*The attacks on US troops in Iraq continue. On Thursday there were three such incidents. In Samawah, a largely Shiite town with some Sunni presence, a rocket propelled grenade hit a military ambulance and killed a US soldier. In the Shiite holy city of Samarra north of Baghdad, a mortar was fired at a US-run humanitarian aid center, killing one Iraqi and wounding 12 others. An rpg was also fired at an American tank, but the crew was unharmed (that’s my definition of a good tank). My guess is that Baath remnants were behind these attacks. It is suspicious to me that they mounted them in Shiite towns, and I suspect they are trying to find ways to stir the Shiites up against the US. So far the US military has been very canny about not playing into the Baathists’ hands on that score, and I hope they keep it up.
*Hundreds of Iraqis gathered in front of the Public Security (Secret Police) building in downtown Baghdad to protest its reopening. They want the ministry to be abolished. Saddam at some points employed more domestic spies through such ministries than the country had factory workers. It was responsible for tailing potential dissidents and having them picked up and tortured. The US would do well to listen to their concerns, if it is serious about democratization in the Arab world. The secret police are ubiquitous there, and they do not coexist with democracy.
*The student demonstrations continued for an eighth night in Tehran, though only 200 or so appear to have come out, along with the usual compliment of automobile drivers from North Tehran, driving around and honking in support. Yesterday there were incidents in Mashhad and other provincial cities. The movement may pick back up, but for now it seems to be fading a bit, at least in Tehran. The big demonstrations may be on the 4-year anniversary of the last really huge student demonstrations (though the ones last November against the death sentence against Aghajari are said to have brought 5000 into the streets). A lot of informed observers believe that, whatever its importance for intellectual and student life, this movement is a little unlikely to shake the foundations of the regime in Iran.
*When asked recently about the possibility of Pakistan’s recognizing Israel, President General Pervez Musharraf did not rule it out. There are rumors that the US is attempting to tie forgiveness of $1.8 bn in loans to such a step (as though Pakistan’s capture of 500 of the most dangerous al-Qaeda operatives were not already worth that). In response, the United Action Council (MMA), a coalition of religious parties, has threatened to hold rallies and demonstrations throughout Pakistan and to attempt to unseat the government if it recognizes Israel. The MMA sees such a step as a betrayal of the Palestinian cause and an acceptance of Israeli annexation of much of the West Bank and Gaza. The Jamaat-i Islami leader Qazi Husain Ahmad also said he would oppose any effort to freeze the Pakistani nuclear program. Pakistan’s parliament, elected last October after years of martial law, continues to be paralyzed by disputes over Musharraf’s martial law amendments to the constitution and his insistence on remaining military chief of staff even while sitting as a civilian president. The paralysis has been worsened by Center-Province feuding over the Northwest Frontier Province Assembly’s passage of a bill implementing a strict version of Islamic law as the provincial law. The Federal government sees this move as unconstitutional and as a dangerous talibanization of a key Pakistani province, but has undertaken not to simply dissolve the NWFP assembly.
*The US Justice Department seems to have finally apprehended a bona fide American al-Qaeda member, after hundreds of false arrests that sometimes ruined lives. Iyman Faris, an Indian-born naturalized US citizen originally from Kashmir, planned to sabotage the Brooklyn Bridge among other things. He had spent time with Usama Bin Laden in the Afghanistan camps. It is not irrelevant that Faris is from Kashmir, where Indian troops have killed thousands in an attempt to repress popular yearnings for sovereignty as a Muslim state. Faris and his associates (of unknown number) are dangerous, but what is striking is how few of such persons there are among the three million American Muslims. So far I think the FBI has found about 10 such radicals for sure, and I suspect that the active ones don’t come to more than 100 or so. There are almost certainly not 5000 al-Qaeda supporters in the US, as the FBI once maintained. There are problems in the American Muslim community, but the Steve Emerson/Daniel Pipes line about terrorists among us is way overblown. And the successful arrests of the few such terrorists that are among us came about because of good police work focusing on leads and networks, not from massive fishing expeditions or racial profiling (how many *Indians* was the FBI even looking at?)
*US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld suggested Thursday that Baghdad was no more unsafe than Washington DC, which had 262 murders last year. Many have already pointed out that the US soldiers in Iraq are more like the police than civilians, and 42 policemen have not been killed in DC in the past 2 months. But Rumsfeld’s statement is suggestive in many other ways. Does he expect the US to lose over 200 troops a year in Iraq for the next few years, and is he preparing the US public to accept that loss rate? Another way to come at the statement is through the politics of race and colonialism. Washington, DC, is a largely African-American southern city, with a small bastion of white power in DC Northwest. Anacostia and other areas are desperately poor and lack real security for the residents. Astonishingly, the Federal government has never undertaken any significant economic development efforts in its own capital, allowing the city’s slums to fester. Many of the whites are politicos from elsewhere in the country, and they often feel under siege from the poverty-induced crime that spreads into Northwest from elsewhere. Is Rumsfeld making an analogy from the white power elite in its marble bunkers in Washington DC to the US occupation authority in Baghdad? Is he saying, “We elite persons manage to live in DC with all this crime and poverty, and it is not so different for us to insert ourselves into power in a poverty-stricken and violent Iraq” ? Race analogies would make sense of the often very patronizing language used by the Americans of Iraqis. And, I am afraid that if the powerful in Washington are thinking of treating Iraq the way they treat Washington, DC, then this is about the worst news the Iraqis have had since the Persians marched on Babylonia.