Nine British Troops Wounded in Abuse-Related Blast
Guerrillas targeted British troops at the Shaibah base near Basra with a suicide bombing, wounding nine, along with a number of civilians. It appears that the attack was prompted by the circulation of images showing British troops torturing Iraqi detainees. The images emerged in connection with the trial of some British soldiers on abuse charges.
Arab satellite channels broadcast excerpts Thursday from an internet recording attributed to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian radical Muslim fundamentalist, in which he bitterly attacked Iraqi Shiites for fighting alongside US troops at Fallujah in November. He accused them of looting the city. He also denounced Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani as an atheist and an apostate for declining to denounce the Fallujah campaign. He alleged that 800 Israeli soldiers took part in the fighting there (an absurd charge, of course, but it will be widely believed). The strategy attributed to Zarqawi, of attempting to foment a civil war between Shiite Iraqis and Sunni Iraqis, is a desperate one and so far the Shiites have refused to take the bait. Zarqawi may well be a black psy-ops operation of Baathist military intelligence, which is probably behind most of the violence in Iraq.
Ash-Sharq al-Awsat: The two major roads leading south from Baghdad are increasingly dangerous, with travellers being attacked by highwaymen or by guerrillas.
A militantly anti-American preacher in Fallujah, Shaikh Muhammad Saadoun, was helped by his congregation to escape the American dragnet in the city, according to AFP. A preacher at the al-Furqan Mosque in the north of the city, he used to end his sermons with a prayer to God, “Grant us victory over our American enemies and their helpers.”
Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan has assured Ash-Sharq al-Awsat that the documents showing him spying for Saddam in 1998-2003, which the Iraqi National Congress alleges it has, are forgeries and baseless. Ahmad Chalabi, who is close to Tehran and a proponent of radical de-Baathification, has recently gone after the virulently anti-Iranian Shaalan, a former Baathist.
Interim Vice President Ibrahim Jaafari said Thursday that fears of a civil war in Iraq were overblown. Jaafari, a head of the Shiite Dawa Party, said that neither Sunnis nor Shiites would accept such a conflict. He said that there was general appreciation in the Shiite community that the guerrillas targetting Shiites, while they might be Sunnis, do not represent the Sunni community.
The British government denied that there was a secret timetable for the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq.
A crisis has roiled the High Commission on Elections in Iraq just 10 days before the first nation-wide parliamentary elections since the party-less elections of 1954. The Commission attempted to dismiss its official spokesman, Farid Ayar. It said that a spokesman was no longer needed, and the Commission would just issue direct communiques. Ayar, however, refused to step down. He accused the president of the Commission, Hussein Hindawi, of resisting proposals that there be a rotating chair, and said the attempt to fire him was motivated by this resistance.