2 Killed, 45 Injured in Bombings Saturday; Sadr To Appoint Special Ops Commanders; Sadrists Withdraw from Provincial Elections

A female suicide bomber injured 34 soccer fans and police in the town of Qara Tappah in Diyala Province, 75 miles northeast of Baghdad. The fans had poured into the street after watching Iraq beat China in a sports cafe. Likely this was an attack by a radical Sunni Arab cell on a largely Kurdish and Shiite Turkmen town.

AP adds, “In Baghdad, a bomb hidden on a bus exploded in a Shiite neighborhood, killing two people and wounding eight, police said. Three other civilians were injured Saturday when a roadside bomb exploded near a police patrol in the capital’s Karradah district, police said.”

Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that joint American and Iraqi patrols have been set up in the southern city of Amarah, and the al-Maliki government has given the Mahdi Army militia an ultimatum that members must surrender heavy and medium weapons within 3 days (i.e. they can keep their automatic rifles but no rocket propelled grenades). Amarah is largely a Marsh Arab city that politically began supporting the Sadrists strongly from at least 2004. Sadrists won the Maysan Provincial council elections in January, 2005. Sadrist control of Maysan has long been an obstacle to the plans of the leader of the rival Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, to form a Shiite provincial confederacy in the South modeled on Kurdistan in the north. As with al-Maliki’s show of force in Basra in late March, the attempt to assert central government control of Amarah is likely motivated in part by a desire to help ISCI and Da’wa (the Islamic Mission Party) do well there in the provincial elections next fall.

In another report, Al-Hayat writes in Arabic that Sadrist sources are explaining that the decision of Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr to form a special operations cell of the Mahdi Army to attack US troops even as the Mahdi Army itself becomes a social service organization is intended to out disobedient Mahdi Army leaders.

The new special operations force of the Mahdi Army, they says Sayyid Hasan al-Battat of the Diwaniya Sadrist office, will only attack Occupying forces, not other Iraqis. Muqtada al-Sadr will hand pick the commanders. The bulk of the Mahdi Army will be ordered to stand down and to conduct a cultural struggle against Western influence in Iraq. (This model strikes me as similar to that of Hizbullah, which until recently had pledged that its 5,000 fighters would not take on fellow Lebanese).

Aides of Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr announced Saturday that his Sadr Movement would not take part in the provincial elections scheduled for this fall. Movement spokesmen said that they did not want to be part of a government widely seen by the Iraqi people as illegitimate because it labored under US military occupation. At the same time, sources in the movement intimated that the newly formed special groups of the former Mahdi Army militia would begin striking soon. In the Shiite holy city of Najaf, government security forces mobilized to protect the shrine of Ali ibn Abi Talib and the offices of the grand ayatollahs.

Although the WaPo article quotes critics of the Sadr Movement suggesting that they decided not to contest elections because they knew they would go down to a crushing defeat, my own information is that the Shiite South has been trending Sadrist and they should have done well in the elections if they had run. It is more likely that they decided that the elections would be fixed or they would be excluded from running, and so they are behaving like any blocked group and turning to rejectionism and even terrorism.