Diyala Campaign Begins

The al-Maliki government has just launched another of its military offensives against guerrillas, this time in Baquba, the capital of Diyala Province. I am skeptical about these campaigns. They are announced well in advance, allowing the guerrillas to go underground or relocate. Then in Mosul and now in Baquba the campaigns don’t appear to involve any actual battles. The Diyala situation is complicated by the province’s Sunni majority, which is unlikely to welcome largely Shiite government troops sent by a Shiite government. Some of the trouble in Diyala came from the dominance in the province of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, a Shiite fundamentalist party, and its paramilitary, the Badr Corps, which was until 2003 part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps. Shiites are a minority in Diyala, but the Sunnis boycotted the January 2005 provincial elections.

Al-Zaman reports in Arabic that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is taking great interest in the operation, because he believes it will have a direct impact on security in the capital, Baghdad. Al-Zaman said that only a small contingent of US troops supported the Iraqi army, and that they in turn were given cover by US helicopter gunships.

Al-Zaman reports in Arabic that close observers despaired that parliament would make any breakthroughs on the provincial election law on Wednesday, before it goes into a month-long recess on Thursday. Some Arab MPs have called for troops from the Middle Euphrates and the south (i.e. Shiite troops) to be sent to Kirkuk, to forestall, they say, a “foreign” incursion there (presumably by Turkey, which fears violence against the Turkmen minority, of which Ankara feels protective because of cultural and linguistic ties.

Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that Mahdi Army militiamen clad in black marched in Najaf to commemorate the death of Imam Musa al-Kadhim. They were carrying pictures of Muqtada al-Sadr and chanting against the al-Maliki government. Some called for immediate US withdrawal. Close observers of the Iraqi scene expressed fears that the Mahdi Army may be back.

Worried that parliament might pass another bill similar to the one President Jalal Talibani vetoed, which gave equal representation on the provincial council of Kirkuk to Arabs, Turkmen and Kurds, thousands of protesters rallied in Irbil on Tuesday.

Don’t miss Helena Cobban’s recent reflections on the situation in Iraq. She concludes that the security situation remains perilous but that power may be shifting toward Baghdad and away from Washington.