US almost Kills Ayatolah Bahr al-Ulum
Ayatollah Muhammad Bahr al-Ulum, a member of the US-appointed Interim Governing Council, barely avoided being killed by a US soldier on Wednesday. The soldier opened fire by mistake on the ayatollah’s automobile as it was entering the grounds of the US headquarters, wounding Bahr al-Ulum’s driver in the thigh. The US apologized for the incident, and is conducting an investigation. A US spokesman said that the soldier had only fired “one round” of ammunition into the car.
This incident is about the sorriest ass SNAFU I have seen in the whole war and its aftermath. It is absolutely inexcusable that safe procedures have not been put in place to allow the members of the Interim Governing Council to come and go freely to the US HQ. There have been constant problems of this sort, with important Iraqis excluded from meetings because they couldn’t get through security. But nothing compares to almost killing our own guy.
Let me explain why this is so serious. First of all, the Shiites are the majority in Iraq. Most of them don’t want the US to leave immediately, but probably a quarter to a third do. All of them, every last person, deeply dislike being occupied by a Western country, and they do want to see the US leave in a timely fashion. Since significant groups among the Sunni Arabs are fighting a deadly insurgency against the US, it desperately needs for the Shiites to be on its side. Mostly they have been so far.
But the Shiites were royally ticked off that the US allowed the assassination of Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim on August 29. Bahr al-Ulum temporarily withdrew from the IGC about it. Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the head of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq and a member of the IGC as well, also appears to have toyed with resigning.
If the US soldier had killed Bahr al-Ulum, a moderate close to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, he could well have accidentally set the Shiite community on a path of opposition to the US. All you need is daily demonstrations to grow and some issue that has legs, and a Shiite rabble rouser could cause the US enormous trouble.
Mr. Bremer, the US civil administrator, has been complaining that often only 5 or so members of the IGC show up for meetings at the US HQ. Yuh think? If they risk life and limb just driving in, it is a wonder that so many as 5 show up.
For an Iraqi point of view on why the IGC members do not show up to meetings, see Riverbend’s Baghdad Burning.