fair process rather than on fair outcome, but Bremer should think about it for Iraq. Iraqi women could be bulwarks against al-Qaeda- or Khomeini-style fundamentalism if they were guaranteed a third of the seats in the legislature.

*Bremer announced in a visit to Najaf province that he had allocated $7.15 million to improving water purification and other services in the holy city of Najaf (az-Zaman). This is always a winning strategy, and is a very old one. The Nawabs of Awadh and Sindh in 19th century India spent millions of rupees on canal digging and providing water to the holy cities for the pilgrims and seminary students there. Iranian shahs and Ottoman sultans attempted to curry favor with the local population by spending money on Najaf. Bremer as Protector of the City of Ali; it would make for a great painting in the 19th century Orientalist style. Only, the money pledged seems a little chintzy, given the needs, and the precedents.

*Veteran journalist Helena Cobban argues that the US should turn nation-building in Iraq over to the United Nations, which would have more legitimacy. The UN has a mixed record with nation-building, but then so does the US. Certainly, it is the perception of my contacts who have been to Iraq recently that there is less and less respect for the US there. The Bremer administration seems to think it can get an elected Iraqi government in place within 15 months. If it cannot, then the US lacks an exit strategy, and may have to turn to the UN anyway.

*Sheer repression appears to have put an end to the student demonstrations in Iran, which were expected to crest on Weds., July 9, but which subsided in the face of massive arrests and threats of execution by the hardliners. As I said in The Nation, the students were relatively isolated in their protests, with some support from middle class families from north Tehran who came down in their cars and honked their horns in solidarity. The movement won’t amount to anything unless the workers and small businesspeople and a significant number of reformist clergy join in. But the students’ often radical rhetoric alienated a lot of those groups.