Four Huge Blasts Shook Eastern Suburb

*Four huge blasts shook an eastern suburb of Riyadh where many foreigners lived on Monday night/Tuesday morning. As I write, three are dead (reportedly two of them Americans) and over 60 wounded. About 40 of the injured were Americans; three Japanese were slightly wounded. Saudi security exchanged fire with the attackers, finally taking them out. This operation has all the hallmarks of al-Qaeda, involving car bombs that target a Western presence in the Muslim world. Saudi Arabia has cooperated with the US in the War on Terror far more vigorously behind the scenes than the US press has usually admitted, but I expect after this major bombing of Riyadh, the cooperation will become even more tight. I also think that whatever residual admiration for al-Qaeda might have been entertained by a few members of the elite has been blown away by this threat to the capital itself. On the other hand, sources inside the country seem to think that there is a large constituency for Islamic radicalism among the restless young men who are critical of the royal family (the country is ruled absolutely by an oligarchy of princes).

*Adnan Pachachi, an elderly Iraqi statesman whom some see as a potential leader of the country, has implicitly criticized outgoing General Jay Garner’s approach to building a new government. Garner had appointed representatives of two Kurdish parties, of the Shiite Supreme Council For Islamic Revolution in Iraq, of the Shiite al-Dawa Party, and of fomer Baath officers turned against the regime, along with expatriate businessman Ahmad Chalabi, to a steering committee aimed at overseeing the establishment of a transitional government. In an interview in al-Hayat, Pachachi characterized this approach as a form of ‘sectarianism,’ which set Iraqis against one another on the basis of racial and religious identity. He is clearly happier with the incoming American administrator, Paul Bremer, who, he says, has some old Middle East hands in his entourage.

*The Saudi Arabian foreign minister also warned against Iraq breaking up along Kurdish, Sunni Arab and Shiite lines. Such a development might have severe consequences for Saudi Arabia, the Shiite minority of which is in al-Hasa near Iraq. Al-Hasa is where most of the Saudi petroleum is.

*Some commentators have questioned Bremer’s credentials for work in the Middle East. But actually, they aren’t bad. He began his career in the Foreign Service in 1966 as Foreign Service Officer General in Kabul, Afghanistan, and he lists Persian as one of the languages he knows well. That would stand him in good stead in interfacing with Iraqi Shiite religious leaders.

*I was shocked to read that the US troops patrolling Baghdad have nowhere to lock up any looters they capture. They keep the guy for a while and then just release him! No wonder people complain about the law and order situation in the capital. Criminal gangs have emerged concentrating on car-jackings, burglary and kidnapping. Some middle class Iraqis are going out and buying machine guns to protect their homes. The Army finally let their own Baghdad police begin carrying pistols on Monday, though most police still feel inadequate in the face of the Kalashnikovs carried by the criminals. Apparently the US soldiers had inadvertently shot some armed police last week, which is why they were disarmed. Some 4000 MPs are being brought in, and maybe some joint patrols will start. Meanwhile, there is little gasoline and the lines are very long; garbage is still piling up in much of the city; and electricity is only 40% of pre war levels in the capital.

*Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim was greeted in Najaf by tens of thousands, and he gave a major address there. He called for a quick US withdrawal, and spent a lot of time attacking the fallen Baath regime. My contact in Basra reports that he did not think al-Hakim was all that warmly received there, but he may be more popular in Najaf. In Najaf, though, he faces rivals such as Muqtada al-Sadr (who dislikes the al-Hakims as agents of Iran who ran away from Saddam) and Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani (who is more respected intellectually).

*For my interview (along with Michael Sheehan) on the Lehrer Newshour on Monday, May 12, see REBUILDING SHAKEUP.

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