Nearly 2 Dozen Dead in Attacks
US, UK to Seek Long-Term Bases
Bush is asking for yet another commitment of $120 billion for Iraq (and a little of it is for Afghanistan). He does this twice a year, off the regular Federal budget, which has swollen to $2.7 trillion under Bush, hundreds of billions of it borrowed. I.e. our children and grandchildren will be tax slaves paying for Bush’s military-industrial establishment. Just to add a little insult to injury, he is cutting back medicare and other domestic programs.
The discovery of 14 dead Sunnis in Baghdad on Saturday prompted warnings of civil war from Sunni clerical authorities and politicians. A prominent member of the (neo-Baathist) National Dialogue Council, Khalaf al-Ilyan, said, ‘The government is pushing hard toward a civil war.’’ The Sunni Arabs believe the young men are being kidnapped by Shiite militias, and sometimes by militiamen who have infiltrated the Interior Ministry’s police commando units. A member of the Iraqi Islamic Party (an Iraqi offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood) renewed the threat of a campaign of civil disobedience by Sunnis.
[Correction: Some in Baghdad are saying that these 14 bodies were not newly discovered on Saturday but were the ones that turned up on Thursday, but the NDC and other Muslim parties kicked up a big fuss about it on Saturday.]
The Washington Post has more details on the 14 deaths, and also on a deadly jailbreak by guerrillas at Tikrit.
A Shiite mosque north of Baghdad took mortar fire, killing one and wounding 12.
Also in Iraq on Saturday, a guerrilla opened fire on a crowd of Shiites in Nasiriyah engaged in a religious procession, killing 3. I should signal that this incident is far more serious than it appears on the surface. For a Sunni guerrilla to kill Shiites during this particular religious ritual will inflame passions. A roadside bomb in Kirkuk wounded 5 Iraqi policemen. It can never be pointed out too often Kirkuk is a cauldron of ethnic tensions and a powderkeg in the midst of flying sparks. Incidentally, the Kurds are continuing to invite in foreign companies for oil exploration and development without bothering to check with the federal government in Baghdad.
The London Times reveals that a tribal sheikh in Ramadi who agreed to meet and negotiate with the Americans in December was killed soon after, and that this fate has befallen 2 other tribal leaders. Some of the man’s tribe had become supporters of “al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia” and felt that he was too soft on the Americans.
Scotland on Sunday reports that there are secret British plans to keep a small base near Baghdad with a few hundred troops. It says that the US plans a base outside Baghdad. Some fear that the US and the UK plan to use the bases as leverage for their longterm involvement in the Iraqi petroleum industry. The British base would have a fig leaf as a training facility, it is suggested.
Bases can be important pivots for foreign intervention. The RAF base at Habbaniyah was used that way by Britain in the early twentieth century, and it spearheaded the British recolonization of Iraq during World War II when it successfully resisted an attack by officers who had made a pro-Axis coup.
But I personally doubt that there will still be a US or UK base in Iraq in 10 years. I have probably said this before, but there are no such things as permanent military bases in other countries (the referenced report has “permanent” in its headline). One country can keep a base in another country only by mutual consent. None of the army bases I grew up on still exists, in France or Eritrea. Wheelus Air Force base in Libya is a dim memory. The US naval bases in the Philippines, which seemed eternal, are gone. If the Iraqi parliament asks the UK and the US to leave, they will have to. Japan and South Korea have not done so mainly because of fear of powerful neighbors. No similar dynamic now exists in the Gulf region; Iraqi politicians are not afraid of their neighbors and don’t think they need the UK and the US to protect them. Even if Grand Ayatollah Sistani just gave a fatwa against US/UK bases, that would probably be the end of them.
And, think about the composition of the new parliament. The Sadr bloc has at least 32, and the Sadrist Virtue Party has 15, for 47. These Shiite hardliners all want the US and UK out on a short timetable. Then you have 58 Sunni Arabs (National Dialogue Council, Iraqi Accord Front, and Conciliation), who want the US out, as well. That is 105, only 33 seats short of a simple parliamentary majority. There are surely 33 parliamentarians from among the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the Dawa Party, or other small Shiite religious parties who want the US out. A parliamentary resolution calling for an early US/UK withdrawal could come within the year. It is also rumored that Sistani’s patience with the foreign presence is running out.
Al-Adalah reports that [Ar.] Mithal al-Alusi, who just has one seat in parliament, has explained his reasoning in announcing that he will vote with the United Iraqi Alliance, the Shiite fundamentalist coalition. He says that the UIA won the largest bloc of seats in parliament, and therefore deserves to form the government. He admits that some aspects of their program are objectionable, but says the objections do not nullify the coalition’s victory. Alusi is a sort of Sunni humanist and pluralist, so it is a little unexpected that he says he will vote with the Shiites. One suspects that he hopes thereby to exercise a moderating influence, which is not impossible given that the UIA will be hard pressed to maintain a cobbled-together majority. With Alusi and three seats from other small parties, the UIA has 132. They need 138 for a simple majority.
The NYT reports that petroleum smuggling and control of petroleum are key to funding the guerrilla movement in Iraq. The report also alleges the involvement in high-level oil graft of Mishaan Juburi, a prominent Iraqi Sunni Arab parliamentarian whose small list, the Conciliation and Liberation Bloc, has 3 seats in parliament. Juburi had once been in the running to be speaker of Iraq’s new parliament, but was excluded on the grounds that the had once been close to Saddam and was suspected of being currently close to the Syrian Baath Party. He and his son have fled to Syria. The internal Iraqi petroleum wars are the background to the mortar attack last Thursday on processing facilities at Kirkuk, which has further hurt hopes for a turnaround in Iraqi production this year.
The NYT’s report draws the veil away from an important and little-reported corner of the guerrilla movement– its connections to prominent Sunni Arabs behind the scenes and its access to revenues from smuggled petroleum. One reason the Jaafari government gave for tripling fuel prices was that it would reduce the revenues the guerrillas could raise from smuggling petroleum products abroad.
The Washington Post is more cautious about the allegations against Juburi than the NYT, pointing out that the condemnation was led by Dawa Party apparatchik Jawad al-Maliki.* Ellen Knickmeyer quotes a US military official saying he did not think Juburi was heavily involved with the tribal levies that had been raised to guard pipelines, and she keeps an open mind as to whether the charges against Juburi are trumped up.
The good news is that Yemen is trying 14 men accused of going off to Iraq to join jihadis and kill Americans. The bad news is that fourteen dangerous al-Qaeda operatives were among the 23 inmates who staged a jailbreak. Among those who fled are the perpetrators of the attack on the USS Cole. This one, for me, is personal. Al-Hayat worries that the escape will damage security relations between Yemen and the US.
A UN study of post-conflict situations suggests that the Americans are not doing it right in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Iran is pursuing industrial cooperation with Iraq, even to the point of planning factories there. I doubt Iraq could afford to join in a UN economic boycott of Iran if any such thing materializes.
Iraq is plagued by a cement shortage, according to the SF Chronicle. The problems in production come in part from guerrilla sabotage of fuel and electricity.
Henry T. Azzam discusses the investment climate in the Middle East in the light of the Hamas win in Palestine, the continued instability in Iraq, and the prospect of economic sanctions on Iran. He brings up the possibility of $90 a barrel petroleum. Ouch.
*I had written in the first draft “pointing out that the arrest warrant for him was issued by” which was a misreading. The warrant was issued by a judge.