*A U.S. soldier was killed in Baghdad by a sniper on Saturday while guarding a bank. Four U.S. troops were wounded when their convoy was struck by a remote control bomb.
*Over 3,000* Shiite demonstrators came out into the streets of Baghdad on Saturday, according to AFP, to protest the US military’s action in surrounding the house of Najaf firebrand Muqtada al-Sadr. Al-Sadr’s spokesman, Mustafa al-Ya`qubi, told Agence France Presse that US military forces showed up at Muqtada’s house in Najaf shortly before noon on Saturday and surrounded it, while military helicopters hovered overhead. After some time, the Americans departed. Muqtada apparently was not home at the time, anyway.
When word spread of the US action, large demonstrations began in Najaf, Baghdad and Basra, demanding that Muqtada be released. Baghdad crowds chanted “Down with the USA!” and “We are all soldiers of Sadr!” (They really have to get some new slogans.)
US Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz was visiting Najaf Saturday, and may have almost got caught up in the protests.
Friday had already seen a demonstration by Sadr Movement followers in Basra, who demanded that the appointed Governing Council be expanded through the addition of elected members. These demonstrations in Basra were renewed on Saturday, this time with the added demand that Muqtada be released immediately. AFP thought around 2,000-3,000 protesters showed up in downtown Basra, as well. At one point they felt threatened by an approaching Western vehicle and threw stones at it, assuming it to be British military. It was in fact a civilian vehicle. The Shiites maintain that the persons in the vehicle shot at them, wounding three demonstrators, including a cleric, Sheikh Ali al-Asadi, Muqtada’s representative in Basra. The British military denies firing at the crowd, and maintains that the story of the surrounding of Muqtada’s house was a misunderstanding.
The US military has promised to clarify exactly what happened in Najaf. It seems to me possible that it was alarmed by the sermon Muqtada gave Friday, urging nonviolent noncooperation with the US and pledging to establish an alternative government and military force to compete with the Governing Council appointed by Paul Bremer. (He also called for the closure of US radio and television stations in Iraq). It may also be that they wanted to immobilize Muqtada during Wolfowitz’s visit so as to ensure his safety. If so, Wolfowitz inadvertently caused a lot of unnecessary trouble with this gratuitous victory lap. (I would have advised him against trying to visit Najaf; it is a very holy city for Shiites, and a highranking Defense Department official going there could easily injure local sensibilities).
*Al-Hayat put the number of Baghdad demonstrators at 100,000. I can’t explain the discrepancy of 97,000 with the AFP estimate. Two possibilities present themselves. One is that al-Hayat was counting demonstrators out in the neighborhoods of East Baghdad as well as the smaller crowd in downtown Baghdad. Another is that the AFP reporter had more experience estimating crowds (which is not an easy thing to do–the situation is chaotic and few vantage points would let you see everyone, much less count them). But, there are some little tricks for estimating crowds, like trying to estimate the size of the rally in square yards and then counting persons per square yard.
*The Bremer-appointed Governing Council has been unable to select a president from among themselves. They have therefore decided to have a rotating presidency. The three members most likely to fill that role are Adnan Pachachi, an 80-year-old Sunni Iraqi nationalist, Ayatollah Muhammad Bahr al-`Ulum (age given as 78 or 80), a Shi`ite moderate, and Ayatollah Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, deputy head of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq and leader of its paramilitary, the Badr Corps. Note that the Pentagon’s favorite, Ahmad Chalabi, is not apparently in the running (nor could he win an election in Iraq, where he is widely viewed as a corrupt carpetbagger and American puppet).
*The unilateralists in the Bush administration, including Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, are going to have to eat crow and bring the United Nations aboard to help them rebuild Iraq. They can’t get India, Russia, Egypt or anyone else to lend troops to the effort of providing security without an explicit UN mandate. The UN Security Council, moreover, is not going to give them such a mandate for free. It would have to make the rebuilding and decision-making about the future of Iraq much more multilateral. (You will note that Wolfowitz has stopped boasting about how France would be “punished” for its opposition to the war). UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has even called for an explicit timetable for US withdrawal. The Washington hawks are openly contemptuous of the UN, and their need for it is extremely humiliating. They never thought Kofi Annan would have *them* by the balls. But the numbers are undeniable. The occupation of Iraq is costing the US nearly $4 bn. a month; Bush’s tax cuts provoked a $450 bn. budget deficit (which doesn’t even include the Iraq expenses); and there are not enough US troops to cover Korea, Japan, Germany, Afghanistan and Iraq and also provide for frequent troop rotation so that our guys can get home after six months rather than stretching the tour of duty to a whole year. A whole year in a combat zone is a long time.
*All those who read Jim Hoagland’s fluff piece on Wolfowitz of Arabia in the WP on Sunday should also look at Jason Leopold’s article on Wolfowitz’s slanting and politicizing of intelligence to sell the Iraq war. See