*Iraqi guerrillas wounded at least four American troops on Friday night and Saturday, according to AP. They fired rocket propelled grenades and directed small arms fire at a patrol of the 173rd Airbone Brigade in Kirkuk (the Kurdish north). That attack wounded two soldiers, who are in stable condition. In south-central Baghdad, guerrillas exploded a roadside bomb as a humvee went by, wounding another two US soldiers.
*Remember I said on Thursday that sabotage of electrical facilities had left Basra (a city of 1.2 million or more) without airconditioning, water filtration, etc.? Well, tempers boiled over on Saturday, as the city erupted in riots. The immediate cause of the riots appears to have been the return of long lines at gasoline (petrol) stations. At one of the stations, frustrated patrons attacked nearby British troops. One rumor has it that someone tossed a grenade at a British vehicle and blew it up, though this story is not confirmed by the British spokesman. (If someone tossed a grenade, then this wasn’t just a riot growing out of frustration; there was a more organized group behind provoking it). The British fired back with rubber bullets, wounding four civilians. Word spread, and riots broke out at three other gas stations. People burned tires in the street, a Middle Eastern way of showing urban discontent, and threw rocks at British troops. Some sustained minor injuries. The price of gasoline has gone from 2 cents a gallon to $1.60 a gallon in the past four months, in a country with among the largest petroleum reserves in the world, and people in Basra are having to wait in lines for the privilege. Things seem to be returning to normal on Sunday. The British troops practice what they call “soft policing,” based on their experience in Northern Ireland (where not everyone would agree about the soft part). The Anglo-American Coalition does not have very much time to get basic services going, before they begin alienating large numbers of urban Iraqis and providing an opening to anti-American political and religious forces.
*Hussein Khomeini is giving more interviews, on the same subjects–the need for a separation of religion and state, the freedom America has bestowed on Iraqis, and his hopes for an American intervention in Iran, as well. In an interview with al-Hayat today, he replied to the charge that for the hardliners in Tehran to be overthrown would strengthen Israel’s hand in the region. He said that most people on the Iranian street couldn’t get excited about the Arab-Israeli issue. Iranians have their own problems, which he said have to come first. He added that he is all for the Palestinians, but Iranians at the moment are worse off than they are. Tom Friedman also gives Hussein a big play in his column for Sunday.
Hussein Khomeini is just saying the same things as much better known figures like Abd al-Karim Soroush and Mohsen Kadivar in Iran, who actually have risked something to say it (in Baghdad he is beyond Tehran’s reach). I very much doubt that most Iraqi Shiites have ever heard of him, or care what he believes in. He is certainly a nobody in Iran, where his recent call for an American intervention will make him despised as a quisling even by most reformers. (Iranian reformers are mostly nationalists; they want to do this themselves.) In short, Hussein Khomeini is a man bites dog story for the Western press, because his views are the opposite of those of his grandfather. But I sincerely hope the US government is not putting any eggs in his basket. At the moment, he doesn’t amount to anything in Iraqi religious politics. Whether he ever will depends on his ability to do grassroots political organizing and attract a large constituency. This may be difficult. Non-religious Iraqi Shiites of the sort who would support a separation of religion and state are generally unenthusiastic about clergymen (a lot of them are leftists). Religious Shiites appear mainly to follow Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani (who wants a state based on Islamic law) or Muqtada al-Sadr (who is a real Khomeinist and wants clerical rule of Iraq). Sistani has the prestige of being a grand ayatollah, which to say the least Hussein Khomeini does not (and won’t for decades, probably). Muqtada has hundreds of thousands, some say 2 million, fanatical followers who started out following his martyred father, Sadiq al-Sadr, and who are poor and angry and impatient, for whom a Hussein Khomeini means nothing.
*The “mobile germ weapons labs” found in Iraq appear actually to have been producing hydrogen to float blimps for Iraqi army target practice. Meantime, more “mobile labs” have just been found. The problem, folks, is that it is obvious that whatever Iraq had in the way of a) WMD weapons programs and b) WMD weapons stockpiles simply did not represent a threat to the United States. Ipso facto this was not a preventive war (it was never a preemptive one, since Iraq wasn’t on the verge of going to war against the US.) It was a unilateral war waged on the basis of hyped up “intelligence.” Yes, yes, it may turn out to be a good thing for the poor Iraqis, though those in Basra are developing significant doubts. But Americans will be going down a slippery slope indeed if they let it stand as a precedent for anything.
*The Carnegie Endowment for Peace has assembled a great list of quotes from Bush administration folks about Iraq’s supposed Weapons of Mass Destruction and alleged ties to al-Qaeda (both crocks). See http://www.ceip.org/files/projects/npp/resources/iraqintell/adminquoteshtml.htm. Maybe this fiasco will finally get Congress to stop subverting the Constitution by virtually ceding to the President the right to make war at will. The lack of interest in Congress in the war and in Iraq-related diplomacy is truly frightening. If some senators weren’t running for 2004, one has a sense that they would just cede it to the Pentagon altogether.