*A US soldier was reported killed Monday of “non-hostile gunfire,” presumably a firearms accident.
*Angry crowds about 2,000 strong filled the streets of Najaf Monday for a funeral procession for the bodyguards killed on Sunday by a bomb meant for Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Said al-Hakim. They vowed revenge, and some were overheard blaming young Shiite firebrand Muqtada al-Sadr and his Sadr Movement for the bombing. Sadr spokesmen have denied responsibility for the attack. As usual, Neil MacFarquhar of the NYT does an excellent job in profiling the factions
The Najaf bombing was condemned by Lebanon’s Hizbullah Shiite militia, which urged Iraqi Shiites to unify. (Hizbullah and Amal, the two main religious Shiite groups in Lebanon, fought one another bitterly in the mid to late 1980s, much weakening the political clout of the Shiites, so Hizbullah knows whereof it speaks).
*A large, peaceful demonstration was held by Shiites from the slums of Sadr City in front of the US headquarters in Baghdad on Monday according to Tarek al-Issawi of AP. They said they were protesting the lack of security in Najaf that allowed a bomb to go off near the offices of al-Hakim on Sunday, as well as the recent attack by Sunni Kurds on Shiite Turkmen at the village of Hauz Kharmato. After an hour, the demonstrators moved on to the offices of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, which they charged with having begun the fighting in Hauz Kharmato and then having spread the conflict to the city of Kirkuk. Some 11 persons have died in that fighting. The PUK blames the rioting on provocation by agents provocateurs of Saddam Hussein.
Note that initial press reports, including some in Arabic, were confused, and I remember them saying that it was the Kurds who were the Shiites at Hauz Kharmato (Also given as Tuz Kharmato). This was an error, and I apologize; I have fixed it in the postings below. Most Turkmen are Sunnis, and so are most Kurds. But both groups have small Shiite minorities. The Shiite Turkmen are the descendants of the Turkic Qizilbash tribesmen who conquered Iran in the late 1400s and helped establish the Shiite Safavid state in 1501. But, other, Sunni Turkmen had been in part responsible for spreading Sunni Islam in Anatolia in the medieval period.
It is actually quite interesting that the Arab Twelver Shiites of Sadr City are identifying with the Turkmen Shiites. The Turkmen tend to follow heterodox forms of Shiism that most Twelver clergymen would see as heretical or theologically extreme (ghulat). That the Sadrists and the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq are attempting to make a claim to representing these northern populations that practice a kind of folk Islam points to an increasingly politicization of religion and of religious identity. Most Twelver Shiites in Iraq and Iran normally could not care less if Alevi Turks in Turkey get into a fight with the Sunnis, since the Alevis are also heterodox Shiites. The Turkmen of Hauz Kharmato are unlikely to be more bookish and orthodox than the Alevis. Another point: The Sadrist demonstrators in Baghdad may have been attempting to divert attention from the charges that they were behind the Najaf bombing, by turning the focus to conflicts in the distant north.
The Turkmen Front of Northern Iraq sent a message to the foreign ministry of Turkey asking that Turkey send in troops to protect the Turkmen. Turkey in turn complained ot the US about their treatment by the Kurds. This set of exchanges is also ironic, since the ruling party in Turkey is a Sunni religious party. The same sort of people who support the “Justice and Development” or Ak party have in the past been involved in persecution of Shiite Alevi Turkeys in Turkey, who are little different from the Turkmen of Hauz Kharmato. So, Turkey and some Turkmen see the conflict as a racial clash between Turks and Kurds, whereas for Iraqis, this issue is being painted as a Sunni-Shiite conflict.
The Turkmen are such a small group, probably 400,000, that ordinarily, in domestic terms, it would have been unlikely that Turkmen-Kurdish violence could pose a threat to the stability of the Iraqi North (the Iraqi Kurds are some 4 million strong, or ten times as numerous). But if the Turkmen really can get Turkey seriously involved, that creates a nightmare scenario. Remember that Kirkuk is an oil town, and that Iraqi exports of petroleum to Turkey, worth $7 mn. a day, have to go through this region, which will be difficult if ethnic fighting and foreign intervention destabilize it.
For a quick overview of these ethnic and religious issues, see
The author, presumably Michael Dunn (who also edits The Middle East Journal notes:
“The third major group in northern Iraq are the Turkmen (also Turkoman, Turcoman, etc.), whose origins are from Central Asia. They are Oghuz Turks, and though their name is essentially the same as that of the Turks of Turkmenistan, they have intermingled through the centuries with other Turkish speakers, including Ottoman Turks from Anatolia and Azeri Turks from Iranian and former Soviet Azerbaijan. Like their Central Asian ancestors, they remained semi-nomadic horsemen until fairly recently, then settled in the cities of northern Iraq and in Diyala in eastern Iraq. Some estimates put the total Turkmen population of Iraq at around 400,000 to 500,000, most but not all of them in the north. These numbers, like all numbers on this subject, are in dispute: some Turkmen say there are three million; some Kurds say only about 300,000. Turkmen advocates insist that Kirkuk and Mosul were once essentially Turkmen cities which have been taken over by Arabs and claimed by Kurds. Generally speaking, villages are either all Kurdish or all Turkmen. The major point of dispute is Kirkuk, though Mosul is also a flashpoint. Turkey sees itself as the protector of the Turkmen minority, and this, combined with Turkey’s own internal problem with Kurdish separatists, creates one of the most volatile potential points of conflict, as the world was reminded when Kirkuk fell to the Kurds.“
*For the ways in which the US is cooperating with Iraqis with unsavory pasts, including some associated with the notorious Anfal campaign that used poison gas against the Kurds, see Nir Rosen’s fine exposé at http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/03236/214533.stm.
*As if terrorism, al-Qaeda infiltration, low-grade guerrilla war, and sabotage against petroleum pipes, water and electricity stations were not enough, Iraq is now increasingly facing a big problem with the drug trade. A delegation of concerned citizens of Basra came to Baghdad to complain, according to al-Sharq al-Awsat. The drugs are being almost openly smuggled in from several neighboring countries, especially Iran. Some coffeehouses in Basra have apparently more or less put drugs on the menu. People in Karbala and Najaf, the Shiite shrine cities, are complaining that so-called pilgrims who ostensibly are coming from Iran to visit the holy shrines are often in fact drug smugglers. The report did not say what drugs were being most often purveyed, but one suspects it is marijuana and Afghan opium/heroin.