60 Dead in Attack on Shiite Pilgrims; Turkish invaders Kill 33 PKK Guerrillas; 2 US Soldiers Killed; Stewart Skewers McCain

Between 40 and 60 Shiites were killed and 105 wounded on Sunday by a suicide bomber at Iskandariya in northern Babil province as they made their way south to the holy city of Karbala. Entire families were on the move together, so that the bombing killed or wounded many women and children. Many of the killed or wounded were struck by ball bearings from the makeshift bomb.

Alexandra Zavis of the LAT Times reports that the Iskandariya bombing was preceded by clashes between Sunnis and Shiites in the southwestern Dora district of Baghdad. On Saturday, Shiite crowds had taunted the Sunnis left in Dora that the highway through the neighborhood now belonged to them. Since many Sunnis have been ethnically cleansed from that area during the past year, the taunts stung.

Members of the Sunni Awakening Council (on the American payroll) went to the Iraqi army units in the neighborhood to complain about the Shiite pilgrims’ taunting, and the army–mostly Shiite–attacked the Sunnis! A Sunni charged that on Saturday, “Army forces started shooting randomly at locals.”

So then on Sunday morning more Shiite pilgrims come through on their way to Karbala, with Mahdi Army militiamen escorting them. First, Sunni guerrillas set off a roadside bomb. Then others threw grenades from a bridge on the pilgrims below. About 3 pilgrims were killed, and 43 were injured.

That is, the violence in Dora began as a conflict between the supposedly quiescent Mahdi Army and the US-backed Sunni Awakening Council! I suspect it is a microcosm of what will happen when the Sunnis come back to Baghdad from Damascus. (For the dynamics in Dora, see Nir Rosen’s Rolling Stone piece, linked below).

Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that a curfew has been imposed on Baghdad, as millions of pilgrims head for Karbala for the holy day later this week.

Guerrillas killed 2 US soldiers on Sunday. One was killed by a roadside bomb that also injured three other US GIs. Another died from small arms fire.

Turkey continued its ground and air operations against the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) bases in northern Iraq on Sunday, operations inside Iraq that left 33 PKK guerrillas dead and cost the lives of 8 Turkish soldiers.

Nir Rosen has been on the ground recently in Baghdad, not embedded, and he reports on the downsides of the troop escalation the Bush administration calls the “surge,” which include the ethnic cleansing of the Sunnis of Baghdad and the US paying millions to gunmen who were al-Qaeda a couple of months ago.

Aswat al-Iraq reports in Arabic that the sheikh of the powerful Dulaim tribe in al-Anbar Province, Ali Hatim al-Sulayman,–a leader of its Awakening Council– has demanded the dissolution of the al-Anbar Governing Council and new provincial elections in April. He maintains that the Governing Council runs a spoils system, giving out jobs in the provincial bureaucracy only to members of the Iraqi Islamic Party, which he says has been disastrous for the economy. I fear there is a budding conflict between the armed Awakening Councils and the elected Sunni officials in places like al-Anbar. Provincial elections are actually scheduled for Oct. 1.

John McCain is now not just saying that the US will be victorious in Iraq, he is saying flat out that “the U.S. has succeeded in its war in Iraq.” McCain must have a special antonyms dictionary where words mean the opposite of what they mean. Or maybe he’s depending on the US mass media not to tell the American public what is going on over there. He’d be making a pretty good bet; I watched a lot of news on Sunday and I barely saw Iraq mentioned. And this on a particularly violent day with a hot civil war and a Turkish invasion force on the ground. They spent hours on the cattier parts of the US presidential campaign.

But at least Jon Stewart made fun of McCain’s over-optimism at the Oscars:

As if all this violence were not enough, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki had to fly off to London later Sunday for medical treatment. Apparently the diagnosis done there a couple of months ago, of exhaustion, was incorrect and that the symptoms have recurred. For Iraq to be without an effective prime minister in the midst of several major, violent conflicts is not good.

The Turkish invasion of Iraq (I can’t believe I’m writing those words) sent oil up to nearly $100 a barrel on Monday in Asia. The speculation effect here seems to analysts out of proportion to reality. Iraq has only been exporting 300,000 barrels a day from Kirkuk by pipeline to the Turkish port of Ceyhan on the Mediterranean. (And that is when the pipeline is not disabled by sabotage, as it frequently has been.) The Turks say that their operation will not interrupt that flow. But even if it did, 300,000 barrels a day isn’t that much given the 87 mn. barrels a day global oil production.

McClatchy reports other political violence in Iraq on Sunday

‘ Baghdad
. . . An IED exploded targeting a US convoy near Salahuddin square in Kadhemiyah neighborhood north Baghdad around 10:00 a.m. The U.S. military said that the attack killed one US soldier and wounded three others. It also wounded an Iraqi civilian.

Around 12:30 p.m. an IED exploded targeting a US army convoy near the entrance of Hurriyah city northwest Baghdad. The US military said that three Iraqi civilians were injured. The Iraqi police said that five Iraqis were injured.

Around 12:00 p.m. Two civilians were injured when an IED exploded targeting civilians near al Kubaisi market in Zafaraniyah neighborhood southeast Baghdad.

Police found four bodies in Baghdad. Two bodies were found in Doura, one body was found in Waziriyah neighborhood and one body in Ur neighborhood Kirkuk

A civilian was killed and nine people were wounded (6 of them are Sahwa members including the leader of Sahwa Colonel Hussein Khalaf Ali and a commander of battalion in Sahwa) when a car bomb exploded targeting Sahwa members in Hawija town south of Kirkuk on Monday morning. . .

Basra

The police of Abo Al Khaseeb released a kidnapped young man (a student in the college of engineering) in Abo al Khaseeb town south of Basra city. The tribal police released two kidnapped civilian after chasing the kidnappers in al Abbasiyah neighborhood downtown Basra city ‘

Barney Rubin on the crucial political changes in the North-West Frontier Province, which is predominantly Pushtun, and what they mean for understanding the Pakistani Taliban and their activities across the border in Afghanistan. This piece is a must-read by someone at the cutting edge of this subject.

And, a warm congratulations to Josh Marshall of TPM on winning the Polk Award. Bloggers rock!

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