*An exploding mine wounded seven American soldiers in a vehicle that ran over it early Saturday near the border with Syria.
*In Najaf crowds demonstrated in protest of Friday’s bombing. Some anti-American slogans were heard (the US is blamed for not providing enough security.) Najaf police have arrested some 19 suspects in Friday’s massive car bombing. They say that some have confessed, and that some have clear ties to al-Qaeda and/or Saddam’s secret police. I’d take all this with a large grain of salt. Apparently the criterion for arresting people was that they weren’t local Najafis and were different in dress or outward appearance. A couple of Basrans in a coffee house were taken away in handcuffs at first, but the US military expressed extreme skepticism that they were involved. The Najaf police chief appears to have described some Palestinians, Syrians and Jordanians picked up as “Wahhabis.” Only most Saudis and Qataris are really properly so called, which does not increase confidence in the Najaf police’s cultural knowledge of Sunnis. CNN kept talking about 2 Pakistanis arrested, but the UPI and other print articles do not refer to them. It is no doubt a confused scene. As for the alleged confessions, I suspect that a hapless Sunni looking at the furious crowds of Shiites in the street and promised police protection if he will cooperate might well choose to enter the penal system than to try to walk the streets again after having been fingered as a suspect. The Pakistani newspaper Dawn characterized the likely perpetrators as a mix of Saddam loyalists and Sunni radicals, and that is entirely possible. But I would be very surprised if the Najaf police have already cracked the case the way that they claim.
*A good overview of Saturday’s events in Najaf is by Dawn (Karachi). See
In Arabic, the equally good al-Hayat article is worth looking at.
*Muhammad Bahr al-Ulum, a moderate Shiite cleric with ties to al-Da`wa and the Khoei foundation, announced that he was suspending his membership in the American-appointed Interim Governing Council because the IGC was unable to provide security. He complained bitterly that al-Hakim, the Najaf authorities, and the US all had been tipped that there would be a bombing aimed at assassinating al-Hakim, but that no extra steps had been taken to keep him safe. He maintained that some 600 people had been wounded in the blast. This qualified resignation clearly a protest against American failure to make Iraq secure in the post-war period. It is also a blow to the Bremer administration of Iraq, since Bahr al-Ulum is popular and a more credible liberal than Abdul Aziz al-Hakim. Abdul Aziz, the brother of the late Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, who slain in the Friday attack, is the head of the paramilitary Badr Corps and has spoken about a vision of Iraq as an Islamic Republic in the far future, though it might have a democratic government in the short term. It seems clear that American nation-building attempts in Iraq have been hit by an earthquake.
*It is increasingly clear that the $4 bn. a month the US pays to keep its troops in Iraq is a pittance compared to what the Bremer administration will need for rebuilding Iraq. Although Bernard Lewis and the neocons promised us that Iraqi petroleum would pay for reconstruction, sabotage has made that impossible so far. So, folks, your tax dollars will be used to reconstruct a wealthy petroleum country in the Middle East. In other news, financial analysts are complaining about the complete lack of transparency in the circa $6 bn. Iraqi budget overseen by Mr. Bremer. Wouldn’t we want to start new traditions of open information, democracy and transparency there?
*Bulgarian troops in Karbala have received rocket-propelled grenade fire for the fourth time, according to al-Sharq al-Awsat, and Bulgarian officials in Sophia are begining to worry about their troops being in a highly unsafe environment. Apparently danger was not what they thought they were signing up for when they joined a superpower in a coalition of the willing. It is remarkable that the Western press is almost silent about these attacks in the Shiite south, which clearly is not as stable as Mr. Bremer had claimed it was.