Curfews, Clashes, Protests and Mortars; Five Years after Fall of Saddam; 5 US Troops Die; 23 Iraqis Wounded in Sadr City

April 9, yesterday, marked the fifth anniversary of the fall of Saddam Hussein. But for many Iraqis, it was more notable for marking the beginning of a long-term American military occupation of their country.

The US military was so little in control after five years that two mortar shells slammed into the Green Zone, the American HQ in Iraq. On Sunday, a similar attack killed two US military personnel while they were jogging.

It was a somber anniversary. In Baghdad, Samarra, Tikrit and some other places, vehicle bans and curfews were in place to stop there being any demonstrations or violence to mark opposition to the occupation.

In Baghdad’s Sadr City, clashes took the lives of 23 Iraqis and wounded 83. Presumably these were clashes between Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s troops, supported by the US, and Mahdi Army fighters. Some of the deaths were from mortar fire.

5 US troops died in Iraq on Wednesday, 3 of them killed in action and two in what were termed non-combat incidents. Iraqi guerrillas deployed a roadside bomb to kill three US troops in Salahuddin Province and Baghdad. The deaths brought to 17 the number of US troops who perished in Iraq since Sunday.

The Times of London reveals that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki snubbed the British commander in Basra, declining to use any of the 4500 British troops already stationed there in his failed campaign against the Mahdi Army. It is suggested that al-Maliki harbors a grudge against the British for making a deal with the Mahdi Army as they withdrew from downtown Basra last fall out to the airport.

The Times also suggests that the governor of Basra Province, Muhammad Misbah al-Wa’ili, is effectively under house arrest, his own guards from his Islamic Virtue Party (Fadhila) having been replaced by Iraqi army troops. Al-Wa’ili lost a vote of no confidence in late April of 2007 in a maneuver organized by al-Maliki’s ally, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq. But al-Wa’ili brandished his Islamic Virtue militia and refused to step down. If the Times’s report is true, it may well be that al-Maliki came south to install the Islamic Supreme Council and its Badr Corps paramilitary, along with the Iraqi 14th Division, in power in Basra. That would give ISCI, led by pro-Iranian cleric Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the advantages of incumbency going into October’s provincial elections.

I know that al-Maliki earlier had some frictions with ISCI. But my theory of it would be that as various parties (Islamic Virtue, Sadrists, and even Shiite independents) pulled out of his government, he was thrown into an unprecedented dependence on Abdul Aziz al-Hakim and his Badr Corps paramilitary.

Sam Dagher of CSM reports that the Islamic Army of Iraq, which is purely Iraqi and opposes the foreign jihadis of “al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia,” is still committed to killing US troops. (Since Salahuddin province is largely Sunni Arab, IAI would be a suspect in the roadside bombing that killed US troops on Wednesday there.) The Islamic Army of Iraq says it gets behind the scenes help from the Awakening Councils established by Gen. Petraeus, and from similar elements inducted into the Iraqi security forces.

The Association of Muslim Scholars charges that members of the Awakening Councils are assassinating recently released detainees who had been in US custody. Apparently these detainees had been dirty with the Qutbists (what the US calls “al-Qaeda”), and had killed relatives of the tribesmen who are now taking revenge. Six such released inmates have been assassinated in Haditha recently.

Have Iraqi women been sacrificed to the surge?

Despite the curfew, hundreds came out Wednesday to protest in Fallujah, a city that Bush destroyed in a fit of pique. The Fallujans had held a city-wide strike on March 23, 2004, to protest the Israeli assassination of Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, a quadraplegic and spiritual leader of Hamas in Palestine. A few days later, the Brigades of Sheikh Yassin, an Iraqi guerrilla group founded to protest his murder, killed 4 Blackwater security men, one of them a South African, and desecrated their bodies, as “a gift to the Palestinian people,” claiming that they were CIA or Mossad (Israeli intelligence). (You would have thought the Israelis could have put off garish assassinations by helicopter gunship of Muslim leaders in wheelchairs for a while, since the US was in a delicate position in Iraq at the time; Ariel Sharon made things infinitely worse than they had to be). Bush is said by Newsweek to have been royally teed off (I gloss the anger as that brown guys did that to white guys), and instructed “Heads must roll!” Bush ultimately made Fallujah his own little Carthage, in November of 2004. The Sunni Arabs were so angered that they boycotted the 2005 election. They had little representation in parliament. The Kurds and the Shiites crafted a constitution the Sunni Arabs rejected. And the country went to civil war, just as I predicted in December of 2004. In many ways it all started with the killing in broad daylight of Sheikh Yassin in Gaza as he was leaving a mosque. Couldn’t he have been arrested if he was wanted? It was not as if he could run away. And, you will note, that Hamas is still there in control of Gaza, and Ariel Sharon is now in oblivion.

On Wednesday there were still Fallujans chanting that the US should leave their country. I mean, they were chanting amidst ruins (the US damaged two-thirds of the buildings there), and many of their relatives are refugees living in tents in the desert, displaced from their living rooms by all the firepower a superpower can bring to bear. But there they were rallying. And Westerners engage in glib stereotypes about Arab fatalism. In fact, it is hard to keep some people down.

Reuters reports political violence in Iraq on Wednesday and Tuesday:

‘ BAGHDAD – The U.S. military announced on Wednesday that five U.S. soldiers had been killed, 3 in separate roadside bomb attacks and 2 from non-combat related injuries. Four of the 5 soldiers died on Wednesday and one on Tuesday.

BAGHDAD – 23 people were killed and 83 injured in the eastern Baghdad slum of Sadr City on Wednesday, Iraqi security sources said.

BAGHDAD – Two unidentified bodies were found in Baghdad on Wednesday, police said.

MOSUL – Two successive car bombs killed three policemen and a civilian and wounded 20 people including three policemen when they targeted a police patrol in central Mosul, 390 km (240 miles) north of Baghdad, police said. . .

BAGHDAD – The U.S. military killed two armed men northeast of Baghdad, the U.S. military said.

BAGHDAD – Iraqi authorities imposed curfews on Baghdad as well as the cities of Samarra and Tikrit to prevent violence on Wednesday, the fifth anniversary of the fall of the capital to U.S. forces. . .

DHULUIYA – A mortar shell landed on a house in Dhuluiya, 70 km (45 miles) north of Baghdad overnight, killing a woman and wounding her four sons, police said.

DIYALA – The U.S. military said it destroyed a facility used to make explosive devices in Diyala province, north of Baghdad. . .

NEAR KIRKUK – Gunmen killed a civilian in Tal al-Hadeed village near Kirkuk, 250 km north of Baghdad, police said.

NEAR KIRKUK – Gunmen killed a policeman and a civilian in Tuz Khurmato, south of Kirkuk, police said. . .

KIRKUK – Two roadside bombs exploded on Tuesday in the town of Tuz, 70 km (40 miles) south of Kirkuk, wounding 17 Iraqis, the U.S. military said. . .

KIRKUK – Iraqi police found a body hand-cuffed and riddled with bullets east of the northern city of Kirkuk on Tuesday. ‘