Samarra in Chaos
Az-Zaman reports that informed sources tell it that the city of Samarra is still in a state of complete chaos, after an armed group established domination there when the American forces withdrew at the end of June. The sources maintain that gunmen blew up the headquarters of the political party of Interior Minister Fallah al-Naqib, the Independent Iraqi Bloc. They also blew up the offices of the “National Salvation” newspaper, the organ of the National Salvation Party of General Wafiq al-Samarra’i, along with the house of Col. Adnan Thabit, an adviser in the Interior Ministry, the house of the city’s mayor, the central police station, the former Baath party HQ, and the house of the commander of the civil defense forces. Gen. Samarra’i confirmed that the city was in complete turmoil and that the police had retreated.. He said American forces have not intervened, despite being positioned only 2 km. outside the city. Samarra’i had been head of Iraqi intelligence until his defection in 1994 with Kurdish help, when he learned that Saddam had plotted his demise. Samarra’i said that criminal gangs numbering 300 gunmen had taken over the city and were involved in a rampage of arson, demolition and murder. He said no one in Samarra could understand why the US forces had let the city fall into chaos this way, and called upon Prime Minister Iyad Allawi to intervene.
One reason American troops may be skittish about intervening is that four American soldiers are charged with tossing two detainees off a bridge, causing one to drown, last January in Samarra. The incident has not made the US troops popular there.
I do not find it plausible that the trouble is being caused by mere criminal gangs. The targets seem eminently political, and the gunmen are probably a political militia of some sort. Gen. Samarra’i phrased the conflict in class terms, saying that the city’s shurafa’ or elite were being targetted. The targets seem to be ex-Baath institutions. I wonder if this is a lower-class uprising, or whether it has Islamist overtones.
There were pro-Saddam demonstrations in Samarra over the weekend, but the chaos and gang rule have not been reported in the Western press to my knowledge. It is an important city and a strategic one. If the az-Zaman story is true, it is a bad sign for the Allawi government. If his minister of the interior can’t protect his own party HQ in his own home town, what will happen to the rest of Iraq?