8 US GIs Killed
16 Shiite Kurds Massacred
Suhail: Iraq has 3 million widows
*8 US troops were announced killed in Iraq on Saturday.
British forces on Saturday arrested Sheikh Aws al-Khafaji as he was trying to leave Iraq via Basra airport. He had been for some months the Sadrist Friday prayer leader in Basra, appointed by Muqtada al-Sadr.
Sudarsan Raghavan of WaPo reports that Muqtada al-Sadr has made a major political shift. He is said to be purging from the leadership ranks of his Sadr II Bloc any extremists who target Sunni Arabs in general as opposed to “al-Qaeda.” He is reaching out for a political alliance with Sunni Arabs of a nationalist sort, and deserting the ineffective al-Maliki government. He may well be maneuvering to have a Sadrist PM succeed al-Maliki if the latter’s government falls, though sources close to him say any such Sadrist government is a ways off.
KarbalaNews.net reports in Arabic that the Islamic Virtue Party (Fadhila), Shiite rival to the Sadrists, has also been negotiating with the Iraqi Accord Front (Sunni fundamentalist) in hopes of forming a new pan-Islamic political block.
Sunni Arab guerrillas came into a small village in Diyala province and pulled out 16 Fayli Kurds (Shiites) and killed them. Most Kurds are Sunnis (but not Arabs since they don’t speak Arabic as their mother tongue). There is a small Shiite Kurdish minority, the Faylis, tens of thousands strong. Many fled to Iran during the Saddam period, but have come back since the fall of Saddam.
Reuters reports clashes on Saturday in Diwaniyah and Musayyab.. Bodies were found in Hillah.
Police found 20 bodies in Baghdad on Saturday. McClatchy reports numerous assassinations and bombings in Baghdad and Kirkuk. I found the following entry absolutely chilling:
‘ A police source in Basra city said that police patrols found 15 bodies in different neighborhoods yesterday evening and today morning. The source said that torture was obvious on the bodies. ‘
The phenomenon of nighttime death squad killings and the dumping of bodies in the street has spread to Basra. Basra has only a small Sunni population. It is possible that these bodies result from Shiite on Shiite violence, as rival militias engage in turf wars. What security there is in Basra had been provided by the British, who are now leaving (see below). There is effectively no government in the province of Basra at the moment, since the governor lost a vote of no confidence on the provincial council. Basra, a city of 1.5 million, is Iraq’s primary port and window on the outside world, through which its petroleum is exported. If it goes up in flames, so does the whole country.
Hamza Hendawi reports on the ways in which the Iraqi parliament is falling apart. The antics of the speaker of the house, Mahmud al-Mashhadani, contribute to this perception of lack of seriousness (he has slapped another parliamentarian, and has applauded the guerrillas who kill US troops). But the real problem is not clowning around so much as it is a hung parliament in which there is no real majority and in which none of the parties has that much in common with any of the others. (The closest is the Shiite religious parties’ general alliance with the Kurds.)
Two ABC journalists of Iraqi extraction were killed by guerrillas. Their bodies showed up Friday in the Baghdad morgue. The Iraq War has been especially hard on journalists, and this further atrocity has sent shock waves through the news gatherers in Baghdad. Personally, I have enormous respect for and gratitude to all those risking their lives in Iraq to get the story. If it weren’t for them, we’d only know what official spokesmen told us. I fear that may be how things end up, since Iraqi journalists and other professionals are emigrating in droves.
Sawt al-Iraq reports in Arabic that Prince Turki al-Faysal, the former Saudi ambassador to the United States, speaking at the Davos conference in Jordan, called on the United Nations Security Council to make a straightforward commitment to forbid the partition of Iraq.
Iraqi parliamentarian Safiya al-Suhail said Saturday that Iraq has 3 million widows and that the lives of women are rapidly deteriorating. She blamed the number of widows on the wars of Saddam, as well as the guerrilla war after the fall of Saddam. She urges that 1% of Iraq’s oil income be put into a fund dedicated to improving the lives of widows and children who had lost a parent or two. There are only about 13 million female Iraqis, and even with teenaged marriage common in rural areas, I shouldn’t have thought that there were more than 6 million or so of marriageable age. Suhail’s statistic would suggest that half of such Iraqi women have lost a husband to violence.
Sawt al-Iraq reports in Arabic that the Iraqi Ministry of Labor announced Saturday that since April 2003, over a million Iraqis in Baghdad had registered as unemployed, while 200,000 of them found jobs. So 800,000 are unemployed. Only 9% of the unemployed were women. I would have thought that the adult male workforce in a city of 6 million with a high population growth rate would be only about 1 million. The only way I make sense of these figures is that teenagers are being counted in the employment statistics and at least 70 percent of Baghdadi workers are unemployed.