Najaf Bombings Kill 27, Wound 111; Sunnis Threaten Election Boycott

Three bombs were set off in the old city of Najaf, among the holiest of Shiite sacred sites on Thursday afternoon, according to DPA. The casualty count is confused, but up to 27 were killed and up to 111 wounded according to this source. The incident comes at a time of renewed Sunni-Shiite tension that could have implications for the Obama administration’s withdrawal timetable from Iraq.

Al-Fayha reports in Arabic that one of the car bombs went off near a Husayniya or Shiite religious center, whereas the other two hit the wholesale market. Banat al-Hasan St. is mentioned in some reports.

The frightening thing is that the bombs exploded near the shrine of Imam Ali, the son-in-law and cousin of the Prophet Muhammad, who is the first Shiite Imam or divinely-appointed leader of Islam (Sunnis consider him the fourth orthodox caliph). For Shiites, the shrine of Ali is like the Basilica of St. Peter for Roman Catholics. We saw what happened when Sunni guerrillas blew up the Askariya Shrine that serves as the tomb of the 10th and 11th Imams in Samarra in 2006– it kicked off a massive Sunni-Shiite bloodbath.

Najaf inhabitants expressed consternation and bewilderment that car bombs could have been allowed into the old city by the Najaf police, who are normally now vigilant against such attempts.

The government, as usual, blamed Baathists (followers of the old regime of Saddam Hussein overthrown by the Bush administration in 2003) or Sunni religious extremists (radical Salafis or ‘al-Qaeda’) for the bombings.

The blast comes at a time of mounting political tension ahead of the March parliamentary elections. The High Electoral Committee on Thursday disqualified a further 500 candidates and political lists from running on March 7. Just a few days ago, it disqualified 14. Most Sunni Arab Iraqis living under the Baath regime from 1968-2003 had some connection to the Baath government, of only via a cousin, and so did many Shiites (half of the middle and lower-level Baath functionaries in the 1980s were Shiites).

Among the more prominent of those barred is Saleh Mutlak, head of the National Dialogue Front, a small secular Arab nationalist party that has sat in parliament and not been known for being disruptive. Norwegian historian Reidar Vissar, an expert on southern Iraq, referred to this development as a ‘complete system failure’ in Iraq’s development as a parliamentary system.

Sunni Arab Iraqis are furious about the move, which is seen as promoted behind the scenes by Iran. If the goal of this final year of American military occupation was to achieve communal reconciliation among Shiites, Sunni Arabs, and Kurds, then these disqualifications are a big step back and raise Sunni-Shiite tensions.

Mutlak will appeal the ruling to a seven-judge panel. If it is not overturned, his small party (11 seats in parliament) and the coalition of which it is a part, the Iraqi National Movement, may boycott the elections. The Iraqi National List, headed by former appointed PM Ayad Allawi (25 seats in parliament) is also part of the INM coalition, and groups secular Sunnis along with some secular-minded Shiites. Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi is also part of this coalition, despite being on the Sunni religious right.

On Thursday, 300 Sunnis came out to demonstrate in Ramadi north of Baghdad, and there were rallies in some other Sunni-majority cities. A Sunni boycott would weaken the legitimacy of the resulting elected government. Since the provinces now function as electoral districts, however, a boycott would not stop Sunnis from being elected. It is just that whoever is elected from Sunni-majority provinces such as al-Anbar and Salahuddin would not be very representative of the electorate. In a mixed province such as Diyala, if the Sunnis boycotted then most MPs will be Shiite, which would affect the sectarian balance of power in parliament.

Mutlak says he is confident that his appeal will be successful..

The remaining 110,000 US troops in Iraq seldom do patrols and seldom see combat any more (none were killed in hostile action in December). Their main task is to lock down the country so that the March 7 election can be held without horrific car bombings (Iraqis just have to walk everywhere for three days). Once the election is held, the withdrawal of troops will accelerate, and all but 50,000 should be out by the end of August. These 50,000 will not be combat troops but rather trainers and providers of logistical support to the Iraqi military.

A further round of violence between Sunnis and Shiites over what Sunnis will claim is a stolen election fostered by an unfair vetting process could complicate the US withdrawal.

The Shiite government does not control northern Sunni cities such as Mosul (pop. 1.7 million), which are armed and devoted to the Arab nationalist principles now being dismissed as ‘Baathist’ by the fundamentalist Shiites who control the government.

The conflicts between the Kurds and the Arabs in the north have still also not been settled by negotiation, and they could easily flare into violence.

End/ (Not Continued)

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5 Responses

  1. do you remember this series of photographs ?? ** warning – take high blood pressure meds before viewing **

    One Evening In Tal Afar, Iraq 18 January 2005

    Among the photos readers voted as among the most influential photos of the decade was this series taken in 2005 by Chris Hondros as he accompanied US Occupation Shock troops in Iraq. Hondros shares the story of what happened after the images were published around the world, and the fate of the boy injured in the incident.

  2. ref : “The remaining 110,000 US troops in Iraq seldom do patrols and seldom see combat any more… Their [remaining] task, [apparent] is to [simply] lock down the country [ie., help impose a temporary curfew] so that the March 7 election can be held which begs the question, HOW MUCH DOES IT COST FOR US TO MAINTAIN ~100,000 TROOPS IN IRAQ?

    Obama wants record $708B for military next year; Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan tops $1 trillion : «Congress has approved $1.05 trillion dollars for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the National Priorities Project, a nonpartisan budget research group that has a continuously running war cost counter on its website.

    The tally topped $1 trillion last month, when U.S. lawmakers approved the fiscal 2010 defense spending bill that included $128 billion to be spent on the two conflicts through Sept. 30. The trillion-dollar total includes war-related costs incurred by the State Department, like embassy security.

    HOW MUCH WENT FOR IRAQ AND HOW MUCH FOR AFGHANISTAN?

    The lion's share of the spending — $747.3 billion — has been allocated to the war in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion there in 2003. [the reason(s) for invading Iraq proved to be entirely bogus or simply unserious. Reasons for subsequently staying in that country; ie., occupying Iraq, at such great cost in U.S. blood and treasure ~ remain difficult for most Americans to express: e.g., "We're fighting them Over There to sustain our security, Over Here."]

    The other $299 billion has been for Afghanistan, where the United States invaded to fight al Qaeda and topple the Taliban [?] after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001.

    War funding for fiscal 2010, which ends Sept. 30, included $72.3 billion for Afghanistan and $64.5 billion for Iraq, making this the first year that Afghanistan was more expensive, the National Priorities Project said.

    HOW MUCH MORE WILL THESE OPERATIONS COST?

    Obama announced in December he was [escalating] adding 30,000 more U.S. troops to the Afghan war effort to join 68,000 already there fighting a resurgent Taliban. [is it a "resurgent" Taliban, or an anti-occupation guerrilla reaction to the US "surge"?] Defense officials say he will shortly ask Congress for $33 billion to pay for ‘the Afghan surge’, when he sends lawmakers his budget request.

    That would take care of 2010. Future expenses are a question mark, partly because troop levels are uncertain. Obama says he wants to start withdrawing forces from Afghanistan in mid-2011, but this will depend in part on conditions on the ground: No deadline for leaving Afghanistan has yet been set.»

  3. Just like I experienced in Viet Nam. We killed people because it was safer than checking them out. What was important for us was getting through our 365 day tour. And some soldiers , regrettably, killed them for sport. Obama thinks it is better to sit at Langley Field and kill them with drones. But those "brave airmen" at Langley cannot claim they are in personal danger.

  4. And the photos posted as a continuing greeting at Angry Arab's site. There are no shortage of photos of innocent Iraqis who have been caught up, humiliated, shredded, or detained in US enthusiasm for war as a pancea.

    http://angryarab.blogspot.com

    Other than straight blood and guts, the saddest photo I recall is a orange hooded Iraqi detainee sitting nt he ground in a barbed wire enclosure holding and comforting his young son. No link to offer, but it is out there for the world to see, if not for Americans because it is too disturbing.

  5. A Sunni boycott is the main aim of the US sponsored ruling class. The USA did that in 2004, and nearly succeeded in 2005. Iran was delighted with both.

    The banned Sunni politicians are mainly from that same ruling class, and do not attract respect or following. Paradoxically, the alternative Sunnis, particularly in Nineveh and Anbar are far more nationalistic, and will benefit from these expulsions!

    The very popular anti-Kurd stance Maliki took for a while has been largely forgotten, losing him a big advantage. The Hakimists, who lead the INA, are trying to revive their Iran-initiated and later US-supported alliance with the Talabani and Barazani Peshmerga, but that may actually sink them in the South where the anti-Kurdish sentiment is strongest.

    The Kurdish opposition who won 45% of the seats last year are a wild-card which is also being ignored.

    Iran, and the strangely the US too, do not want nationalist "trouble-makers" in parliament. But both understimate the Iraqi voters who are far more politically-aware than most.

    The key issue now is how far can the current ruling class fiddle the election. They are doomed if they couldn't despite what the Iraqi "experts" say.

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