Bombings Kill 12 in Iraq; Iran, Iraq aim at $5 bn. in Trade; Iran sees no Need for Negotiations with US on Iraq

After attacks on Shiite pilgrims killed 20 on Wednesday, Thursday saw another violent day in Iraq, with bombings in Mosul, a gas cylinder explosion in Karbala and other violence that left 12 dead.

McClatchy discerns a return of the Baath Party in new guises in Iraq, with Salih Mutlak’s National Iraqi Project, which did well among Sunni Arab voters in the recent provincial elections, as exhibit A.

Dahr Jamail reports from Fallujah at Tomdispatch.com and finds that it is still in ruins and that the American-funded Awakening Councils were more about security for US troops in al-Anbar than about reconstruction of the war-torn province.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manochehr Mottaki was in Baghdad Thursday to initial a trade agreement that set a target of $5 billion annually between Iran and Iraq. Three Iranian consulates were also opened in the Iraqi cities of Arbil, Karbala and Sulaimaniya.

Mottaki said that there was no longer any reason for Iran and the US to hold bilateral talks on Iraq suecrity, given the stability and relative security in the Shiite South of Iraq where Iran has influence.

Maj. Gen. Michael Oates, who is in charge of US troops in the Shiite south of Iraq, said Thursday that in his view the security gains there were permanent. He cited the decline of Shiite radical groups (read: the Mahdi Army) and “al-Qaeda” (though Sunni fundamentalist guerrillas did not operate much in the Shiite South in recent times). USA Today says that the situation there is so calm now that some US troops wonder why they are still being deployed to the region. Still, there are two attacks on US GIs every day. (I suspect that a lot of the decline in such attacks derives from the Status of Forces Agreement concluded by the al-Maliki government with the US, which stipulates all US troops out of Iraq by the end fo 2011. Shiite militias that have as a main goal the end of what they see as the US occupation no longer have a reason to fight. If the US reneges and overstays its welcome, however, that violence could come back big time.

Basra in particular has the potential to emerge as an advanced Persian Gulf port, as the British troops leave.

The US kept blaming Iran for attacks and poor security in the Shiite south. Would not we have to conclude, if we accepted that premise, that the new and better security situation of today is owing to Iranian efforts, too?

In any case, the agreement between Mottaki and Oates is remarkable, and perhaps another subtext to Mottaki’s comments is that the scheduled US military departure is another element making it unnecessary for the two sides to talk about Iraq. (The Iraqis in any case always found it humiliating to have the US and Iran conduct bilateral discussions of Iraq, as though the two could make decisions that interfered in Iraq’s national sovereignty.

The minister of women’s affairs in the al-Maliki government, Nawal Samarra’i, resigned last week because her ministry was receiving almost no money from the government and she did not feel she could run it properly on those paltry resources. This is a little reminder that the new Iraqi government is dominated by Shiite fundamentalist parties uninterested in liberating Iraqi women.

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