For my reaction to the tragic bombing of the UN Headquarters in Baghdad, see the breaking news item below.
*Bahraini officials met with Iraq Interim Governing Council President Ibrahim Jaafari on Tuesday (- Al-Sharq al-Awsat). They expressed their support for the IGC (not the same as recognizing it as a legitimate government) and for Iraq reconstruction. Bahrain has recently liberalized a bit, holding elections, and so may hope that Iraq can move in the same direction. Bahrain is a largely Shiite country with a Sunni ruling elite, but its new monarch is said to be relatively tolerant toward the Shiites. The two countries can benefit one another. There is an old connection between Bahrain and Iraqi Shiites, which is now likely to be revived.
*The Iraqi Ministry of Industry has announced that electricity for Iraqis will be free from April 9 of this year and until the formation of a new (elected?) Iraqi government. This step seems a wise one in trying to get Iraqis on the side of the Bremer adminsitration.
*Electricity has been restored to Basra on a fairly reliable basis (-al-Zaman). (There were riots recently against British forces in protest of the loss of electricity and the lack of fuel for automobiles). Some 20 new generators are also being used at an oil refinery in the South to ensure the availability of more fuel. But Basra water pipelines have been unreliable because of their age, and British officials are advising the populace to boil water before they drink it. (Last week during the blackout we were doing that in our house. But we had reliable access to a gas stove; I’m not sure the Basrans are in the same position).
*Iranian pilgrims sneaking into Iraq to visit sacred Shiite shrines ran into a landmine. Three were killed, 17 wounded. Eventually the Iranian pilgrim trade will reemerge as a feature of Iraqi culture and commerce, with implications for Iran-Iraq relations.
*The Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, led by Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, is profiled by Mahan Abedian. I don’t think, though, that SCIRI is sincere in speaking about a pluralistic Iraq. I think they secretly plan ultimately to try to take over the country and make it a clone of Khamenei’s Iran. Abdul Aziz al-Hakim has more or less admitted as much, saying that at first Iraq may have a pluralistic government, but over time its Muslim majority would institute an Islamic state. I also think the alliance between the US and SCIRI is purely tactical on both sides, and is unlikely to last.
*The US administration of Iraq is setting up a media service on the model of the BBC, which would be government-funded but retain its editorial independence. Or so the Washington Post reports. I’ll believe it when I see it. The Voice of America also had a charter of independence, but Jesse Helms and other officials have put pressure on it in the past. The relatively independent Arabic service was gutted altogether recently, apparently in part because it was felt to be insufficiently enthusiastic about Ariel Sharon’s policies in Israel and Palestine. It was gotten rid of in favor of a “Radio Sawwa” that is run by radio mogul Norman Pattiz and purveys Brittany Spears and sanitized Fox Cable News-style news bits to the Arab public in the few countries that will let it broadcast (it uses FM rather than shortwave). Radio Sawwa from all accounts is little more than propaganda, and it remains to be seen whether the people who brought that to you can really create a “BBC”. (The BBC is among the more professional news services in the world, and proved willing to take Blair on about Iraqi WMD despite enormous political pressure).