*Fourteen US soldiers were wounded over the weekend. Several fell victim to attacks in the Sunni Arab triangle on Sunday. The WP now reports that the US military often does not release news of wounded soldiers unless one among the group has been killed. This practice has the effect of playing down the number of wounded, which is climbing toward 1200 since May 1.
*Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, brother of the slain Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, has demanded that US troops leave Iraq. He said that the occupation must end. He was in Najaf eulogizing his brother, who had been the leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Abdul Aziz was deputy leader, and also heads the paramilitary Badr Corps. He agreed in late June to accept a seat on the American-appointed Interim Governing Council. But SCIRI had said in early June that it would not have anything to do with an appointed body, and had demanded some sort of elections for the council. They eventually backed off this demand on pragmatic grounds. SCIRI has also long argued that US troops should leave Iraq as soon as the war was over. Baqir al-Hakim had threatened last spring that the Badr Corps would begin firing on US troops if they tried to “occupy” the country. Apparently they had been convinced that the troops were needed for security. Now that rationale has been challenged, and Abdul Aziz is back to arguing for immediate withdrawal. If SCIRI breaks with the US over the Najaf bombing, it will be a major blow to the Bremer administration. Another IGC member, Muhammad Bahr al-Ulum, has suspended his membership in the council in protest against the lack of security.
*Iranian hardline paramilitary troops burned the US and British flags in downtown Tehran on Monday in protest of the assassination of Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim. The Iranians are blaming Western interests and “Zionists” for the bombing. Official political discourse in Iran is downright weird and the most absurd things are routinely asserted. There are lots of smart, savvy Iranians who know better, but the paramilitary have the guns.
*The Interim Governing Council appointed a cabinet at long last. These appointments should have been made a month ago, but of course the IGC members wrangled about the relative representation of Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds and minorities. Some troubling aspects of the new cabinet: 1) Ayad Allawi, a former Baathist army officer who worked with the CIA in the 1990s and who serves on the IGC as a representative of the former officers, succeeded in throwing the Ministry of Interior to one of his people. The specter of someone who had been high in the Baath Party in the 1980s now running Interior (which is more like the US Department of Justice) is rather unpleasant. Then Muhammad Bahr al-Ulum got his son the post of petroleum minister. It would be nepotism, except that Bahr al-Ulum just suspended his membership in the IGC in protest at the lack of security and the Najaf bombing. The cabinet lacks a prime minister (apparently because the members of the IGC couldn’t stand being outshone) and so has no central executive but the IGC itself. American advisers are at the elbows of each minister, and the Americans can veto any policy with which they disagree.
*Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani has implicity criticized the US and Britain for failing to provide security in Iraq, saying that it is their responsibility to do so. The statement was distributed by his office in Qom, Iran.
*Saddam issued a videotape saying he wasn’t behind the bombing in Najaf. This statement is sort of odd. He has been calling on Iraqis to rise up against the Americans and anyone who cooperates with them. He was certainly happy about the death of his old nemesis, al-Hakim. It seems to me that he is protesting too much, and that this statement hopes to throw dust in the eyes of Iraqi Shiites about the real perpetrator. Saddam called on the Shiite clergy to declare jihad against the US, and they laughed at him. He has the satisfaction, perhaps, of having hit back at them and then of having denied it all. Some proportion of Iraqis will believe him.
*The militia of radical young Shiite clergyman Muqtada al-Sadr in Basra set up a traffic checkpoint in front of their offices and were checking any cars that went by as of Sunday. In response to the Najaf bombing, a lot of Shiite informal militiamen have begun patrolling. The British announced Monday that they had disarmed 100 members of the militia, disallowing it from taking on quasi-governmental authority. The problem of growing private militias has not been solved by the Coalition forces.
*For Lisa Pollack’s sensitive and moving article about the late Navy Reserve Lt. Kylan Jones-Huffman, see her Baltimore Sun article today. All Things Considered will also have a segment on Kylan this coming weekend, on NPR. For all of you who are as touched as I am by Kylan’s words, please honor them by not attempting to interview his family, all of whom are deeply grieving.
Mon Sep 01, 08:14:55 AM
*A band of 8 Iraqi guerrillas fired rocket propelled grenades at a US convoy west of Kirkuk on Saturday, wounding two U.S. soldiers. The soldiers in the convoy fired back, killing six and wounding two of the Saddam loyalists. A new report says that one in seven of wounded US troops die. This is a good rate compared to past wars. Unless you are the seventh, I suppose.
*Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis came out to mourn Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim on Sunday in Baghdad and Karbala, with huge processions. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani (who is in hiding again) condemned the Najaf bombing that killed Ayatollah al-Hakim as the work of “those who do not want Iraq to be rebuilt or to see security restored to this wounded land, and who are attempting to sow the seeds of discord and civil disturbance among its children.” The bombing was also condemned by “The Islamic Movement in Kurdistan,” the “Islamic Party,” and “The Bloc of Sunni Clerics,” all Sunni Muslim organizations, two of them fundamentalist. Sunnis may be afraid of reprisals.
Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, brother of the deceased, said that Baqir had been “the leader of all Iraqis, Sunni and Shiite, Kurd and Turkmen, and his death is a loss for all.” He added, “The Occupation forces that have occupied the country by force are responsible for security and for all the blood spilled in Najaf and Baghdad and Mosul and throughout Iraq.” (This is one of America’s key allies and a member of the US-appointed Interim Governing Council speaking, folks. He is clearly almost at the end of his tether with the Bremer administration of his country.) (-al-Zaman)
Arabic URL: http://22.214.171.124/azzaman/
*Najaf police have been joined by militiamen of the Badr Corps in patrolling Najaf, according to the city’s police chief. The Badr Corps was built up by Ayatollah al-Hakim in Iran as a terrorist arm of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, and its members used to slip into Iraq from Iran to strike at Baath targets. They received training from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. They are 10,000 to 15,000 strong and have slipped back into Iraq since the end of the war. They are supposed to have been disarmed by the CPA, but in fact they are still armed. Paul “Jerry” Bremer stepped in to cancel an election in Najaf a couple of months ago for fear that a pro-Iranian candidate would become ensconced as mayor. And now, nevertheless, the Badr Corps is patrolling Najaf streets. Even if the US succeeds in creating a new security force, it is likely that it will draw on paramilitaries like the Badr Corps for its recruits. The upside is that they might have pretty good intelligence resources locally. The downside is that they certainly like Iran better than they like the US. All this demonstrates how weak the US is in Iraq. Henry Kissinger says that “diplomacy is a game you play with the pieces on the board.” So too is domestic Iraqi politics. I think the Pentagon forgot this key principle, and Bremer in particular seemed to think when he came in that he could just rule by fiat. See
Arabic URL: http://126.96.36.199/azzaman
*Saudi Arabia has reacted angrily to the arrest of two Saudis in Najaf and the charge that they were involved with the bombing and with al-Qaeda. The Saudis say that these charges, made by the Najaf police, are baseless and rest on no evidence. The govenor of Najaf denied the rumors that Najaf police had detained 19 suspects, including two Saudis. (CNN continued to claim all day Sunday that two Pakistanis were arrested, which is apparently just untrue). He said that less than 5 suspects had been detained, and all of them were Iraqi nationals. Apparently two of them said that they were “Salafis” (a reformist, puritanical sect of Sunnism that wants to go back to the practices of the elders (salaf) of Islam at the time of the Prophet Muhammad). The local Shiite Najafis interpret Salafism as a form of Wahhabism, and Wahhabis are generally Saudis, and so on. So, Saudi Arabia has every right to protest against being slandered like this. So, I would say, does Pakistan. In fact, CNN should please tell us where they got that misinformation, which the wire services never reported. Be suspicious of “news” coming out of a place like Najaf immediately after an incident like that. Between chaos and special interests promoting their pet theories, all kinds of wild things get said. The Cable News companies in the US should excercise more journalistic integrity and some restraint about all this. How will the US public ever be convinced that no Saudis, Pakistanis, Wahhabis or al-Qaeda members have been implicated when it has been shouted 24 hours a day all weekend?
Arabic URL: http://www.daralhayat.com/
*My response to Amir Taheri’s fingering of Iran as a possible suspect in the Najaf bombing:
Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim had been classmates with Supreme Jurisprudent Ali
Khamenei and they were from all accounts good friends. Although al-Hakim
was cooperating with the US in a pragmatic way, he was among the few
prominent Iraqi clergymen who supported Khomeini’s doctrine of the rule of
the clerics (wilayat al-faqih). SCIRI has a two-stage theory of the
future of Iraq, with a parliamentary, pluralistic government as the first
stage but with a Shiite-dominated Islamic Republic as the second, in the
more distant future. Al-Hakim therefore held the hope and promise for the
Khomeinists in Iran that they might eventually see an Iraq made in their
Al-Hakim was among the few firm friends the hardliners in Tehran had in
Iraq. It is absolutely bizarre and frankly absurd to suggest, as Taheri
does, that Iran could have been behind the Friday Najaf bombing.
Actually, if you read Taheri beside the response of Khamenei, who blames
“Zionists,” there is a nice symmetry of feverish conspiracy-mongering that
flies in the face of common sense.
It is all right to challenge common sense when there is good forensic
evidence for doing so. But here, to my knowledge, there is not. Taheri
and Khamenei, by floating these charges, are simply promoting a
*The excellent Australian program AM reports a secret United Nations document that details a rise in the number and sophistication of attacks on US troops in the Sunni Arab triangle. Former military intelligence official Pat Lang reacted in an AM interview: “Well if you read down through the body of the rest of that report, they list all these incidents. And if you brought them out on a map, and I believe there were actually a couple of diagrams in that report that showed the distribution, you’ve got these attacks all over the area from just south of Baghdad all the way up to Mosul and pretty far over in the west beyond Fallujah – this is you know, about a third of the country, that’s a bad thing, you know. I mean, it shows that this is not going away at all, in fact it’s getting worse. When American authorities say they don’t want any more troops there, that gives me pause because you need to saturate the country with troops in order to put a stop to this.”
The same report says a soldier at the al-Rasheed Hotel sent them an email that is scathing about the civilian Bremer administration. He said that the civil administrators are chasing skirts and “hooking up with nice-looking gals from US and Iraq,” and that they worry about “running out of Coke and Diet Coke to go with their steak and crab leg dinner.” Meanwhile, the soldiers “look like hobo’s and live like pigs”. AM paraphrases, “Those within the Mr Bremer’s authority have created a sterile ivory castle that distorts their view of the country.” The message signs off, “there’s no Iraqi representation at the levels making decisions on Iraq’s future. The message we are sending is pretty confusing to the Iraqis. Their provisional government even has to come to Saddam’s old palace for meetings. Go figure.” See
*Joshua Micah Marshall notes in his Talking Points Memo for Monday that John Kerry has been accused of “waffling” on Iraq because he supported the war but has criticized the outcome. Marshall points out that an evolving position shows a flexibility that might be preferable to Bush’s rigidity. I also sympathize with Kerry, because I declined to oppose the war. I felt that a) Saddam was a genocidal monster, and getting rid of him would benefit the Iraqis, and b) the ‘dual containment’ of Iraq and Iran as a policy was a fatal dead end that had just put the US in the position of denying needed medicine to Iraqi children (actually Saddam manipulated the system to rob the children and give to the Baath officials, but the US got blamed). Even the ‘no-fly’ zone for the Kurds probably couldn’t have been kept up indefinitely, and if the US ever withdrew, Saddam would have massacred the Kurds all over again.
But I disagreed almost completely with the *way* the war was carried out:
1) The weapons of mass destruction issue was over-hyped; we all knew we were in no imminent danger from Iraq.
2) The manufacturing of links between Saddam and al-Qaeda was painful to watch, because so obviously false.
3) The spiteful unilateralism that cast aside old allies and the UN Security Council left the US isolated and wholly responsible for Iraq, which no one country could hope to run and rebuild on its own.
4) The small military force Rumsfeld sent into the country and the unconcern with post-war security created a security disaster that is still with us.
The war could have been waged without doing any of these, much less all of them. At that point where Bush tossed aside the Security Council, he lost much of my support. It was tepid in the first place; I wasn’t exactly for the war, I was just unable to bring myself to march [against it because I knew doing so would de facto keep Saddam in power].*
Well, maybe if I were in politics I’d get shot down for this complex position, too. It would be a shame if Kerry loses on these grounds. I’m not sure it matters, though. I fear we may have gotten to the point in this country where a northerner Democrat can’t win a presidential election, anyway. It has been 40 years, after all.
Mr. Marshall was kind enough to mention “Informed Comment” on his Sunday posting, for which thanks. He said the format was a bit jumbled sometimes. Clearly, he has been out of college so long he has forgotten what professors’ minds are like. 🙂 Actually, the jumbled character probably comes from my making notes on the articles I’m reading in various Arabic and Persian newspapers, as I feverishly go through them for an hour before I go to bed. (The time given for the postings is set forward several hours). I don’t know how I’m going to keep this up when classes start (Tuesday), but I’ll still try to communicate essentials.
*For the interview Robert Siegel did with me on Friday about the Najaf bombing, see http://www.npr.org/rundowns/
It can be listened to with RealAudio or MediaPlayer.
*Helena Cobban took umbrage at my saying originally “march to keep Saddam in power” because she felt it was a slur against anti-war protesters, implying that that was their goal. I wasn’t, however, talking about other people; I was talking about my own ethical stance. I knew for a fact that Saddam was not going to be overthrown by internal forces and that he was committing virtual genocide against people like the Marsh Arabs. For me, marching against the war would have been done in knowledge that it would result in Saddam staying in power. She wants me to apologize. I’m always glad to apologize. I don’t see what it costs you to say you are sorry about hurting someone’s feelings inadvertently. But I didn’t mean, in my own mind, what she read me to mean, in the first place. I think an anti-war position was ethically defensible; it just wasn’t the position I was comfortable with. I think it mattered, too, whether you actually knew and interacted with Iraqi Shiites and Kurds very much. See