*The US forces have recently begun bombing the Republican Guards near Baghdad, which some think is a sign that Iraq’s air defenses have now been substantially degraded. Apache helicopters fly low, and are vulnerable to enemy anti-aircraft fire. The Iraqi regime had put in a sophisticated fiber optic system to link its anti-aircraft equipment, and one presumes that the bunker busting bombs recently dropped on strategic buildings in Baghdad aimed at disabling it. Unlike in Basra, the Republican Guards’ tank corps have been drawn up outside the city, presumably because they felt they were under the umbrella of the anti-aircraft defenses. If it is true that the latter are largely disabled, one may see the tanks withdrawn into residential neighborhoods, and/or positioned near hospitals, schools and mosques, as happened at Basra and Nasiriya.
*A big meeting of 300 Iraqi dissidents (Independent Iraqis for Democracy) in London Saturday cheered wildly when Iraqi elder statesman Adnan Pachachi proclaimed that a US military administration of Iraq was “in no way acceptable.” This meeting was an alternative to the Iraqi National Congress identified with Ahmad Chalabi. The Independent Iraqis for Democracy mainly consists of liberals, but the meeting included two prominent Shiite clergymen, Muhammad Bahr al-`Ulum and Husayn al-Sadr. The problem for the US is that the military campaign was planned far more meticulously than the aftermath. The Bush administration seems to be afraid that if it turns Iraq over quickly to a provisional government, one would see a situation similar to Afghanistan, plagued by warlords and lacking central authority. But I think it will find that the proposed alternative, of an American military and then civilian government of the country, is even more problematic–and that it will be targeted by Iraqi suicide bombers and prove extremely unpopular with nationalist Iraqis, even those opposed to Saddam.
*The suicide bombing that killed four US troops near Najaf Saturday is a very bad sign. The US is planning to have a very large footprint in Iraq for many years to come, and so may face such bombings as a constant threat. Worse, civilians here in the homeland may end up being targeted, as threatened by Iraqi Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadan: “I am sure that the day will come when a single martyrdom operation will kill 5,000 enemies. The Iraqi people have a legal right to deal with the enemy with any means.” Actually, such warnings from the Iraqi Baath party are probably empty, since it is about to cease to exist. The real danger remains al-Qaeda and similar radical Islamist organizations. One worries that Iraqi Sunnis, having been disappointed by the failure of nationalist secularism, may turn to radical Islamism as an alternative. That is what happened to some Egyptians after Abdel Nasser was defeated in 1967. In a sense there is a straight line from 1967 to September 11, 2001. Likewise, there is a menace from jihadi volunteers flocking to Iraq to attack the Americans there. Ramadan said, “Thousands of volunteers and fedayeen (martyrdom fighters) are coming into Iraq and major contingents of these volunteers will be seen in the coming days.”
*The Guardian reports that Jay Garner, who is to administer Iraqi reconstruction on behalf of the US, “is president of Virginia-based SY Coleman, a subsidiary of defence electronics group L-3 Communications, which provides technical services and advice on the Patriot missile system being used in Iraq. Patriot was made famous in the 1991 Gulf war when it was used to protect Israeli and Saudi targets from attack by Saddam Hussein’s Scud missiles. Garner was involved in the system’s deployment in Israel.” This background is raising alarums at the UN and elsewhere about his suitability for the high profile post of US Proconsul of Iraq (can the Iraqis really warm to someone who was so closely involved in developing the weapons that have killed so many of them?) I mentioned other reasons for which Garner’s appointment would be a disaster a couple of days ago (scroll down)
*The Islamic Action Council, the ruling party in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province, is going ahead with plans to implement a Taliban-style form of Muslim law as the law of the land in that province. Since its members trained the Taliban, this development is not surprising. One wonders, though, whether the NWFP voters really had this in mind when they voted against the traditionally dominant parties in last October’s election. Personally, I think the Federal government should step in to stop the implementation of a medieval interpretation of shariah (Islamic law) in one province. This must be unconstitutional in some way. It is ironic that the main US response to September 11 has been a) to put the fundamentalist Jami`at-i Islami in charge of Afghanistan; b) to preside over the rise to dominance in NWFP and Baluchistan of the teachers of the Taliban; and c) to destroy one of the few secularist regimes in the region, Baathism in Iraq.