*Ayatollah Muhammad Sa`id al-Hakim was slightly wounded in the neck by flying glass on Sunday when a bomb went off outside his offices in Najaf shortly after he finished his prayers. Three of his bodyguards who went to investigate the bomb were killed, and ten of his aides were wounded. Sa`id al-Hakim is one of four senior ayatollahs who constitute the Religious Institution (al-Hawzah al-`Ilmiyyah) in Najaf, the preeminent seminary center for the training of Shiite clergymen. He is a close colleague of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. Both Sistani and Sa`id al-Hakim are political quietists who have declined to campaign vigorously for the expulsion of the Americans. Last week when a tape attributed to Saddam Hussein called on the Shiite clergy to declare jihad or holy war against the US, Sistani and his colleagues openly refused to do so, and condemned Saddam’s long years of tyranny. (Sa`id al-Hakim himself has called for calm, despite what he says is a failure of the US to fulfill its promises). It may well be that this bomb was the Baathist reply to this show of defiance by the leading Shiite clergymen.
Some suspicion naturally also fell on the militant Sadrists, followers of young Shiite firebrand Muqtada al-Sadr, some of whom have firebombed liquor stores and cinemas in the past. Muqtada’s spokesman denied that he was behind this bombing, though, and I think that is right. The modus operandi is more that of the Baath resistance, and Muqtada has been careful to avoid overt, planned violence against rivals lest his movement be closed down by the Americans before it can position itself to take power.
It may also be that the Baathists are trying to provoke violence among the Shiite factions so as to make Iraq even more ungovernable. Muhammad Sa`id al-Hakim is the uncle of Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, whose brother, `Abdul Aziz, serves on the Interim Governing Council. But Sa`id is not associated with SCIRI; he is much closer to Sistani. Abdul Aziz al-Hakim suggested that the bombing was intended to provoke a Sunni-Shiite war, and was planted by Baathists for that purpose. He also said that he held the US, the occupying power under international law, responsible for providing security to Iraqis. (al-Sharq al-Awsat).
The clergy in Najaf have been asking the US administration for more security for some time. The Najaf ayatollahs are among the more respected in the entire Shiite world, and to have them blown up while supposedly under US protection makes the US look very bad in the Shiite world. This point is more especially true since the bomb went off so close to the shrine of Imam Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad. If that shrine had been damaged, there would have been hell to pay.
Hundreds of local people surrounded Sa`id al-Hakim’s house as he and others wounded were taken off to the hospital. (Al-Zaman, WP)
Iran condemned the bombing and complained that the US should be providing the Iraqis with better security than it is.
*The tension between Sunni Kurds and Shiite Turkmen in the north remained high on Sunday. The office of Muqtada al-Sadr strongly took measures to support the side of the Shiites, according to al-Hayat. Muqtada also condemned any attempt to isolate the north from the rest of the country. He complained about ongoing ethnic cleansing [presumably of Shiite Turkmen] in the Kurdish areas. There were demonstrations in Ankara against the Kurdish police having fired on Turkmen demonstrators. The Turkmen representative on the Interim Governing Council, Songol Habib Omar Chapouk, called for the Kurdish militias that control Kirkuk to be disarmed, and said that Kirkuk “is a Turkmen city”. She warned of ethnic violence if the situation is not calmed. (- al-Hayat). Meanwhile, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq and the Kurdish Patriotic Union sent delegations to Kirkuk in hopes of calming the situation. Note that most Turkmen are Sunnis, but the spark for this particular conflict had been ignited in a fight between the small Turkmen Shiite minority and Sunni Kurds at the village of Tuz Kharmato. The ethnic conflict in Kirkuk between Kurds and Turkmen is probably an all-Sunni affair. (revised 8/26/03)
*In Karbala, the atmosphere was tense after the Marines there closed the offices of Hizb al-Wahdah (the Unity Party) the day before yesterday (al-Hayat). Large crowds have gathered to protest the decision. There is a lot of bad feeling toward the Marines going back to recent incidents where they shot into civilian crowds on receiving gunfire from among the demonstrators. One was killed and nine wounded a few weeks ago. The Islamic Unity Party is headed by Muhammad Qasim (Kassim or Qassim), and it initially welcomed the Americans (see
issues/iraq/after/2003/0429timetable.htm). Unfortunately al-Hayat did not say why the US troops closed the office or what the issues are here.
*An Iraqi feminist organization charges that organized criminal gangs have kidnapped over 400 women in Baghdad since the fall of Saddam on April 9, either holding them for ransom or selling them into sexual slavery. The women have held demonstrations demanding more security for women at Firdaws square in downtown Baghdad. (AFP). Another feminist group has criticized the Interim Governing Council, demanding that a percentage of government jobs be set aside for women and that women have substantial representation among the drafters of the new constitution. (Al-Sharq al-Awsat).
*Iraqi police officers will be sent to Hungary for an 8-week police training course at a former Soviet base, according to de facto Baghdad police chief Bernard Kerik. The police academies inside Iraq are too small for the job. On their return, the officers will receive four to six months on the job instruction. The first group of 1500 officers will begin training within four months, while 28,000 will be graduated during the next 18 months. These 28,000 new recruits will be added to the 37,000 former Baathist policemen who have been reinstated by the US, for a total of 65,000, which is what the US thinks Iraq needs. (-NYT). I’ve heard Kerik say in interviews that the 37,000 former Baath police he has now are “all that he can trust”. I.e., if more than that were called back up, you’d start getting some very dirty, bad characters. I don’t know how the 37,000 have already been vetted so fast, but I’d be surprised if they don’t already include at least some bad characters. No one has talked about the ethnic make-up of the police. Are the 37,000 reconstituted by the US primarily Sunnis? If so, that could be a problem, especially if the US isn’t careful from where it recruits the new 28,000. It is also worrisome that it will take 18 months to get the police force up to its required strength. It is probably true that the Iraqis can police better than US GIs, but the policework needs to be done now, as the recent bombings prove.