12 Killed, 26 Wounded at Baquba
Roundup: Looting, Kidnapping, and Shortage of Recruits
The Iraqi parliament will meet March 16, whether or not it can form a government at that time, it was announced on Sunday. The hang-up so far has been that the Kurds have insisted on up-front acquiescence in their demands by the religious Shiite parties that want to partner with them in appointing an executive. In contrast, Shiite leaders want to postpone the hard decisions until political life is regularized.
Guerrillas launched coordinated attacks on Baquba early Monday. AP says, ” . . . the assaults included a car bomb, three roadside bombs and small arms attacks on one checkpoint in the city and two checkpoints just south of Baqouba in Muradiyah. Baqouba is located about 35 miles northeast of Baghdad. The attacks killed seven soldiers and five police, and wounded 26 others including one civilian caught in the crossfire, said Tariq Ibrahim, a medic at Baqouba’s main hospital . . .”
Al-Sharq al-Awsat: One Iraqi soldier was killed and 9 were wounded in two separate attacks on Sunday in northern Baghdad. A police commander was kidnapped in Beiji, 200 km north of Baghdad. The Green Zone in Baghdad took mortar fire.
Al-Zaman: The Iraqi chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Babakr Badarkhan Zibari, announced Sunday that within 6 months the troops of the multinational forces will have withdrawn from the urban areas, leaving security duties to local police and the Iraqi army.
Further demonstrations were held in Hilla against the poor security situation, which allowed last week’s horrific bombing.
Residents of the city of Salman Pak demonstrated outside the Green Zone in the capital demanding better security in their city.
In Kirkuk, 200 Kurds demonstrated against the increasing tensions in the city, demanding its normalization.
There were new attacks by guerrillas in Baghdad, Diyala and other regions.
The situation in Samarra continued to be tense. All the city gates were locked and all vehicle traffic was forbidden. The US military and its Iraqi allies are sweeping the area around Samarra for the next week in pursuit of about 250 guerrillas. Ash-Sharq al-Awsat says the measures have been taken because Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is thought to be in the city. It says that an Iraqi officer admitted that the guerrilla movement in Samarra had grown and become more powerful, and now dominated 7 towns around Samarra.
It seems clear that the most important military operation in Iraq since the Fallujah campaign has begun, though it is hard to find out much about it.
The United Nations is worried that 90 of the sites in Iraq it had identified as having dangerous weapons have been looted. The inattention of the US Department of Defense to arms depots since the fall of Saddam has been breathtaking, and helps explain the success of the guerrilla war, which is fueled in part by easy access to Baath arms depots. The UN is afraid that the dangerous materials might show up outside Iraq. Given that some of the explosives were high-powered and could bring in a good price from terrorist organizations, this fear is entirely reasonable.
The crime wave unleashed on Iraq by the failure of the US to secure the country after the fall of Saddam Hussein has worsened, helping to explain why Iraqis continue to rate security their number one concern. Susannah Nesmith of Knight Ridder writes:
Russul’s kidnapping did not make news here. Against the backdrop of war, the crime went largely unnoticed outside her family. And hundreds of Iraqi families have quietly suffered through similar ordeals in recent months as kidnapping for ransom has become increasingly popular on the country’s lawless streets. “We did not see these kinds of crimes before the war,” said Lt. Col. Muayad al-Musawi, a kidnapping investigator. “We would have cases of a husband coming in to say his wife took his kids, but nothing like this.” The crime has become so common, the national police recently set up a kidnapping directorate, the first special investigations unit created in Iraq since Saddam Hussein was toppled. Approximately 200 foreigners have been kidnapped across the country since the war began almost two years ago, according to news reports. Meanwhile, police know of 130 Iraqis who have been snatched in the eastern half of Baghdad alone in just the past six months. And they say most families never report the crimes to them, fearing the hostage will be harmed if the police get involved.
Reuters reports that “The regular Army is 6 percent behind its year-to-date recruiting target, the Reserve is 10 percent behind, and the Guard is 26 percent short.” A common question from potential recruits is whether they will be deployed. (Almost certainly). Measures such as stop-loss and keeping servicemen and -women in the military 18 months beyond what they signed up for, and recalling discharged soldiers, have proven unpopular with potential recruits, understandably enough. But I think the figures show something more significant, which is that the American public increasingly thinks Mr. Bush’s wars are not worth their lives. When, after September 11, he said “Let’s roll!”, the enthusiasm was palpable. But Bush squandered that enthusiasm on a gotten-up war that the public has increasingly decided is not worth it (see Sunday’s entry on recent polling). As the Cato Institute points out (at the end of the Reuters piece above), the likely ending to this story, if the Bush administration continues its praetorian ways, is a national draft. And if it happens, I think it will change the dynamics of domestic politics enormously.