137 Killed by Guerrillas
US to Talk to Iran
Thousands of US troops searched south of Baghdad for 3 captured GIs. The Islamic State of Iraq (a guerrilla group) claimed to have been behind the ambush of two humvees full of US soldiers, which killed 5 of them and a translator. Three troops remain unaccounted for. US military personnel are systematically searching houses in Mahmudiya and elsewhere, which will have the unfortunate effect of further alienating the local population.
Sunni Arab guerrillas set off a massive bomb in front of the HQ of the Kurdistan Democratic Party in the small town of Makhmur southeast of Mosul. The KDP was holding a security conference at the time, and police and judicial officials were among the 67 dead and 70 wounded (Al-Hayat in Arabic]. The town falls in Ninevah Province, on the border with Iraqi Kurdistan. Some nationalistic Kurds have made a map that shows Kurdistan annexing parts of provinces where there are substantial Kurdish populations, including parts of Ninevah. Moreover, Kurdish Peshmerga fighters have been deployed for security purposes by provincial authorities. So it seems likely that the Sunni Arab attack had several goals. It stopped the security conference, it struck at Kurdish Peshmerga helping with the imposition of security and fighting the guerrillas, and it marked Ninevah as an Arab province where Kurds are imperilled. The guerrillas probably hope that Kurdish families will desert Makhmur and move to Irbil, thus forestalling the plans of Kurdish nationalists to annex parts of Ninevah.
In Baghdad, Sunni Arab guerrillas set off a bomb at the Sadriya Market in a largely Shiite area, killing 17 and wounding 48.
Another bomb killed 4 and wounded 17 in Baghdad. There was also violence at Mahmudiya and in Kirkuk.
Liz Sly of the Chicago Tribune examines the lack of progress toward Bush’s 4 benchmarks in the Iraqi parliament. She finds that it is capable of being decisive in defending Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani from Aljazeera and in forbidding US troops to approach the Kadhimiya shrine of the 7th Imam. But benchmarks? Not so much.
Bush will allow the US ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, to talk directly to the Iranians about Iraq security, and the Iranians have agreed to open this channel. But former ambassador James Dobbins points out that Crocker as ambassador is not really a policy maker, so that the contact is fairly low-level. He thinks this problem points to a likely dispute within the Bush administration about how and if to proceed with talks with Iran. If they had made up their minds, then Secretary of State Condi Rice would be talking directly to Tehran.
Iraqi PM Nuri al-Maliki pledged to send more Iraqi troops to troubled Diyala Province, the site of daily carnage. But al-Maliki sent troops last fall, and they were mostly Shiite troops, and Diyala is 60% Sunni Arab. Because Sunni Arabs boycotted the January 2005 provincial elections, Diyala is run by the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, a Shiite party. A lot of the police are Badr Corps, the SIIC paramilitary. So Shiites trying to run a majority Sunni province is already one of the big problems. Sending Shiite troops loyal to al-Maliki is unlikely to settle things down.
Sawt al-Iraq, writing in Arabic, reports that the Da’wa Party Conference elected Nuri al-Maliki to be the secretary general of the Party as well as prime minister. His opponent for the post was the former prime minister Ibrahim Jaafari, who appears to have withdrawn from the fray late in the process.
The same reports ays that the Fadhila Party (Virtue) is putting forward suggestions for political reform. They want early elections, and a change to the electoral law to allow “open” lists.