Wedding Party Bombing Controversy

Wedding Party Bombing Controversy

The controversy on the US bombing of what appears to have been a wedding party near Syria continues to boil, with this al Jazeerah editorial taking the con side to the story, while Gen. Kimmit sticks to his guns. I thought readers might be interested in an assessment by an academic with long experience in the region.

McGuire Gibson of the University of Chicago writes:

As someone who has worked for more than 35 years in Iraq, and for several years in Syria, right up against the Iraqi border, I can add some information on the situation there. All along both sides of the border are small settlements of people, who make their living by herding. Any village or encampment on either side will have in it a mixture of people who were born on the other. Many women from villages in Iraq marry relatives who live in Syria, and vice versa. In fact, in the village of Hamoukar where I was digging from 1999 until 2001, probably half of the families have close relatives in Iraq or were born there. The border is relatively undefended and unfenced, and in the past people could cross, but they took risks in doing so. There was a certain

amount of smuggling, usually consumer goods, and I would be very greatly surprised if there has not been a greatly enhanced degree of trading across the border, given the demand for products that exists in Iraq now. A few years ago, Iraq and Syria both thawed relations and allowed visits, and a lot of villagers in Syria went to Iraq to see relatives whom they had not seen in years, and some Iraqis were allowed to visit Syrian relatives. Iraqi taxi cabs, easily identifiable by their orange and white colors, were numerous on the roads of Syria in the past five years. In the current situation, with the Iraqi secret police no longer getting reports from agents among the populace, the visits by Syrians would have been greatly increased. As far as I have been able to find out, there were some attempts to control the border points at Tell Kochek,Abu Kemal and on the superhighways to Syria and Jordan, but I would be surprised if the long desert border has been much controlled. That there were men from Syria in the Iraqi village that was attacked would not be at all surprising, given the fact that there was a wedding

and that there was and is commerce across the border. The arrival of the guests might have looked very suspicious on satellite images That there should be foreign money is also not surprising. There is a lot of foreign money in Iraq and there has been for years.

Everything you have been saying about the Shia also rings true. I have worked most of my career in the south of Iraq, at Nippur (near Afak, Diwaniyah area). What I know to be the case is that most people would have preferred a secular government, that the Shia do not want to split the country up, and that the US and British blunders in the south have been based on no information, outdated WW I concepts, or distorted information from self-serving people who have been outside the country for many years. The Occupation authority has made it almost impossible to have a political base other than religion or ethnic community, and we are thus creating splits and tension between Iraqis that have not been very noticeable in the past.

McGuire Gibson

Professor of Mesopotamian Archaeology

Oriental Institute, University of Chicago