*Three guerrillas fired AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades at a US military convoy near Tikrit, killing a US citizen working as a translator, and wounding two US soldiers on Wednesday.
*Still no firm clues in the truck bombing of the UN HQ. Now there is some question about whether it really was a suicide bombing, or whether the driver managed to escape before impact. The munitions were not the fancy plastic stuff, but the FBI says that “the bomb was made up of about 450kg of old ordnance, including mortar rounds, artillery shells, hand grenades and a 225kg bomb,” according to the wire services. I’d have to say that this materiel is more likely to come from Baath storehouses than from al-Qaeda suppliers, who almost certainly could have afforded somethng less cumbersome. I heard some speculation that the Lebanese Hizbullah may be operating in Iraq, but I think that sort of thing is simple minded. A modus operandi is not the only element in identifying a criminal. You also have to look at motive and opportunity and other evidence. There is no evidence that Hizbullah would have wanted to hit the UN in Baghdad. Just because they also do truck bombing is no basis on which to bring them into the picture as suspects. They’ve mainly been fighting with the Israelis over Israeli occupation of Arab land in recent years, and although they have made fiery pronouncements against the US presence in Iraq, there is no evidence I know of that they have any systematic presence in the country. Certainly, their main Iraq contact in the past was the al-Da`wa Party, most members of which are cooperating with the US administration; indeed, al-Da`wa-linked figures have some 4 of the 25 seats on the Interim Governing Council. This bombing was almost certainly done by Sunni Arabs, whether nationalists or Islamist radicals. From what I’m seeing, the Baathists are looking more and more plausible.
*Colin Powell is reportedly trying to get Italy and the UK to commit more troops to Iraq, and to convince France and Germany to join the effort. He almost certainly will not succeed with the latter two, despite the sympathy generated by the bombing, without a new UN Security Council Resolution that devolves more decision-making power in Iraq on the United Nations. Why should other countries put their troops in harm’s way to support a solely US administration of Iraq? (A lot of international leaders may be asking why they should put their troops in harm’s way at all.) The Bush administration made a very major mistake in blowing off the United Nations last spring. It just wasn’t necessary. If Bush had delayed the start of the war 45 days, he could have had a majority of votes on the Security Council in favor of a war. If he had delayed 2-4 months he probably could have gotten France and Russia aboard. It wouldn’t have cost $4 billion a month to wait a bit, which is what it does cost the US every month its 140,000 plus troops are in Iraq. A Security Council Resolution in favor of the war would have brought billions of dollars and thousands of troops from the international community, and made it far easier to provide security to post-war Iraq. The downside? Bremer wouldn’t be able to just award contracts to Halliburton and Worldcom with no oversight or bidding. How would that constraint have hurt the American public? What if, you ask, the US had waited, and France and Russia had still refused to go along, because the inspectors could not find weapons of mass destruction? Well, the WMD wasn’t there, so maybe there was not a casus belli. The war could have been called off, or the US could have gone ahead on the basis of the UNSC majority. Either outcome would have been preferable to the chaos and expense we see now.
*International Monetary Fund and World Bank officials attached to the UN in Baghdad are going home. This development will substantially delay some rebuilding projects in Iraq. In other words, the guerrilla attack achieved one of its goals.
*Iraqi labor relations: Most of Baghdad’s 130 printing presses went on strike in Baghdad Wednesday, preventing all but 6 newspapers from appearing. The employees of the city’s presses are upset that the Ministry of Education has contracted with foreign presses to print new Iraqi textbooks. This is the first printer’s strike in 30 years. The strike was universally agreed upon by a meeting of printers, but a few presses reneged. That allowed the 6 newspapers to be published. I have to say, that given the danger of deflation in Iraq and the need to get money and employment to the people, it does seem wrong to farm major projects like Iraqi textbook production out to foreigners. I suppose one question is whether the Baghdad printers actually could do the job. If so, the contract should have gone to them.
*Muhammad Bahr al-`Ulum, a member of the Interim Governing Council, says that there will be 23 ministries and that ministerial appointments will be announced within 3 days. He also said that a law has been drafted to allow the trial of 2,000 high ranking Baathists, and part of a program of de-Baathification. (-Al-Hayat). He said that a committee charged with making suggestions about the drafting of the Iraqi constitution began work last Monday, and would issue a report in about a month. He added that the recent United Nations according of some sort of semi-recognition to the IGC had allowed many Arab states to deal with it. The IGC has received invitations from several Gulf states, and now from Jordan [and Saudi Arabia], in the aftermath of the UN decision. (This anecdote should be read out loud to US administrators of Iraq: the UN equals legitimacy, whether you like it or not.)
*Ibrahim Jaafari, President of the IGC (for August), told Kuwaitis on Weds. that Saddam had occupied and harmed the Iraqi people even before he occupied and harmed the Kuwaitis. (-Al-Sharq al-Awsat). He hoped for the reestablishment of friendly relations between Baghdad and Kuwait City, such as had existed before the 1990 Iraqi invasion. I was favorably impressed by the forthrightness of Jaafari’s comments. He came out with it, and did not beat around the bush. As a member of the al-Da`wa Party who opposed Saddam for decades, he has some standing to speak this way.
*Iraqis in the street are angry at the perpetrators of the UN bombing, but are also furious at the US for not providing better security. So says al-Sharq al-Awsat correspondent in Baghdad Nasir al-Nahr. He says Iraqis he talked to are convinced that the true target of the bombing was the Iraqi people, and that it was perpetrated by outsiders.
*Shiite leaders in Najaf condemned the bombing vigorously. Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim denounced it, along with sabotage against gas pipelines and water mains, as aimed at preventing Iraqi political life from returning to normal. The office of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani and the son of Ayatollah Bashir al-Najafi also issued denunciations. From a Shiite point of view, the current political process is carrying Iraq toward a Shiite majority in an elected parliament and toward a Shiite prime minister, and they don’t want that process delayed or disrupted. (-AFP)
*Ahmad Chalabi, chairman of the Iraqi National Congress and member of the Interim Governing Council, says that the IGC had prior indications that a truck bombing was being planned against a soft target, and passed the information over to the Americans, according to UPI. I think Chalabi is just grandstanding and trying to make it look as though he has better internal intelligence than do the US and the UK in Iraq, in hopes of making himself indispensable to them and coming to power. The Coalition authorities have already denied that they had any indication that an attack of this sort was coming, so he is calling them liars. And, if all he knew was that there might be a bombing against a soft target, he didn’t know much. Any of us could have predicted that. Chalabi has no internal support and almost certainly has no better intelligence about the guerrillas than anyone else, and I hope that Paul Bremer will not fall for this power play. See http://www.upi.com/view.cfm?Story
*I remember just after the bombing of the UN HQ, I saw US civil administrator Paul Bremer on television, saying that he thought the truck bomber may have been attempting to assassinate UN diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello in specific, since he struck so close to the latter’s office. De Mello was trapped in rubble, and was able to make a cell call before he died. I didn’t think about it at the time, but it had to have crossed Mr. Bremer’s mind that “there but for the grace of God go I.” The guerrillas may have hit Vieira de Mello only because they just could not get to Mr. Bremer, who is very well guarded if, from all accounts, rather isolated from the Iraqi people. The realization made Bremer’s observation more poignant for me. I hate to think about all the thousands of Americans who are in danger in Iraq, because of key mistakes made by Pentagon planners before the war.