Shiite on Shiite Conflict in Karbala, South; US Soldier Killed; Kurdish Party Bombed

That’s all we need– Iraqi troops raiding American mercenary units in Iraq. That will really settle things down.

Khalaf al-Ulyan, a Sunni fundamentalist member of parliament, condemned PM Nuri al-Maliki as a “dictator” because he unilaterally fired six Sunni Arab cabinet members. The six had tendered their resignations. According to the Iraqi constitution, the Prime Minister must accept or reject a cabinet member’s resignation within one month. Al-Maliki declined to accept the resignations for three months, then suddenly fired the Sunnis for absenteeism, thus depriving them of pensions and other perquisites of office. Al-Ulyan pointed out that in any case they were provided to al-Maliki’s cabinet by the Iraqi Accord Front, the Sunni fundamentalist party, and that he should have dealt with that party directly. Al-Maliki has refused to dialogue with the Sunnis in parliament over their discontents and declines to reach out to Sunnis who have kept their distance from the political process. Any reduction of violence in Iraq is clearly not bringing political reconciliation.

Raed Jarrar argues that the Iraqi cabinet, which represents only a small proportion of the electorate, has sidelined the parliament, which is more representative and is ruling by virtual executive decree. (Gee, I wonder where they got that idea). He also argues that the recent approval of two new technocrat ministers proposed to parliament by PM Nuri al-Maliki was done by only 110 members of parliament, which is not a quorum.

Al-Hayat writes in Arabic that a videotape has been shown on Iraqi television of police in the holy Shiite city of Karbala torturing local families and killing two children during the disturbances of 28 August.

The police in Karbala south of Baghdad are accusing the Mahdi Army of Shiite nationalist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr of having killed several hundred persons in the past few years in that city. The police said that the Mahdi Army attempted to impose Islamic canon law on the populace, in the manner of a Shiite Taliban, and had run secret prisons where torture and executions were carried out. Spokesmen for the Sadr Movement, of which the Mahdi Army forms the paramilitary, denounced the charges as self-serving lies. The Sadrists said there has been a mass of unjustified arrests of their members by the Karbala police in recent months, and that the detainees have been abused.

Al-Hayat points out that the accusations have to be seen as part of a Shiite on Shiite power struggle. The police and administration of Karbala is dominated by the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), led by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, which was formed in exile in Iran. ISCI has been in competition with the Sadrists for control of Karbala for years, and may be achieving its goal. The shrine city is a rich source of wealth, since millions of pilgrims visit it annually from all over the Shiite world and give offerings to whoever controls the shrine.

This week, the deputy governor of Karbala, Jawad al-Hasnawi, a follower of Muqtada al-Sadr, was forced to flee to Baghdad, having been charged with corruption. Likewise three elected members of the Karbala provincial council were charged with crimes. Al-Hasnawi met on Thursday with Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi (a Sunni fundamentalist who has poor relations with ISCI and the other main Shiite fundamentalist party, al-Da’wa, headed by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki).

Al-Hasnawi charged, according to al-Hayat, that an official inquiry into the disturbances at Karbala in late August (which left 52 dead and led Muqtada to freeze the activities of the Mahdi Army) had implicated the police and the shrine guards (dominated by members of the Badr Corps paramilitary of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq) in killings then. He said that the charges against the Mahdi Army (Jaish al-Mahdi or JAM) were trumped up to take the focus off the police misbehavior.

Whatever the rights and wrongs, it seems clear that some sort of major power struggle broke out between the Sadrists and ISCI in Karbala in the last few months, and it appears to be the case that ISCI has won, and is now driving out the Sadrists from official political positions to which they had been elected. Since some proportion of the Karbala population does support Muqtada al-Sadr, leaving them disenfranchised is likely a recipe for further conflict. In fact, it seems likely that a Sadrist- ISCI struggle for the Shiite south will eventually come.

McClatchy reports that “4 unidentified bodies were found in Baghdad” on Thursday. In Diyala province, “Four civilians were wounded when a suicide bomber wearing an explosive vest attacked a cafĂ© in Hibhib town west of Baquba city around 1:00 pm. “

Reuters reports more civil war violence for Thursday. Major incidents included the announcement of another US soldier killed in south Baghdad by a roadside bomb. Also, the bombing of the Kurdistan Democratic Party HQ in Kirkuk, which killed 13, has been followed up by another such incident. In Tal Asquf, north of Mosul, “One woman was killed and five people were wounded when a suicide car bomb exploded near the Kurdistan Democratic Party headquarters . . .”

These bombings appear to be part of a concerted campaign by Arab guerrillas against the Massoud Barzani faction of the Kurds, which have expansionist designs on Arab territory. Other attacks:

‘ NEAR FALLUJA – A roadside bomb killed three police officers including the chief of the al-Waleed police station and wounded another five policemen when it targeted their patrol north of Falluja, 50 km (32 miles) west of Baghdad, police said. . .

THAR THAR – Iraqi police found seven decomposed and handcuffed bodies in Thar Thar, 80 km (50 miles) north of Baghdad, police said. . .

MAHAWEEL – Two blindfolded, handcuffed bodies were found with gunshot wounds in Mahaweel, 75 km (45 miles) south of Baghdad, police said. . .

BAGHDAD – A roadside bomb wounded three Iraqi soldiers on patrol in the New Baghdad district of eastern Baghdad, police said.

BASRA – At least four people were wounded in a roadside bomb targeting the car of Basra Qahtan al Moussawi, the top education official in the southern governorate of Basra, 550 km (340 miles) southeast of Baghdad, police said.

KUT – A roadside bomb targeting a police patrol killed one civilian and wounded four policemen west of Kut, 170 km (106 miles) southeast of Baghdad, police said. ‘

The bombing in the southern Shiite city of Kut is probably another manifestation of the struggle between the Sadrists and ISCI. The Islamic Supreme Council tends to control the administration and police in the south, but the majority of the population seems increasingly to support Muqtada al-Sadr. The attempted assassination of the education minister of the far southern province of Basra likewise reflected intra-Shiite struggles for control of the provincial government there.

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