Guerrillas In Southern Iraq Set Off

*Guerrillas in southern Iraq set off a roadside bomb as a US convoy went by on Monday, killing two US soldiers and wounding a third. Another US soldier was killed, and one wounded, on Tuesday in a helicopter accident.

*Another car bomb went off in Baghdad on Tuesday, outside the HQ of the Iraqi police cooperating with the US, killing one policeman and wounding 13 others.

*Some 500,000 Iraqis came out on Tuesday for the funeral of Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim. As I mentioned, his brother Abdul Aziz angrily called on US troops immediately to exit from Iraq so that Iraqis could attend to their own security. It is quite remarkable to hear this from someone serving in the American-appointed Interim Governing Council. This is what radicals like Muqtada al-Sadr had been saying! Some in the crowds chanted against the US, blaming it for failing to provide security.

*The Badr Corps militia, about 10,000 – 15,000 strong, which has surreptitiously retained its weaponry, is now patrolling in Najaf and has sworn revenge on “al-Qaeda” and on “the Baath.” Crowds in Najaf chanted for slain Shiite leader Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim’s nephew, Ammar, “Revenge, revenge, O Ammar!” according to AFP. The worrisome thing is that al-Qaeda and the Baath are both largely Sunni organizations, and there is danger of random reprisals against Sunnis. The same source says 5,000 marched in Basra, including supporters of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq and members of the al-Da`wa Party. (The small crowd is an index of al-Hakim’s relative lack of popularity in Basra). See also


*I don’t usually cover what is in the major US newspapers because those are easily googled. But it is worth noting that reports out Tuesday indicate that the US simply cannot maintain its current troop level of 140,000 in Iraq beyond next spring, and that it would take 5 years and billions to raise two new divisions of the US military. Likewise the LA Times brought into sharp question the idea that very much of the violence in Iraq is being committed by outsiders, saying most is homegrown. I think it appeals to the US to blame al-Qaeda for it because it is embarrassing to admit that millions of Iraqis hate the US presence, which they see as an occupation, and that thousands of them are willing to take direct action against it. I think the Bush team is just going to have to bite the bullet and bring in the United Nations. This would mean that the French and Russians would get some of the oil business that Cheney wanted to throw to Halliburton, but, well, you can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs. Even with economic inducements, which the Bush administration has been chintzy about offering, it will be hard to convince other governments that they ought to send their young men into what looks increasingly like a quagmire.

*AFP says that unknown persons set fire to banners outside the Great Saddam Mosque in Tikrit that had expressed condolences on Ayatollah al-Hakim’s death. This action is, again, likely to be the work of Saddam loyalists or Sunni Arab nationalists who saw al-Hakim as a collaborationist. By the way, I don’t use the phrase “Saddam loyalist” to refer to “dead-enders.” I think Sunni Arab nationalism and antipathy to the US presence is a widespread movement and that it likely has a vigorous future before it even if Saddam is killed.

*Abdel Salam al-Kubaisi [Kobeissi], leader of the Council of Sunni Clergymen, has accused some Shiites according to AFP “of launching an “ethnic cleansing” campaign in Najaf and the other holy city of Karbala [saying that the Shiites] “have taken over the al-Hamza mosque, our only one in Najaf, and the Hassan bin Ali mosque, our only one in Karbala.” Kubaisi admitted that he had earlier had some contact with Shiite radical Muqtada al-Sadr, but said that Muqtada had changed after his early June visit to Iran. On his return, Muqtada promoted usurpation of Sunni religious properties by Shiites. (Muqtada’s followers in Basra invaded the offices overseeing Sunni properties in that city, stealing the records, presumably to facilitate stealing the properties). Al-Kubaisi blamed Iran for discouraging Sunni-Shiite socializing, and for urging that Sunnis be excluded from Shiite ceremonies honoring the Imams, at buildings called Husayniyyas. He praised the moderate stances of Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. (Sistani has issued a fatwa forbidding the usurpation of Sunni property). Al-Kubaisi said that Sunnis have responded calmly to these provocations, not out of cowardice, but out of a sense that now is the time to preserve calm. He bitterly denounced Muqtada al-Sadr for implying that Sunni Muslims were behind the Najaf mosque bombing, and said that he couldn’t rule out the possibility that the Sadrists themselves committed it. Al-Kubaisi had earlier been accused of funneling large amounts of money from Saudi Arabia to Muqtada al-Sadr. If this charge were ever true, the relationship appears to have broken down after Muqtada’s visit to Iran in June. Al-Zaman carries the AFP story, but puts an incredibly positive and optimistic spin on it, leading with al-Kubaisi’s belief that the Najaf bombing will not provoke a religious civil war in Iraq, because of the moderate character of the clerical leadership of the two communities. I looked the original up, and could hardly believe it was the same article. Al-Bazzaz, the owner of al-Zaman, is close to several figures in the American-appointed Interim Governing Council.

Al-Zaman did report al-Kubaisi’s bitter reproach of the Interim Governing Council for appointing Shiites to head the Ministry of Pious Endowments (which oversees mosques), and to oversee the country’s seminaries. He said the two men chosen lacked the credentials for these tasks. Earlier in the summer, I was told by a US observer in the region that al-Kubaisi was being considered as minister of Pious Endowments, but I think this appointment would have been seen as a slap in the face by the majority Shiites. So some of this speech may be pique.




*My op-ed at the Daily Star, though it will be familiar to regular readers of this Web Log:


*Helena Cobban has more comments today on my posting about the build up to the Iraq war. As far as I can tell, the difference between us is that I am not a complete pacifist. I prefer peace, and think every effort should be made to maintain it. But I also do believe in collective security (remember that I am an idiosyncratic Baha’i). So I think the UN Security Council has the authority to authorize military intervention in places like Bosnia and Afghanistan. The UNSC has a clear duty to authorize such intervention where a state has committed aggression on another. I personally think it also ought to intervene to stop ongoing or incipient genocides of the sort Saddam was waging against the Marsh Arabs. Saddam was a serial aggressor on a mass scale inside and outside his country, and probably responsible for hundreds of thousands murdered. He was in material breach of large numbers of UNSC resolutions. I think the Iraq war could have been justified on grounds of international law, and if the US had gotten a Security Council Resolution I would have actively supported the endeavor. I don’t think the war was essentially wrong; I think it was procedurally wrong. And, the unilateralism that undermined the moral authority of the US in Iraq also left it bereft of needed international resources for establishing security and for rebuilding. It is turning into a disaster because it wasn’t done right. For the record, I lived in Beirut off and on between fall of 1975 and spring of 1979, and saw lots of death and destruction, and have a fair idea what war is. I don’t like it. For one thing, mortar shells going off nearby make you nervous and give you a headache even when they don’t maim or kill you. But war isn’t always unjustified or always a bad thing in the big picture. D-Day was a blessing for the people of Europe, and for the world.

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