US Kills as many as 12 Innocents; 7 Ukrainians die in Blast
US troops south of Baghdad near Yusufiyah ran into a roadside bomb near a checkpoint the night of Saturday into Sunday, and immediately opened fire. Apparently they did so indiscriminately, however, killing at least 2 Iraqi policemen and three civilians, though some reports suggest 12 dead and 14 wounded. Shooting back at roadside bombs is a problematic tactic, since so often they are detonated by remote control or when a vehicle strikes them, and the bombers are nowhere nearby. And, at a checkpoint, there would be innocent Iraqis to be caught in the crossfire.
Another bomb killed a US serviceman in Baghdad, and a Marine was killed in Anbar province.
Seven Ukrainian soldiers and one from Kazakhstan were killed in the course of attempting to disarm munitions at an arms depot.
AP also reports that ‘ The entire 13-member electoral commission in Anbar province resigned after being threatened by insurgents, a regional newspaper reported. Saad Abdul-Aziz Rawi, the head of the commission, told the newspaper that it was “impossible to hold elections” in the Sunni-dominated province, where insurgent attacks have prevented voter registration. ‘
Guerrillas assassinated General Jassim al-Obaidi on Sunday near his home in Baghdad, and wounded his daughter. Al-Obaidi was the head of the Iraqi National Accord, the small political party made up largely of ex-Baathist officers and officials, to which interim PM Iyad Allawi also belongs.
Steven Weisman of the New York Times did an excellent piece on Sunday concerning the train of decision-making that led to the current Iraqi electoral system. Since the system involves a national election in which all party lists compete on a proportional basis, it has raised the specter of a poor Sunni Arab showing. Weisman concludes that Paul Bremer adopted the system late in his tenure as civil administrator of Iraq because his aides, and UN election official Carina Perelli, felt that it solved a number of problems raised by district-based voting, including the difficulties of conducting a voter census in each district. It is about the least democratic system one could imagine. It allows party leaders to make deals in smoke-filled rooms and present voters with a fait accompli. It is mostly even difficult to vote for local politicians people know and respect. If the United Iraqi Alliance, the mainly Shiite coalition, does very well, the system will have functioned rather as Egypt’s does, which regularly ensconces the National Democratic Party in power.
A recent poll conducted by the US suggests that most Sunni Arab Iraqis probably will not vote, anyway. Indeed, 88% of Iraqis say that they will stay home on Election Day if there is stubstantial violence. (There is likely to be substantial violence).
The Association of Muslim Scholars (AMS) met on Saturday with 8 officials of the US embassy. Its leader, Harith al-Dhari, offered to end the Sunni Arab organization’s call for a boycott of the elections if the US would set a definite timetable for withdrawal of its troops from Iraq.
Al-Hayat says that the AMS now says it will accept a Shiite government if it results from the elections, as long as the latter negotiates a firm deadline for the withdrawal of US troops. AMS said that its disagreements with Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani were “merely differences of opinion.”
Abdul Salam al-Kubaisi, the number two man in the Association of Muslim Scholars, said that it would be desirable for his organization’s leadership to meet with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani so as to reduce the degree of sectarian tension.
Al-Kubaisi also said that AMS would seek a follow-up meeting with the US officials.
I take all this to suggest that the Sunni Arab Iraqis see the withdrawal of US troops as their first and most important priority, coming even before the reestablishment of Sunni Arab political primacy. I also suspect that a withdrawal timetable is something that all Iraqis would like to see (though it is problematic; such timetables in Palestine and India in the late 1940s arguably contributed to the massive violence and Partition in the two British imperial possessions. When the local people sense that the imperial power is a lame duck, they lose all fear of it; and its very withdrawal creates new political opportunities that some will want to seize violently).
Newsweek reports that the US Pentagon is considering an El Salvador strategy in Iraq, of forming Iraqi Special Forces units to engage the Iraqi guerrillas. In Central America, this sort of policy produced death squads that killed leftists (and sometimes nuns) indiscriminately. If the US is seriously thinking of reintroducing death squads into Iraq (they used to be called Saddam Fedayeen; are they now to be Wolfowitz Fedayeen?), then it really is time to try to get the US Department of Defense back out of Iraq before it completely ruins the country. The Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz/Feith notion of dealing with some terrorists in Fallujah was to displace and damage the entire city (notably not a tactic the British used against the IRA in Belfast, but then the Irish are at least Europeans). If the DoD now introduces death squads, it is likely the prelude to a military coup (Iraqi Special Operations troops who have a license to kill would have an advantage in plotting a take-over of the country.)
The NYT reports that how to get out of Iraq has become a central topic in Washington.
Christopher Allbritton, who blogs and reports from Iraq, challenges the translation done by Western wire services of an interview in al-Sharq with General Shahwani, in which he is said to have estimated the number of insurgents at 200,000. Allbritton quotes the original Arabic article, showing that Shahwani actually estimated 20,000 to 30,000 fighters and 200,000 or so local supporters. In my own report of the estimate, I was just depending on the Western wire services. I don’t think al-Sharq is online so i couldn’t look at the Arabic text, and last week was abroad at an Iraq conference and so wouldn’t have had the time in any case.
As for the substance of the issue, I personally think that if you totalled up everyone who ever fired a weapon in the direction of Coalition troops, or ever set a bomb etc., it would reach 100,000 persons. It would be no less than 60,000. The US military hasn’t traditionally been good at realistically estimating the numbers of its opponents in guerrilla wars.