55 Killed in Baghdad Bombings; Maley: Iraq Still Unstable;

Sunni Arab guerrillas carried out two bombings in the Shiite Karrada district of Baghdad on Thursday. First a bomb went off in a dumpster near a market, killing 3 persons and attracting a dense crowd. Then a suicide bomber waded into their midst and detonated his belt bomb. The death toll early Friday morning had mounted to 55, with 131 wounded, but the deaths were expected to mount during the night. Gen. David Petraeus has done excellent work in preventing car bombings by establishing ‘no drive’ areas at some markets. But a determined belt bomber is pretty hard to stop. Veteran LAT Iraq reporter Borzou Daragahi says that Karrada is one of the best-guarded areas in Baghdad.

To get an outside-the-Beltway view of reality it is sometimes useful to get way outside the Beltway. William Maley, an Australian security studies expert who has written on the Taliban in Afghanistan, pulled no punches in reacting to the bombings:

‘”I think what bombings of this sort indicate is just how violent and unsettled a situation that in Iraq still is . . . I think it’s important to appreciate this, given some of the gushy comments that have been made about achievements of the surge in the period since it was commenced by the United States.”

“The effect [of the Surge] has been, looking at the country broadly, to reduce the frequency of bombings on the scale of the October 2002 Bali bombings from something like once every two-and-a-half days to once every six days,” he said. But it is still a frightening place to live, he said. “From the point of view of people living within Iraq, this is still an extremely unsettled and alarming situation and I don’t think we should fall into the error of concluding that the situation has been normalised in any degree.” ‘

John Fout at TheStreet.com asks how McCain will play the Iraq issue in the general election. He also quotes an analyst who thinks the candidates are not all that far apart on Iraq, and that the main issue is a short or long timeline for withdrawal (not a matter that is likely to excite the electorate). I am quoted saying that McCain has the same confusion about Sunni Arab Iraqi insurgents, who are nationalists, as he did about the Vietnamese communists, who were also mainly nationalists. Branding nationalist resistance “terrorist” isn’t actually very useful analytically. Fout concludes that McCain will warn against “surrender,” playing on the public’s emotions, and that the Democrats will probably make a case that the war is too expensive, tying it to voters’ worries about the economy.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, is preparing to visit Ankara. He is not being accorded the honors due a head of state. Tensions are high between him and the Turkish government over the refuge given by Iraqi Kurds to the Kurdish Worker Party (PKK) guerillas who have been attacking and killing Turkish troops.

Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that the Sadr Movement predicts that the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI, led by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim) will lose half its seats on the provincial councils if provincial elections are held October 1. A law of the provinces was passed by parliament but was turned back by the 3-man Presidency Council. It is suspected that Vice President Adil Abdul Mahdi, who belongs to ISCI, led the charge in vetoing the law. ISCI is said to fear losing its political control of a majority of the provinces where Shiites predominate, won in the elections of January, 2005. Not only did the Sadrists denounce the veto, but so did the Da`wa (Islamic Call) Party. Da`wa has the federal prime ministership, and also the governor of Karbala province is a Da`wa member. In the far south in Basra, the Islamic Virtue Party (Fadhila) predicted that the provincial elections would upset the balance among the Shiite parties.

Hussein Kadhim describes what it is like to go on a walking pilgrimage to the Shiite holy city of Karbala south of Baghdad.

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