Iraqi Government Totters Us Goes It

Iraqi Government Totters
US Goes it alone Against Mighty Sadah
British Leave Basra Base

The wrangling between President Jalal Talabani (a Kurd) and Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari (a religious Shiite) may after all threaten the stability of the government. Aljazeerah says, “Kurdish officials warned on Saturday they would consider pulling out of the government if their demands are not met. That would cause the collapse of the government and put a new layer of political instability and fragmentation between Iraq’s main communities.” The Kurds are angry because they say the Shiite government had pledged to begin a major resettlement of Kurds in Kirkuk, but has not. Kirkuk is about a quarter Turkmen (mostly Shiites), a quarter Arab and a half Kurdish. Many Kurds and Turkmen were expelled from the city by Saddam Hussein, who brought in Arabs (many of them Shiites from the south) as settlers to “Arabize” Kirkuk, a major petroleum producer. The pledge given by the Shiite majority to resettle the expelled Kurds would threaten the interests of the Shiite Turkmen and the Shiite Arabs, and they surely have put enormous pressure on PM Ibrahim Jaafari to drag his feet on it.

There will eventually be a referendum on the future of Kirkuk in which Kirkuk residents will vote, according to the interim constitution. The Kurdish parties are desperate to flood the city with their supporters, so that when the referendum is held it will go in their favor (i.e. Kirkuk province would join the Kurdistan provincial confederacy along with Irbil, Dohuk, and Sulaimaniyah. The Shiites, by holding up resettlement, are placing that outcome in doubt. The Turkmen and the Shiite Arabs desperately do not want to be in Kurdistan, and the Turkmen have demanded a semi-autonomous Iraqi Turkmenistan instead if it looks as though that might happen.

The Iraqi government is unlikely to fall, since 54 percent of the delegates in parliament are religious Shiites who will support Jaafari, and a government can remain in power with a simple majority. But if even a few Shiites defected, Jaafari could be vulnerable to a vote of no confidence. For the Iraqi government to fall at this point might well hurl the country into a maelstrom of political discontent and even more violence. Kirkuk is a powderkeg.

Al-Hayat: The Sunni Arab members of the constitution drafting committee said Saturday that they are negotiating with US Ambassador in Baghdad Zalmay Khalilzad to make some final amendments to the new Iraqi constitution. Ali Saadoun, a member of the National Dialogue Council (Sunni), said that Khalilzad “promised to add these amendments to the draft that is printed, and to broach them through an appendix to it.” But the head of the constitution drafting committee in parliament, Shiite cleric Humam Hammoudi, objected that “These are not alterations or additions but are rather just affirmations and clarifications in the draft language, especially with regard to the unity of Iraq and its Arab identity.” In an interview with Aljazeerah, he was in fact alarmed at Khalilzad’s maneuvering, and angrily said that no changes could be made to the constitution at this late date.

The UN is supposed to be printing millions of copies of this document, a certified final text of which nobody has yet seen outside parliament, so that the Iraqi public can study it before the October 15 referendum.

I got a lot of flak for calling the Jan. 30 elections in Iraq a sick joke because there had been no campaigning and the names of the candidates were not known until the last minute, and because the Sunni Arabs wouldn’t be represented. But now everyone in Iraq is complaining about the sectarian and do-nothing government that resulted from those anonymous elections (however bravely and however imbued with national spirit the Iraqi public went into them), and of course the absence of the Sunni Arabs has pushed them ever further into violent opposition.

Let me now risk some more flak and say that given that it is two weeks before the referendum and no ordinary Iraqis have seen the text of the new constitution, and given that the Sunni Arabs reject it to a person even just from the little they know of it, this constitution is another sick joke played by the Bush administration, which keeps forcing Iraq to jump through hoops made in Washington as “milestones” and “tipping points” to which the Republican Party can point as progress. Not to mention that the draft we have all seen of the constitution is riddled with fatal contradictions that will tie up the energies of parliament and the courts for decades trying to resolve them.

Let’s see. AP also reports that One thousand US troops go into the small town of Sadah, block it off, bomb it, displace its inhabitants, comb through it looking for foreign jihadis. Since there are only 2,000 inhabitants of Sadah on a good day (it is a tiny border settlement near Syria northwest of Baghdad), the Marines have a certain advantage. You figure half of Sadah is women. Some further proportion is boys too young to fight and old men. Could they muster 300 local fighters (would all of them be in the guerrilla movement)? And how many foreign jihadis could live in a town of 2,000? Would you guess 50? So have we thrown 1,000 Marines at between 50 and 300 local fighters, who are poorly armed and lack real organization? Meanwhile entire districts of Baghdad, a city of 5 or 6 million, are controlled by the guerrillas. Wouldn’t they be a bigger priority, since 95 percent of the violence in Iraq is plotted out by Iraqis?

This operation strikes me as odd. Perhaps they think a high-value target like Zarqawi is there, and the thousand Marines are to make sure that he does not escape?
Personally, I’m not sure Zarqawi exists, so I’d be reluctant to send a thousand Marines after him and to majorly inconvenience (and from the video on Aljazeerah, partially flatten) poor little Sadah.

Then there is the question of why only US troops are being deployed. In the recent Tal Afar operation, the US asked Iraqi troops to take the lead.

There’s a funny thing about that, too. SecDef Rumsfeld and Gen. Casey were saying not long ago that there were 3 Iraqi units (a brigade and two battalions) that would and could take the lead in fighting the guerrillas. A brigade doesn’t have a fixed number, but let’s say it is 1500 to 3000. A battalion is roughly 500-1000 men. Now, the press said that the charge at Tal Afar was led by 4,000 to 6,000 Iraqi troops. Was that the level-1 units plus some level 2s? Were these the units who could fight on their own? They were said to be mostly Kurdish Peshmerga, with some Shiites along (Badr Corps?)

Now Rumsfeld and Casey say there is only one battle-ready battalion in the Iraqi army. We’d be back down to 500 to 1000 men who could and would fight on their own. And Casey now says it isn’t even one of the 3 units earlier so identified. What happened to them? [This is a revision; I had earlier switched around in my mind brigades and battalions and couldn't imagine they were down to one of the latter.]

Question: Did some melt away at Tal Afar? We know that the guerrillas mostly escaped the city through tunnels, and few engagements were fought (though 500 or more people were killed in the city, some proportion of them innocent civilians caught up in bombing raids) The US military claimed 150 guerrillas killed and 400 captured, but it is not at all clear that the 400 apprehended were actually guerrillas as opposed to Sunni Turkmen who had some pressing reason to try to stay in the city. The stated objective had been the foreign infiltrators. What happened to them? AFP reported on Sept. 13, “An Iraqi army lieutenant colonel suggested that up to half the rebels might have managed to flee to neighbouring villages. Among those arrested were some 30 foreign fighters, including around 20 Syrians, as well as four Afghanis and two Saudis, he told AFP requesting anonymity.” That is, 200,000 inhabitants were driven from their homes, neighborhoods were flattened, and 500 people were killed so that the US could capture 20 Syrian villagers so angry about the US military occupation of Iraq that they slipped over to Tal Afar to fight it.

But wait. This battle was supposed to be a major one. How how did at least half of the guerrillas (I suspect many more) escape from the city? Could it be that they were tipped off by officers in the Iraqi army? How did the US find out about the infiltration? Was it when they got to Tal Afar and nobody was there? Or was it when there were a few firefights, and everybody but a few gung-ho Kurds held back?

If the US military did think that Zarqawi and some fighters were in Sadah, then, they might well have refused to involve the remaining reliable Iraqi battalion, for fear that some elements in it were not in fact reliable, and Sadah would be gone when they got there, the way Tal Afar was.

Meanwhile, in the real world terrorists have struck at tourist sites in Bali again. The people in Sadah were never dangerous to US interests in 2000, or 2001, or 2002. Now a thousand Marines are tied down there while the real al-Qaeda has the run of London and Bali. I guess Rumsfeld thought there are no good targets among al-Qaeda. But they can see lots of good targets.

Another two US soldiers were killed in Iraq on Saturday.

A Danish soldier was killed by a roadside bomb on a bridge in Basra.

The brother of Interior Minister Bayan Jabr (Sulagh) was kidnapped in Baghdad on Saturday. Jabr is himself a Shiite Turkmen and the Shiite Turkmen of Tal Afar had pleaded for the military operation against the city launched in mid-September, on the grounds that the 70 percent Sunni Turkmen majority was allied to the guerrillas and was persecuting the Shiites. The killing of over a hundred Shiites with a bomb in Kazimiyah was explicitly announced by the guerrilla movement as revenge for Tal Afar. One wonders if the abduction of Jabr’s brother is another reprisal. Of course, the Interior Ministry has organized special security police with names like the Wolf Brigade, who target the Sunni Arab guerrillas, so their are lots of motives for payback.

The Scotsman reports, “Meanwhile, British troops yesterday handed control of a small military camp outside of Basra over to Iraqi forces. “It’s a real sign of progress, of the increasing capability of Iraqi forces,” said British Army Major Mick Aston, as the 10th Division of the Iraqi army was given control of Camp Chindit Az-Zubayr, southwest of Basra. About 100 British soldiers had been based at the camp, which was used for training Iraqi troops.”

Looks more like the beginnings of a British withdrawal from the South to me.

Likewise, on the American side, the US withdrawal from the Shiite holy city of Karbala this week is a weather vane.