Al-Maliki Tensions Said Severe with Petraeus;
US Raid in Karbala
Steven R. Hurst and Qassim Abdul-Zahra of the Associated Press get the scoop that relations between Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and US Gen. David Petraeus are so tense that aides to al-Maliki say he has considered asking Washington to pull the general out of Baghdad. The two major sources of tension appear to be al-Maliki’s continued lack of control over all Iraqi military units and operations, and Petraeus’s policy of arming Iraqi Sunni Arab tribesmen willing to fight the foreign Salafi Jihadis. Al-Maliki fears that once the Sunni tribesmen have dispatched “al-Qaeda,” they will turn on the largely Shiite government with their new American weapons.
Ironically, al-Maliki himself got called a collaborator with Sunni Arab ‘terrorists’ on Friday, himself. Sawt al-Iraq, writing in Arabic, says that after Friday prayers the Shiites of Khalis (a city in Diyala Province) demonstrated against the prime minister. Al-Maliki had just met in Diyala’s capital, Baqubah, with the Sunni Arab leadership of the city, which the Shiites believe is full of al-Qaeda supporters (they mean Salafi Jihadis) who are implicated in the killing of Shiites.
The US military raided a rogue Mahdi Army cell in the Shiite holy city of Karbala on Friday. US troops captured the cell leader but then took small arms fire from his supporters, leading to a vigorous clash. Iraqi sources claimed that 9 militiamen and a civilian woman were killed and 25 persons were wounded, including women and children. The US maintained that the death toll was 6, all militiamen. Any foreigners fighting in Karbala are likely to raise tensions, but this action was almost certainly requested by the city’s power elite, which sides with the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council and its Badr Corps paramilitary against the Sadrists and the Mahdi Army. US troops no longer routinely patrol downtown Karbala, but come in to the city from a base outside it when requested by Iraqi security forces.
US officials say that they are upset with Saudi Arabia for undermining the government of PM Nuri al-Maliki by charging him with being an Iranian secret agent and distributing faked documents to that effect.
On the other hand, I gather that the Bush administration is not too upset with Saudi Arabia, to which it is planning to sell billions of dollars of fancy new military equipment.
Tom Englehardt on how the idea of a US military withdrawal from Iraq became mainstream.
Shaikh Abdul Mahdi al-Karbala’i, in his Friday sermon at the mosque attached to the shrine of Imam Husayn in Karbala, warned of a “humanitarian catastrophe” in Diyala province. Al-Karbala’i is the representative of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani and his sermons are thought to reflect Sistani’s thinking. He said Friday that numerous Diyala residents had contacted him urgently for aid, saying that they lacked services, even water, and that thousands faced death or displacement from their homes. He asked the government to help them. He said he was amazed that the prime minister and the Iraqi officer corps seemed afraid of launching a military campaign against the terrorists to rescue them. He interpreted their timidity as a fear on their parts of being seen as Shiite officials attacking Sunnis on behalf of Shiites, i.e. of acting out of merely sectarian concerns. He suggested in response that a joint Diyala military command be formed with nationalist officers drawn from the Shiite, Sunni, Kurdish, and Turkmen communities, which would not feel similar compunctions.
Sadr al-Din al-Qubanchi, preaching at the mosque of the shrine of Imam Ali in Najaf, showered praise on the US-Iranian talks held this week in Baghdad. Al-Qubanchi is a member of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, headed by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, which is the closest of all Iraqi parties to Tehran but also among the closest allies of the Bush administration in Iraq. He also praised Syria for having cancelled a planned meeting in Damascus of the Iraqi Baath Party in exile.
Al-Hayat, writing in Arabic, reports that the bombings in the once upscale, Shiite district of Karrada in central Baghdad have left the inhabitants shivering with fear. The neighborhood is a sort of second ‘Green Zone,’ with major politicians and parties based there, along with newspaper offices. Some residents are warning that it could become an arena for clashes among warring militias, especially after armed groups threw up checkpoints on the grounds of checking cars for bombs.
In funeral processions for those killed in the bombings and mortar attacks on Thursday, which killed 60 and wounded 94, mourners attacked US troops and threw stones at Iraqi troops in the district [i.e. blaming them for not forestalling the bombings.] Karrada has been hit by bombings 10 times in July. These were not for the most part suicide bombings but were rather coordinated detonations. In the aftermath, armed Shiite militiamen have come in and set up checkpoints, and there is a danger they will clash with Sunni Arab guerrillas. Big party “offices” have proliferated, actualy HQs for militias. Most merchants have left Karrada and other nice neighborhoods, given the rise in harassment and kidnappings for ransom. Hundreds of residential buildings now sit empty, their residents having fled.