Thousands of Sadrists Protest Arrests; Sinjar Bombings Worst Ever

Patrick Cockburn correctly put the bombings in Sinjar province in the context of the upcoming referendum on whether the oil-rich Kirkuk province will accede to the Kurdistan Regional government. That is, a territorial struggle is going on in the north among ethnic groups that is likely to worsen later this year.

Cockburn also provides this priceless bit of anti-spin:

‘ The US military has suggested the bombers are operating more ruthlessly in northern Iraq because they can no longer operate in Baghdad because of the success of the American “surge”. In reality, the number of car bombings in Baghdad in July was 5 per cent higher than last December and civilian casualties in explosions have increased by about the same percentage. ‘

At a time when all the US media and government spokesmen are telling us that bombings have been reduced, Cockburn crunched the numbers to show that the number of bombings is actually a bit higher in July than six months earlier, and so is the death toll.

The death toll from the horrific car bombings of two Yazidi villages outside Mosul in northern Iraq may rise to 500, which would make them by far the deadliest terror attacks since the US invaded the country. Bodies are still being pulled out of the rubble, and many seriously wounded in the attacks have now died. Some wounded were arriving in Baghdad hospitals by Thursday morning.

Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that thousands of Sadrists demonstrated in Iraqi cities on Wednesday to protest a recent wave of arrests of Sadrist leaders. The Sadr Movement is led by young Shiite nationalist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. There have been numerous attacks on Najaf police and on persons, such as translators, seen as collaborators with the Multinational Forces. The chief suspects in these attacks have been members of the Mahdi Army paramilitary of the Sadr Movement. These suspicions have produced widespread arrests of Sadr Movement leaders in Najaf and elsewhere, provoking Wednesday’s protests. Al-Hayat’s informants in Najaf feared that this heavy-handed approach to the problem, with Mahdi Army commanders just being rounded up in some numbers, is likely to provoke rather than alleviate intra-Shiite faction fighting.

This comment on the attacks on the Yazidis, submitted by “Ivorybill,” is so well informed that I am moving it up to the main post:

‘ Re: Sinjar-Kirkuk connection

Patrick Coburn’s article is correct in that the bombing in Sinjar and the unrest in Kirkuk are both related to conflict between Kurds and Arabs over resources. There are similarities but also a few differences.

Some of Iraq’s best wheat lands lie immediately south of Jebel Sinjar, and this land was the subject of intense competition in the mid 70’s. The Yezidis in Sinjar supported Mustafa Barzani’s rebellion in 1975. Karim Sinjar (a Muslim) who is now KDP’s [the Kurdistan Democratic Party’s] head of intelligence, was a guerilla leader in Sinjar at that time. Because of Karim’s reputation in Sinjar and close relationship with the Yezidis, much of the KDP’s intelligence network in Mosul (and some in Baghdad) are Yezidi.

In 1976, after the collapse of the Kurdish rebellion, the Yezidis of that area were removed to collective towns (mujama’at), and their land was handed over to members of Arab tribes, mostly in Mosul, who were loyal to the government and the Ba’ath Party. The sites of the bombing – Qataniyyah and Jazirah -are mujama’at constructed at that time. The residents became laborers on the lands they had previously owned, and other Yezidis were displaced to Dohuk or other Mosul.

There was a time when the Yezidis tried to protect themselves by sending different members of the Mir (prince) family to work for different political actors, as sort of an insurance policy. Tahsin Beg, head of the Yezidis, became a “musteshar” [“counsellor”] for Saddam until he was shot in the neck in 1997 and fled to seek safety in the KRG. Khairi Beg joined the KDP. Another one joined the PUK and a fourth went to Syria.

After 2003, the KDP took over Sinjar, and the Arabs who had owned the lands for the previous 26 years were displaced, many at gunpoint. Most fled to Mosul, others to Ba’aj – a grim town on the edge of the Syrian desert, which depends upon one water pipeline now controlled by the KDP. I visited Ba’aj in 2003 immediately after the war, and it was the only place in Iraq at that time in which I felt my life was in imminent danger. The relations between the Yezidis and the Arabs in that area (with the exception of Ghazi al-Yawar’s Shammar tribe) were exceedingly tense. The CPA’s [Coalition Provisional Authority’s] Iraqi Property Claims Commission was an utter failure, having adjudicated no land disputes in Sinjar whatsoever. The area was just considered “disputed” and allowed to drift into active warfare between Yezidis and Arabs.

In 2003, it might have been possible to have compensated the displaced Arabs. The Yezidis had the right to revert from sharecroppers and laborers to farmers on their own land… but the Arab immigrants had raised families in the area, and were suddenly without employment or in some cases homes (many of the Arab families farming Sinjar also had homes in Mosul). Still, there was a short window when the displaced Arab farmers could have been placated. That opportunity is gone now.

The Yezidis also captured a video of Izzat ad-Duri meeting with Saddam Hussein in 1998 or so in which he suggested eliminating the Yezidis in Sinjar completely. Saddam allegedly demurred, but Izzat ad-Duri is feared and reviled by the Yezidis. The authors of this bombing may well be linked to the reorganized Ba’ath, under Izzat ad-Duri, even if they managed to find some foreign youths to drive the vehicles and blow themselves up.

This situation in Sinjar is superficially similar to Kirkuk, but the actors involved – the Arab tribes in Mosul and the Yezidis – are actually quite different. The ultimate fate of Sinjar will depend upon whether the KDP can occupy and hold both areas when the US leaves, or whether they will sacrifice Sinjar in order to devote their resources to Kirkuk. My guess is that the Kurds will prioritize Kirkuk, and the Arab tribes will ethnically cleanse Sinjar – with exceptional violence.’

At our Global Affairs group blog, an interview that suggests the Chinese may broker a deal with the Taliban for the release of the remaining South Korean hostages in Afghanistan.

At the Napoleon in Egypt blog, “Bonaparte puts the Sunni Clerics in Charge of Egypt.”