Large Protest in Basra; 1 US Soldier Killed, 1 Wounded; 100 Bodies found in Mass Grave;

Some 5,000 protesters rallied in downtown Basra to protest the horrible security situation on Saturday.

AP notes, ‘Many carried banners, decrying the killing of women, workers, academics and scientists. Dozens of women were slain in Basra by religious extremists last year because of how they dressed, their mutilated bodies found with notes warning against “violating Islamic teachings.” ‘

But since one major group in the protests, and perhaps the one that mainly organized them, was the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) and their Badr Corps paramilitary, a hard line Shiite fundamentalist organization with close ties to Iran, I don’t think the protest was mainly against fundamentalism.

Rather, the protesters were calling for the resignation of Police Chief Maj. Gen. Abdul-Jalil Khalaf and the commander of joint military-police operations, Lt. Gen. Mohan al-Fireji.

The Islamic Supreme Council issued a statement, calling for , “Halting the continual bloodshed by criminal gangs, so that Basra can play its role in the establishment of a state based on institutions and law, and in implementing great projects.” The statement did not identify the gangs, but this phrase was probably a reference to the paramilitaries of Fadhila and the Sadrists.

The provincial government set up police checkpoints at major intersections and stationed 5,000 men from the security forces at them. (That is, there were as many security fordces as there were demonstrators!)

I suspect that ISCI spearheaded the demonstration as part of its ongoing political struggle against the Islamic Virtue Party (Fadhila), which dominates the Basra Provincial Council and police. It is possible that some middle class liberals joined ISCI’s demonstration on grounds that Khalaf has not cracked down on Mahdi Army and Fadhila militias that are acting as morals police and conducting turf wars over gasoline smuggling.

al-Sharq al-Awsat reports in Arabic that Basra residents are afraid that the preparations being made even now for the October provincial elections will lead to outright violence–assassinations, kidnappings, etc.– among the competing political parties in the southern port city of 1.5 million.

Muqtada al-Sadr has announced that his list will for the first time compete independently in these elections. Likewise, the rival Islamic Virtue Party (which follows Muqtada’s father, Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr but ignores Muqtada in favor of Ayatollah Muhammad Ya’qubi) will fight the first election since it withdrew from the United Iraqi Alliance. The UIA, a coalition put together by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani in fall of 2004, has been the leading political force in post-Baath Iraq. It has fractured and may well lose influence in some provinces this fall. The competition between ISCI and the Sadrists is expected to be especially ferocious.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said in Ankara on Saturday that Iraq sought “a strategic relationship” with Turkey, as well as expanded Turkish investment. Turkey exported over $2 bn to Iraq last year, while Iraq sent $650 mn worth of goods to Turkey.

Talabani said that Iraq was also worried, as was Ankara, about the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) terrorist group, which has taken refuge in northern Iraq near the Turkish border. Actually, the Peshmerga or Iraqi Kurdistan military is sympathetic to the PKK. Talabani’s colleague and rival among top Iraqi Kurdish politicians, Massoud Barzani, is also probably more sympathetic to the PKK than is Talabani himself.

Sawt al-Iraq reports in Arabic that 11 members of the armed “Naqshbandi Organization” were arrested in Hawija on Friday. The Naqshbandis are a Sufi order also popular in Turkey, and some of them form part of the guerrilla movement among Sunnis in northern Iraq. That you have Naqshbandi and Qadiri Sufis fighting is one reason I object to calling all “insurgents” “al-Qaeda.” Sufis and al-Qaeda (which is influenced by anti-Sufi Wahhabism) do not get along. And, of course, the Baathis remain important in some areas.

Reuters reports political violence on Saturday in Iraq:

‘. . . DIYALA – One U.S. soldier was killed and one injured by an explosion during operations on Friday in Diyala province northeast of Baghdad, the U.S. military said. . .

KHALIS – Iraqi security forces discovered about 100 badly decomposed bodies in a mass grave near Khalis, 80 km (50 miles) north of Baghdad, the U.S. military said.

HAWIJA – A roadside bomb killed a member of a neighborhood security unit and wounded four others in Hawija, 70 km (45 miles) southwest of Kirkuk, police said. . .

BAQUBA – A roadside bomb killed three members of the same family, including a mother and daughter, and wounded two others near Baquba, 65 km (40 miles) north of Baghdad, police said.

BAQUBA – Two people were killed and eight wounded when a roadside bomb hit a minibus near Baquba, police said. ‘

McClatchy adds information on the following incidents:

‘ Baghdad

Around 5:00 p.m. an IED exploded in Muthaffar square in Sadr city in east Baghdad. No casualties were reported. . .

Clashes took place between two groups of insurgents in Hurriyah neighborhood in west Baghdad around 4:30 p.m. No casualties were reported.

Police found four unidentified bodies in Baghdad . . .

Baquba

. . . Gunmen killed a civilian near al Ameer School in downtown Baquba north of Baghdad around 7:30 a.m. . .

Kirkuk

A member of Sahwa council was killed and four others members were injured when an IED exploded in the industrial area in downtown Hawija town, 23 miles west of Kirkuk city on Saturday morning. . . ‘

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