*For my essay on the Shiite religious parties and factions in Iraq, see “Shiite Religious Parties Fill Vacuum in Southern Iraq” in Middle East Reports Online.
*Now some reporters for the Financial Times are saying that the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution (SCIRI) in Iraq has taken over the largest theater and the Museum in Basra. From what I could tell from the scattered press reporting, Basra has been much less a site of the activity of the religious parties than Baghdad and the smaller Shiite cities, but now we hear about this sort of thing even there. The FT is claiming that Shaykh Muhammad al-Fartusi was released by US troops after being held for a while. The Cape Times say his aides confirmed his release. But other reporters have been unable to verify all this from US military spokesmen. It is very odd that there isn’t a US government statement on the matter, which provoked two days of protests by thousands of Shiites in downtown Baghdad. One report I saw said he and two others were arrested coming back to Baghdad from consultations in Najaf in the middle of the night, in violation of curfew. Ash-Sharq al-Awsat says al-Fartusi used to be the agent (wakil) of Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, who was killed by Uday’s forces in 1999. The same source says that some speculate al-Fartusi was arrested to send a signal to the religious establishment in Najaf, a warning not to make anti-American statements. Al-Fartusi, it says, was released after negotiations between the US military and Najaf. The demonstrators have gone home, having seen al-Fartusi pass in a motorcade. “Otherwise,” one said, “we would have stayed out here.”
*Ash-Sharq al-Awsat says it is alleged that Badr Brigade troops of SCIRI are infiltrating Karbala, but the correspondent could not verify this because they were said to be wearing civilian clothes and to blend into the crowd. The same report says that the Marines in Kut have more or less resigned themselves to the SCIRI militia ruling that city.
*The Commemoration in Karbala of the 40th day after the martyrdom of Imam Husayn was well attended on Tuesday, with hundreds of thousands in attendance, and went off peacefully. I saw on television shots of US helicopters hovering watchfully overhead (the US military wisely decided not to have troops in the city during the commemoration, when tempers run hot). But there were some anti-American manifestations, including chants that the US should leave now, and some verbal attacks on Israel. Crowds chanted, “Yes, yes to Islam, no to America, no to colonialism and no to occupation.” The Neoconservatives’ dream of an Iraq that is pro-Israel and an American-style democracy may or may not be attainable, but it certainly won’t be as easy as they thought it was.
*With Iraq being the big story, no one in the Western press seems interested in the situation in Pakistan, where the legislature has been virtually paralyzed by a struggle with “president” (actually a military dictator) Pervez Musharraf. He amended the constitution all by himself 19 times last summer. The majority of parliament does not accept the amendments, and won’t get down to business unless they are repealed. Musharraf says they are a permanent part of the constitution. They give him enormous powers. This is not a good situation. The government looks shaky to me, and trouble in Pakistan could spell trouble for America’s war on terror (remember that little enterprise?)
*Newt Gingrich had the nerve today to blame the poor State Department for the lack of progress in rebuilding Afghanistan. Uh, Newt, the Defense Department refused to let international peace keepers fan out from Kabul, so the country fell into warlord rule. That was a Rumsfeld decision. Without security, you can’t rebuild roads. I cringe every time I remember that Gingrich has a Ph.D. in history. I promise, folks, most of us are not like that.