*Two American soldiers were wounded Wednesday at al-Anbar University in Ramadi by a suicide bomber. On Thursday, a British bomb-disposal expert was killed at Mosul in an ambush.
*I see a real and alarming change in tone in the usually optimistic al-Zaman newspaper, whose owner, Saad al-Bazzaz, is a member of Adnan Pachachi’s Iraqi Independent Democrats Movement. It leads on Saturday with an article that says that the past two weeks have witnessed a collapse of security in Baghdad of a sort not seen since the fall of the previous regime on April 9, with large numbers of assassination attempts against prominent technocrats, bureaucrats, and businessmen, including quietists who had no association with the Baath. That is, they are not targets of reprisal killings–it is something more random and more sinister than that. It is in this context that al-Zaman reports the wounding of three worshippers at a Sunni mosque in the Shaab Township section of Baghdad. Someone seems to be trying to provoke Sunni-Shiite violence in Iraq of the sort that routinely occurs in Pakistan. (Radical Sunni groups linked to al-Qaeda are behind it in Pakistan, though it also has local roots).
Likewise, Ghassan Yahya, the son of a past Iraqi Prime Minister, Tahir Yahya (1967-1968), was assassinated on leaving his office in the Al’ab Township. His father was one of the last prime ministers to serve before the Baath coup of 1968.
*Shaikh Sadr al-Din al-Qubanji preached at the Imam `Ali Mosque on Friday, where slain Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim had been preaching, and called for nonviolent noncooperation with the US “occupation.” He also called for Najaf’s Shiites to support the Badr Corps, the paramilitary of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. (He is local leader of the Najaf office of SCIRI). Lots of Badr Corps fighters were positioned around the shrine, carrying AK-47s (something that makes the US very nervous). SCIRI has been a fickle ally of the US, but Baqir al-Hakim’s assassination appears to have convinced it that the Americans should be made to leave very quickly. SCIRI leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim has called for an immediate withdrawal of US troops from the country. But he has so far been cooperating with the US by serving on the Interim Governing Council. If al-Qubanji was speaking for Abdul Aziz (who appears to have declined to preach this Friday for fear of being assassinated), then SCIRI may be on the verge of breaking with the Bremer administration. One nightmare scenario for the US would be to have SCIRI and Muqtada al-Sadr make a pragmatic alliance against the US. Both have called for non-violent noncooperation even as both are continuing to build up militias.
*Muqtada al-Sadr, a Shiite radical in his 20s, preached a fiery sermon at the Kufa Mosque on Friday. He condemned the assassination of Baqir al-Hakim as the work of persons who believe in the maxim, “Kill a Shiite, go to heaven.” (This is a reference to radical Sunnis of the al-Qaeda sort). But then he went on to say a long list of others bear some of the blame, including “atheist Baathists, renegades from Islam, as well as Jews and their followers from among the Americans and the British who compete with one another in persecuting us.” He added, “They wish to purge our (Shiite) leadership, one by one.” Al-Sadr’s armed “Mahdi Army” militia guarded the mosque, and Muqtada has begun opening offices for the militia. The Marines have tried to disarm the militia in Najaf during the past two days, but backed down when hundreds of people gathered in protest. (-AFP via al-Zaman).
*The Sunni radical organization Hizb al-Tahrir (Liberation Party), also called “Khilafah” or “Caliphate Party,” has surfaced in a big way in Baghdad. Founded by a Palestinian as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood at Jerusalem in 1953, they are a mainly expatriate party now, and have special strength in Britain. There, they attract thousands of alienated young British Muslims of South Asian extraction, teaching them that democracy is wrong and that they are not really British. In Baghdad they are distributing leaflets at mosques attacking the American-appointed governing council and calling for opposition to it. They are also calling for Sunni-Shiite unity against the US.
*Quote of the day, from retired US Marine General Anthony Zinni: “There is no strategy or mechanism for putting the pieces together . . . We’re in danger of failing . . . My contemporaries, our feelings and sensitivities were forged on the battlefields of Vietnam, where we heard the garbage and the lies, and we saw the sacrifice . . . I ask you, is it happening again?” I’ve been told in Washington that if you want to know what the Pentagon brass really thinks, listen to Zinni. On this evidence, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Feith aren’t the most popular men in the Pentagon right about now.