Attacks on Businesses Multiply
Political Gridlock Continues
A US soldier was killed in Habbaniyah and another was shot dead south of Baghdad.
Guerrillas tried to kill the head of the Sunni Endowments Board and also an important banker, along with several other bombings and shootings.
Steven Hurst of AP argues that the tactics used in Iraq violence have abruptly changed , and gangs (whether guerrilla or criminal) are now targeting businesses (kidnapping employees, demanding ransom, and robbing payrolls). He writes,
‘ Also since the start of March, gunmen – mostly masked, many wearing police uniforms – have stormed at least six Baghdad businesses. On Wednesday, eight people were killed at the al-Ibtikar trading company when they were lined up against a wall and shot, and six others were wounded. At least 90 workers have been kidnapped and tens of thousands of dollars stolen in the five other assaults. ‘
The Daily Star has more on the attack at al-Ibtikar Co. and also reports on the Ministry of Displacement and Migration’s announcement that 30,000 Iraqis have been displaced by the guerrilla war since Feb. 22. (I find this number implausibly high, and caution against the ease with which such things are exaggerated).
Ed Wong of the NYT gets the story, interviewing Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari, who objects to the intervention in the Iraqi political process of George W. Bush and defends his inclusion of Muqtada al-Sadr and his supporters in the political process.
Bush spokesman Scott McClellan has denied that Bush pressed Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Shiite religious coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance, to drop Jaafari. Or he denied that Bush did it through a letter. You decide.
Mariam Karouny of Reuters interviews Minister of Interior Bayan Jabr, who claims he is cleaning up militia-affiliated elements in his special police commandos. Jabr, a member of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, stands accused of allowing members of the Shiite paramilitary, the Badr Corps, to infiltrate the Ministry’s national police. It is further alleged that these units have sometimes formed death squads to target Sunni Arabs. Jabr points out that a recent US raid on an Interior Ministry facility turns out to have been an embarrassing mistake. The officials arrested by US troops had to be released with an apology, and all that was found was Sudanese who had been picked up on visa violation charges. Someone alert Lou Dobbs.
Charles Levinson gives us the details and the people behind the numbers. We know from opinion polls that half of Iraqis think it is all right to attack US troops (more like 80 % among Sunni Arabs) and 72% of the US troops in Iraq believe the US military should get out of Iraq within a year. Levinson in Mosul quotes a US soldier: ‘ “I don’t want to stay here too much longer. The Iraqi Army is getting to where they can get a hold of things now,” says Clevenger. “The longer we’re here and the more times they attack us, the more they’re going to figure out how to better their attacks.” ‘ And he quotes an Iraqi father whose house US troops have temporarily taken over: ‘ “What can I do?” he wonders. “We adapt and we survive and we give tea to our guests. But I would like an option beside the murderer Saddam Hussein or the lawlessness and humiliation of foreign occupation.” ‘
Al-Hayat reports that there are 1,000 new recruits for the Iraqi army in Fallujah,a step toward a planned 4,000, with 400 officers. The pan-Arab London daily notes that all the recruits are from the local population and will serve locally, and charges that we are seeing the further Balkanization of the new Iraqi army. One does have to wonder if this Fallujah battalion will fight other Fallujans on behalf of a Shiite prime minister and a Kurdish president.
Al-Zaman says that the negotiations over a national unity government made little progress on Wednesday because of arguments over who will get the ministries of Interior and Defense.
Amr Moussa, Secretary General of the Arab League, called Wednesday for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, saying that they are part of the problem there. Moussa’s call would be more credible if the Arab League was doing anything practical to help the Iraqis.
Riverbend reports at her Weblog that she saw this scroll across her television screen: “The Ministry of Defense requests that civilians do not comply with the orders of the army or police on nightly patrols unless they are accompanied by coalition forces working in that area.”
The message suggests a very serious power struggle behind the scenes between Minister of Defense Saadoun Dulaimi and Minister of the Interior Bayan Jabr, and between Iraqi and American security forces.
The radical Kurdish group Pejak in Iran killed 3 members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards on Wednesday. Iran has a substantial (mostly Sunni) Kurdish population that has long chafed under the rule of the Iranian ayatollahs, and may be taking some inspiration from the emergence of a semi-autonomous Kurdistan in northern Iraq.
Gen. Rahim Safavi of Iran hinted that the Iranians could close the Straits of Hormuz at the Persian Gulf if the US did anything to Tehran’s nuclear energy research facilities. The mouth of the Persian Gulf is so narrow that a single sunken supertanker would effectively block it, provoking an oil crisis.