Huge Explosion Rocks Baghdad, Kills 15 [18], Wounds 75; 3 US Troops Killed; Sistani wants Parliament to Approve Security Pact

A big explosion in north Baghdad killed at least 15 [late reports say 18] persons and wounded 75 on Wednesday. Iraqi police said it was a suicide bombing. The US military said it was an accidental explosion of munitions a Shiite militia was moving up for an attack on US forces. Robert Reid writes, “The force of the blast crumbled several two-story buildings, buried cars under rubble, sheared off a corrugated steel roof and left a large crater on the residential street.” There were several other bombings and attacks, making Wednesday a particularly violent day in Iraq (details below).

Sadly, Reid notes, “The three American soldiers died when gunmen opened fire on them near the town of Hawija, 150 miles north of Baghdad, a U.S military statement said. No further details were released.”.

Patrick Cockburn has also gotten details of the proposed Bush- al-Maliki security agreement: “Secret Plan to keep Iraq under US Control”

Former Iraqi finance minister Ali Allawi weighs in on the security agreement. He sets the current negotiations in the historical context of the humiliation Iraqis felt over the 1930 treaty imposed on them by the British Empire as it prepared to give Iraq nominal independence but retained bases and continued to intervene in Iraqi politics. Allawi is a voice of reason and wise US officials would pay special attention to what he has to say here.

Al-Hayat writing in Arabic reports that Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (the leading bloc in parliament and keystone of the government of Nuri al-Maliki) is saying he spoke to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani about the security agreement with Washington. He says that Sistani laid out four points to which any such agreement must adhere:

  • National sovereignty
  • Transparency
  • National consensus
  • Parliamentary approval of it

    Al-Hakim met with Sistani Wednesday evening, along with some journalists. The journalists reported that the grand ayatollah stressed national Iraqi unity in the face of challenges, expressed his concern about the lack of services for citizens, including electicity and water, and said the water shortage was especially harming farmers. He also urged haste in the rebuilding of the Askariya Shrine in Samarra.

    Al-Hakim said that his own party felt the current American draft detracts too much from Iraq’s sovereignty and fails to protect Iraqi wealth. He said that Sistani did not go into details but stressed general principles. He maintained that in general Sistani shared the concerns of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq.

    Meanwhile,al-Hayat says, Akbar Hashimi Rafsanjani, the head of the Assembly of Experts (Iran’s clerical senate), said that the Americans are trying to enslave Iraqis through this security agreement and that the “Muslim nation” would not permit it.

    Al-Zaman writes in Arabic that Iraqi political parties are already gearing up for this fall’s provincial elections, and that the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, led by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, wants to use religious symbols and pictures of Grand Ayatollah Sistani in its campaign, even though technically deploying such images would be unconstitutional. Sheikh Hamid Mualla, an ISCI official, rejected criticism of this campaign technique by secularists. He said that the Sadrists would likely use images of the late leader Ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, and the Islamic Virtue Party (Fadhila) would use pictures of Ayatollah Muhammad Yaqubi, and that if they liked, the Communists could use pictures of Marx and Lenin.

    Iraq’s independents and secularists reject use of such images by a political party in its campaign. Mahmud Osman [Uthman], an MP in the Kurdistan Alliance, said he objected to the use of Ayatollah Sistani’s picture in political advertising because he is not a member of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq or of any other party. As for pictures of mosques, he said, these are places of worship, he was less opposed in that case and anyway it was already routine practice in Iraq.

    Critics of the Islamic Supreme Council argued that its decision to plaster Sistani’s image everywhere in its campaign posters showed that the party was intellectually bankrupt and had no real political platform whereby it might appeal to voters who are disillusioned with the results of past elections (which the United Iraqi Alliance coalition led by the Islamic Supreme Council won at the level of the federal parliament and 9 of 11 provinces where there are substantial Shiite populations).

    Mualla argued for a closed list system in the forthcoming elections, whereby the populace votes for party lists without really knowing who exactly will fill the slots. He said the alternative, an open electoral system where candidates campaign for individual slots, would be too hard to organize in Iraq by October. He said disputed provinces such as Kirkuk would have to undertake a time-consuming census first if you were going to have open elections.

    Other headlines from Al-Zaman:

  • Car bombs in Nasiriya, Baghdad and Falluja.
  • The Iraqi government has failed to bring 70% of displaced Iraqis back to their homes.
  • The Iranian shelling of Iraqi Kurdistan has caused villagers near Sulaimaniya to have to flee their homes in droves. (The Iranians maintain that the PEJAK Kurdish guerrilla group is basing itself in Iraqi Kurdistan and slipping over to Iran to blow things up. Iran has its own large Kurdish population that PEJAK wants to liberate from Tehran. The issue is similar to that generating tensions with Turkey.
  • Obama at AIPAC pledges that Jerusalem will always be the capital of Israel.
  • The provincial council of Basra is backing off a controversial decision it reached last month to ban the importation and sale of alcohol in the southern Iraqi port of 1.5 million (which is largely Shiite). A council spokesman said that the council had never actually meant their decision to be taken in a blanket way. He said they just wanted to stop public drinking and drunkenness in city parks and among drivers in their vehicles. (The provincial council is dominated by religious Shiite parties but Basrans have a reputation for liking the good life, so probably the religious parties just went too far and got so much negative reaction from the public that they have had to find a face saving way to step back.)
  • The preeminent Sunni seminary or madrasah, Al-Azhar of Cairo, Egypt, is opening a branch in Iraqi Kurdistan to train orthodox Sunni clergymen.

    Fred Kaplan argues that Obama’s ‘talk to your enemies’ strategy is not only not naive, it is the height of common sense diplomatically.

    McClatchy reports political violence in Iraq on Wednesday:

    ‘ Baghdad

    - Gunmen assassinated Col. Dhafir Al-Ani of the general inspector office in the interior ministry. His brother who was with him was injured in that attack.

    -A suicide truck bomber targeted a police officer’s parent’s house in Shaab neighborhood in northeast Baghdad. Five people were killed and ten others were injured.

    - A car bomb targeted commandos police patrol at the Ali Al-Lami restaurant at the main street leads to Jadriyah neighborhood. Three policemen were killed and six others were injured including three civilians. Police who were furious started shooting randomly killing and injuring some other civilians.

    - Police found four dead bodies in Baghdad today: 2 in east Baghdad (Risafa bank); 1 in Zayuna and 1 in Palestine street .While 2 were found in northwest Baghdad; 1 in Shoala and 1 in Hurriyah.

    Anbar

    Around 11:30 am, a roadside bomb targeted an army patrol which was accompanied by the Arabia T.V. crew , who were filming a program called” the death road “ . One vehicle was damaged with no casualties reported , an officer of intelligence in Falluja police station said .

    Around 12:30 pm, another roadside bomb targeted a combined patrol for Iraqi army and police who were in 50 patrols in Hamra area which is called the Tigris arm . Three policemen were killed (including an officer ) and four others were injured . During the raids the forces arrested 12 wanted people including 7 Qaeda leaders.

    Salhuddin

    - On Tuesday night two roadside bombs targeted a police patrol in downtown Tikrit transporting detainees to the police headquarters. One detainee who was arrested by the police was killed and eight policemen were injured.

    Basra

    - Tuesday night, a cameraman for the government channel Iraqia in Basra was injured when a roadside bomb exploded near a musician shop in Saymar neighborhood in the old city of Basra.

    - Gunmen killed a shop owner of jewelry with his son inside their shop in Zubair (21 miles west of Basra) .’