*The US appears to be softening its stance toward UN participation in the rebuilding of Iraq, in return for a UN Security Council resolution that ends sanctions on Iraq and phases out the oil for food program in 6 months. The UN Secretary General will have a representative in the country, not just a coordinator. The US has especially appealed to Pakistan for help in passing the resolution. In the meantime, billionaire philanthropist George Soros is setting up a “watchdog group to guard against any abuses in how the United States manages Iraq’s oil resources while it occupies Baghdad.” (-Reuters). He noted that people around the world are suspicious of the way rebuilding contracts have been awarded with no bidding to US firms (see below).
*Shiite militiamen have been conducting vigilante raids on distilleries and liquor shops, attempting to close them down and impose prohibition by force (Reuters). The attacks have caused the value of stocks of liquor to plummet, since few want to risk distributing and selling it. This issue may seem trivial, but it could be explosive. It should be remembered that relations began to go bad between the Baath government and the Shiites in the 1970s, when the Baath authorized the sale of liquor in Najaf and Karbala, Shiite holy cities.
*Grand Ayatollahs Ali Sistani and Muhammad Sa`id al-Hakim gave two-hour audiences in their offices in Najaf yesterday to hundreds of visitors to the city seeking advice on what their attitudes should be to various groups and political parties. This according to az-Zaman. The two had been in hiding since mobs of Sadrists surrounded their houses in early April and demanded they leave the city within 48 hours. They were surrounded by special armed guards during their appearances Tuesday, but that they came in public at all seems to be a sign of increased confidence in the security of Najaf. It also seems to me likely that they feel that the followers of Muqtada al-Sadr are now less likely to be able to move against them violently. The Sadrists see Sistani and Sa`id al-Hakim as having capitulated to Saddam by keeping quiet politically in the past few years, and they deeply resent that these two survived while their hero, Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, was killed in 1999 by the Baathists.
*Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, deputy leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, affirmed that his organization continues to believe in the desirability of announcing an elected transitional government, in addition to a transitional national council that would guarantee the outlining of a new political map with clear signposts. This plan, he says in an interview with az-Zaman, was agreed upon in London and again at Salahuddin. With regard to the allusion [of the Bremer administration in Iraq] to the need for a “temporary” rather than a “transitional” government, al-Hakim said that the council calls for the formation of an Iraqi government that has complete national rights, to preserve the sovereignty of Iraq and increase its active role in the Muslim and world societies. He expressed approval of the Americans’ dissolution of the Baath Party, which he said needs to be extirpated in Iraq for the sake of restoring calm to the country. He called for special national courts to try Baathists for crimes against the rights of the people and for persecution and massacres. He maintained that there are still 150 mass grave sites that have not yet been discovered, and insisted that the perpetrators be tried and brought to justice. He said the Supreme Council has a complete plan for the restoration of order and stability, which can cover 80% of Iraq, involving the establishment of neighborhood apparatuses. He says that such a set-up was implemented in Kadhimiya, Karbala, Najaf, Amara, Smawa, Basra and Kut. He pointed to the success of such local forces in providing security to pilgrims in recent visitations to Karbala and Najaf.
*Twelve businessmen representing major US corporations will be in Cairo Sunday, according to az-Zaman, to discuss with Egyptian companies what role they might play in rebuilding Iraq. The $2.4 bn. allocated to rebuilding by the US government via the US Agency for International Development must by law be awarded to US companies. But those companies can subcontract, which is where the Egyptian businesses might come in handy. (For one thing, few US businessmen, unlike the Japanese, know Arabic).
*Shaikh al-Azhar Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, the chief Egyptian religious official, has condemned the bombers in Casablanca as having departed from Islam.