Straw Admits Coalition Troops Problem

Straw Admits Coalition Troops a Problem
Seven Marines Killed in Western Iraq
At Least 41 Others Killed Tuesday

First the Polish Prime Minister didn’t have the talking points from Karl Rove. Now the UK Foreign Minister, Jack Straw, has had an attack of frankness:

‘ First there is Iraq. “Things are not good there at the moment,” he says, acknowledging the strength of the terrorist insurgency. But he believes a new Iraqi constitution can be agreed by the deadline of the middle of next month. “The more certainty you have on that, the more you can have a programme for the draw-down of troops which is important for the Iraqis,” he says. “Because – unlike in Afghanistan – although we are part of the security solution there, we are also part of the problem.” ‘

He said what? It looks to me as though Blair really is determined to get most British troops out of Iraq during the coming year, if his defense minister is making such a huge admission.

Al-Sharq al-Awsat reports that the Iraqi parliament has passed a law abrogating the proportional election system used in the January 30 polls. Instead, each province will elect members of parliament from itself (i.e. the system will be more like that practiced in the US for congressional elections). The new law elicited a protest from some academics and attorneys who point out that it will disadvantage groups that are spread around through the country and lack a firm geographical base. On the other hand, I would observe, this system will ensure that Sunnis get elected to parliament roughly in their proportion to the population. The old system allowed them to be woefully under represented in parliament. I have not seen news elsewhere that the parliament passed this law.

The same source says that President Jalal Talabani is calling on Sunni clerics to form their own source of religious authority [similar to the 4 grand ayatollahs in Najaf for Shiites]. He says they need to clearly and unambiguously condemn all forms of terrorism.

Al-Hayat reports that Jawad al-Maliki, a member of parliament and number two man in the Shiite fundamentalist Dawa Party, slammed Kuwait on the anniversary of Saddam’s 1990 invasion of that country. Al-Maliki accused Kuwait of building towers on the Iraqi side of the border, and of coming into the Iraqi city of Umm Qasr to raze some houses and to “draw a new border.” Alleged Kuwaiti moving of the border between the two countries has provoked demonstrations in Umm Qasr recently. Al-Maliki warned that such measures have the potential of reducing Iraqi relations with Kuwait to zero. He said, “Some believe that Iraqi territory, given the current situation in which no adequate army exists to guard its borders, has become a tasty mouthful.” Abdul Karim Mahoud al-Muhammadawi, another Shiite parliamentarian, accused Kuwait petroleum prospectors of posing as farmers interested merely in purchasing some Iraqi farms. These sorts of charges are chilling in the way they recall the things Saddam Hussein was saying before his 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

Iraqi guerrillas killed 7 Marines on Monday in separate incidents. The deaths in Hit and Haditha brought the death toll for American servicemen in the Iraq war to 1801 according to the Associated Press.

American journalist and author Steven Vincent was found dead of gunshot wounds on Wednesday morning in Basra. Vincent was also a blogger. I would not have expected him to be killed in Basra, which is generally safer than Baghdad. But I suspect no place in Iraq is really safe for an American now. Even an journalist embedded with US troops was wounded the other day.

A suicide car bomb targeting a US military patrol in downtown Baghdad destroyed a humvee and several cars and killed at least 4 persons, wounding 29.

The BBC says, “Two finance ministry employees were shot dead in Baghdad by gunmen on their way to work, an interior ministry official said.”

Reuters adds:

Guerrillas in the Shula district of Baghdad ambushed a car, killing 5 civilians and wounding one.

Guerrillas detonated a bomb in a stationary shop in central Baghdad, killing 2 civilians and wounding 5.

Gunmen shot dead 5 persons in a group as they left a Baghdad hospital, where they had identified the body of a slain Sunni cleric.

Guerrillas in Baghdad assassinated Brigadier Mazhar Muhammad Yusuf, head of the Abu Ghraib police station.

In Tikrit, a tank truck appeared to US soldiers to be attempting to overtake their patrol. They opened fire, killing one Iraqi and injuring 2.

Guerrillas in BAQUBA (northeast of the capital) assassinated the director of Khulus Hospital, Dr. Abdul Hasan Ali, a member of the Shiite Dawa Party, and injured his driver.

Also in Baquba, guerrillas detonated a car bomb near a police patrol, killing a child and wounding 9 persons, 8 of them policemen.

Other incidents from AFP:

‘ Four Iraqi soldiers were killed when a bomb hidden in a dead dog exploded as an army patrol was passing in the northeastern town of Balad. Five soldiers were also wounded. Three other people working at a US base in the northern town of Baiji were killed when the bus they were travelling in was ambushed by armed gunmen, while a construction worker was shot dead, also in Baiji. Three civilians, including one woman, were killed in mortar attacks in Fallujah. An engineer was gunned down in the northern town of Dhuluiyah . . . ‘

A suicide car bomber in the northern city of Mosul killed 6 persons, 5 of them policemen, at a checkpoint.

Iran will help build a new airport for the holy city of Najaf, about an hour’s drive south of Baghdad. Potentially, thousands of pilgrims could be coming from Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and other countries with Shiite populations every year, and the pilgrimage trade will likely be worth half a billion dollars annually in the near to medium term. Najaf, to the grand ayatollahs of which several Shiite religious parties dominating parliament defer, is now spoken of as Iraq’s “second capital.”

The elected Iraqi government is investigating corruption charges against officials of the ministry of defense as it functioned under the interim government of Iyad Allawi July-January of last year. Several hundreds of millions of dollars, it is alleged, were misspent.
David Cloud of the NYT suggests that past problems of corruption are the least of it– that the Ministry of Defense as now constituted just isn’t functioning. And those shortcomings of administration could interfere with the standing up of an Iraqi army that could take over the task of establishing security.

On top of everything else, the Iraq War is now threatening us with infection by a deadly bacterium that is impervious to antibiotics. Diseases have often been taken to symbolize wars. Albert Camus’s novel, The Plague, is said actually to be about World War II.