US Kills 20 in Fallujah Bombing
Muqtada condemns Thursday’s Terrorism
The US air force bombed Fallujah again on Friday, hitting a safehouse of the al-Tawhid and al-Jihad organization of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and killing 20 fighters. Some reports, apparently based on aerial surveillance, suggested that they just missed Zarqawi. I’m not sure, though, how you tell that from the top of someone’s head, and remain skeptical about these kinds of claims. We on the outside don’t know where they come from or how reliable they are, and it is more convenient for the CPA to claim it almost got Zarqawi than to admit that they tried and missed (i.e failed). The US resort to bombing suggests how weak it is in Fallujah, since it means it could not commit troops to an attack on the safehouse. There is now a plan to set up a security perimeter around Fallujah to curb the activities of the jihadis based there. But I had read several weeks ago that such a security perimeter had already been implemented. Has it lapsed?
The American news media often phrased this bombing as an attack on “al-Qaeda.” But these al-Tawhid fighters never pledged loyalty to Bin Laden, and most probably never fought in Afghanistan. Zarqawi, who did, was never part of al-Qaeda and when he was in Germany he refused to share al-Tawhid resources with al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda anyway is not a top-down organization with a flow chart and a CEO. But I think it is downright misleading to call al-Tawhid by that name. Al-Tawhid is al-Tawhid. The Bush administration no doubt likes this shorthand because it reinforces the dubious point that the war in Iraq has something to do with the war on terror.
Ash-Sharq al-Awsat: Paul Bremer, the US viceroy in Iraq until June 30, issued arrest warrants for three radical Sunni clerics in Fallujah on Friday. They include Sheikh Abdullah al-Janabi, the leader of the “Holy Warriors Front” in the city, Sheikh Zahir al-Ubaidi, and Sheikh Umar Hadid. All three have been accused of leading the resistance to occupation in Fallujah. Al-Janabi and al-Ubaidi in particular had been accused recently of being implicated in the murder of 6 Shiite truck drivers from the al-Rubai’ah tribe near Fallujah, and desecrating their bodies. They have denied the charge, which caused substantial Sunni-Shiite tension.
The Friday prayers leaders in Fallujah condemned the American forces for “engaging in acts of enmity toward the population” of the city.
Hamza Hendawi of AP reports that preachers throughout Iraq have been giving anti-American sermons for the past few weeks. Here are some quotes from his important piece:
‘ “American soldiers are infidels,” said Youssef Khodeir, a Sunni sheik and imam of Saad Bani Moaz mosque in Baqouba, scene of the heaviest fighting Thursday. “The blood that is being shed every day is because we are not closing our ranks. The source of all power comes from adhering to the Qur’an . . .”
[Speaking of America supposedly bringing freedom,]Mohammed Bashar, told worshipers in Mosul that what America really wanted was “the freedom to kill and arrest Iraqis . . .”
“Al-Zarqawi is a myth created by America,” sheik Aous al-Khafaji told hundreds of worshipers in Sadr City, where U.S. troops and al-Sadr’s al-Mahdi Army have clashed for 2½ months . . .
“We hope that after June 30 Iraqis will be united, loyal to their nation and not allow foreigners to interfere in their affairs,” Sunni cleric Niema Hassan told a congregation at the Grand Mosque in Basra.
He also quotes a number of mosque preachers who condemned the killing of Iraqis by the bombings on Thursday (this is a critique of the foreign jihadis), and some who expressed hopes about the caretaker government of Iyad Allawi. (Recent polling in Iraq suggests that Iraqis are largely willing to give the caretaker government a chance, and want it to succeed in restoring security.)
Edward Cody of the Washington Post reports that Muqtada al-Sadr and his lieutenants joined in the condemnations. Muqtada ‘ ordered his followers to lay down their weapons and cooperate with Iraqi police in Sadr City to “deprive the terrorists and saboteurs of the chance to incite chaos and extreme lawlessness. ‘ The Mahdi Army distributed a pamphlet that said, ‘ We know the Mahdi Army is ready to cooperate actively and positively with honest elements from among the Iraqi police and other patriotic forces, to partake in safeguarding government buildings and facilities, such as hospitals, electricity plants, water, fuel and oil refineries, and any other site that might be a target for terrorist attacks.”
Ash-Sharq al-Awsat: Muqtada’s spokesman in East Baghdad, Aws al-Khafaji, affirmed that the Mahdi Army would not attack the US if the US did not attack it. In Najaf, followers of Muqtada prevented Friday prayers from being held for a second week in a row. The conflict has become a little bit bizarre and hard to follow. Earlier, the Sadrists had complained that the sermon was being given by Sadr al-Din al-Qubanji, local leader of their rival, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. But someone replaced al-Qubanji with Khalid al-Numani. A Sadr spokesman said that he talked to the son of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who insisted that Sistani still backed Qubanji for the job and had not appointed al-Numani. The Sadrists then demonstrated against al-Numani on the grounds that he had not been appointed by Sistani. (But they had also not let Sistani’s appointee, al-Qubanji, lead the prayers last week!) As with many reports from Iraq that make no sense on the surfance, it is certain that some complex back story has been omitted. (Do the Sadrists suspect that al-Numani has been placed in Najaf as an agent of the Americans?)
The WP also gives a more detailed overview of the attack in Baqubah, northeast of Baghdad. It is still unclear who exactly launched the attack. The WP report says that the US troops counted it as a major victory that they killed a local leader of the Buhriz resistance, Husain Ali Sibti, last week. That is an indisputably Shiite name, which brought me up short. Diyala, where Baquba is located, is a mixed Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish region. If Sibti was leading the fighting in Buhriz, it was a local Shiite uprising of some sort. (But what sort? The Sadrists have largely stood down. The Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq is strong in Baqubah,but it is allied for the moment with the Americans. It must be a local Shiite group with local grievances).
If in fact foreign jihadis allied with Zarqawi played a role in Thursday’s attacks in Baqubah itself, it means that the action was unconnected to the Shiite uprising in Buhriz. The Sunni jihadis hate the guts of Shiites. Al-Sharq al-Awsat/AFP report that local Fallujans are annoyed by the attacks–mainly on the police–and blame it on foreign Arabs. An eyewitness, Abdul Salam, said “The armed persons who attacked my house and burned it, and who entered it, were Arab terrorists, one of them Egyptian and another Lebanese, and there were Arabs among them of other nationalities . . . The problem is that there are people from among the inhabitants of the city who help and support them and give them refuge in their homes. If it weren’t for that, it would be difficult for them to continue with their work.”