3 US Troops Killed
Ansar al-Islam Rounded Up
A car bomber managed to kill two US troops in Baghdad on Saturday. A Marine died fighting in Anbar province.
Iraqi security forces backed by the Americans also busted some cells of Ansar al-Sunna, a small terrorist group, in Baghdad, which had been planning bombings during an upcoming Shiite religious procession. Over 100 were arrested. Ansar al-Sunna has a background in the Ansar al-Islam terrorist group based in Mosul, which consisted of Kurdish and Arab returnees from the fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan. The US deliberately avoided targetting this group in the spring of 2003, even though their coordinates were known. Some think the US left them alone because these terrorists were the closest obvious tie between Iraq and al-Qaeda and were symbolically important to the case for invading Iraq. If so, as the Ansar al-Sunna has morphed in the past two years, attracting many new recruits among Sunni Arabs, the chickens are coming home to roost.
BBC World Monitoring (Mar. 22) translates an account of the maneuvering over forming a government:
“Al-Mashriq publishes on the front page a 750-word follow-up report citing Salam al-Maliki, chairman of the Independent National Parliamentary Grouping, warning that unless the United Iraqi Alliance and the Kurdistan Coalition List conclude an agreement regarding the formation of the transitional government by the end of this week, his grouping will publicly announce to the Iraqi people the details and secrets of the ongoing negotiations between the various electoral lists. He indicates that “the US and some neighbouring countries are inciting the electoral lists against each other in order to foil the political process in Iraq.” The report cites Asad al-Fayli, member of the Shi’i Political Council, holding Prime Minister Allawi responsible for “obstructing any agreement among the lists.” The report cites Arif Tifur, member of the Central Committee of the Kurdistan Democratic Party KDP led by Mas’ud Barzani, accusing the United Iraqi Alliance of trying to monopolize power.
As for the United Iraqi Alliance’s number of seats in parliament, they might be bolstered from an unexpected quarter. BBC World Monitoring (Mar. 22) translates: “Al-Nahdah publishes on the front page a 250-word report quoting Hamid Majid Sa’id, head of the Iraqi Communist Party, as saying that the party can ally with the Islamic forces, even if we have ideological disagreements with them, if they believe in democracy and the end of occupation to build a united federal Iraq. “Resistance is a legal right of all people and cannot be denied,” he confirmed.”
Tom Lasseter of Knight Ridder reports skepticism that the Sunni Arabs can be successfully incorporated into the new government, given their increasing resistance to cooperating with it.
The Boston Globe even worries that Sunni clan leaders are beginning to call for violent reprisals against Shiites and Kurds. Earlier they had tended to counsel patience.
Muqtada al-Sadr has called for a million-person march to demand a timetable for US withdrawal from Iraq, via a sermon read by an aide on Friday. The march would also demand religious law. Muqtada has never before been able to mobilize large street crowds, and many Shiites are more afraid of the Sunni guerrillas than they are annoyed by the US presence. So I doubt this call turns into much in the near future.
The sentiments Muqtada is voicing however, are by all accounts (including polls) more popular than the line being peddled by interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, that clerics should stay out of politics. This issue has been settled. The religious Shiite parties have won their majority, and they are close to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who in many ways is responsible for both the holding of the elections and the creation of a strong Shiite bloc. Allawi lost the election. His list only got 14 percent. Moreover, he is personally unpopular because he failed to distance himself from his American patrons. It is over with, for better or worse.
That wave of violent crime in Iraq has just never gone away and the murder rate is if anything getting worse.
Likewise, Ed Wong of the NYT tells us about the smuggling that underpins so much of Iraq’s economy right now.
Some of the smuggling may be of deadly weapons, including missiles and bacteriogical warfare petrie dishes.
Rory Stewart considers Iraq today and finds a troubling vista.
Robert Worth of the NYT managed to get out to Fallujah and reports that a third of the population of 250,000 has now returned and many are living normal lives. This picture of about 80,000 persons back in the city is more positive than the picture reported in al-Zaman a couple of weeks ago. But even if the numbers given Worth by the US miltiary are correct, it means that there are still 170,000 or so displaced persons from Fallujah living in tent camps or with relatives, which is not a trivial number. Worth’s report also reveals that many buildings are ruined and that the compensation being paid is inadequate to repairs. As readers can tell, I am skeptical about the allegation that a third of the population has returned.
Nor is the city that safe. AFP writes of Fallujah, “But violence carried on Thursday as bullets flew in the former rebel stronghold of Fallujah, a Sunni town west of the Iraqi capital, a defense ministry official said, without giving a toll. An AFP reporter said that shots were heard from the city’s northwestern Jolan district and Iraqi police sealed off the sector around 1:30 pm (1030 GMT). At the Jolan district’s medical centre, hospital clerk Abbas Ahmed said four dead Iraqi soldiers were brought to the facility, but the defense ministry could not confirm the toll.”
Huibin Amee Chew considers whether George W. Bush has really liberated Iraqi women.