Egyptian Envoy Kidnapped
Sunni Arab Demonstrations against SCIRI in Tikrit, Baghdad
The chief of mission of the Egyptian embassy in Iraq was kidnapped late Saturday when he drove out to buy a newspaper, by two carloads of guerrillas who pistol-whipped him and accused him of being an American agent. Egypt was pressured by the US and the elected Iraqi government to appoint an ambassador, and Sherif was expected to assume the title. Jordan, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia had been set to follow suit. Al-Jazeera is reporting that the Egyptians have issued a statement expressing hopes that Ihab Sherif will be treated as befits someone who has worked for Arab interests.
In Tikrit, according to al-Zaman, 3000 Sunni Arab demonstrators rallied Sunday in front of the Governor’s mansion to vow revenge on the (Shiite) Badr Corps, and threatening to cut off water and electricity to Baghdad, in response to the arrest by the Ministry of the Interior of Col. Muzhir Taha al-Ghannam, the provincial chief of police. The head of Interior (similar to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation) is Bayan Jabr, a long-time political representative of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), for which the Badr Corps functions as a private party militia. The deputy governor of Salahuddin, Abdullah Husain Jabbarah, said that al-Ghannam had been detained because of his background in working for the old Baath military as an intelligence officer concerned with combatting Iranian influence in Iraq. (Since SCIRI was the main agent of Iranian influence in Baathist Iraq, the Interior Minister presumably has an old grudge with Ghannam). The demonstrators charged that the Badr Corps was now purging from the Iraqi army all officers who fought bravely against Iran during the Iran-Iraq War, 1980-1988. During that war, SCIRI was based in Tehran and the Badr Corps carried out what many Iraqis considered terrorist attacks against Iraq. That it did so from enemy territory is still held against it by many. (It would be sort of as though the Christian Coalition had planned and carried out bombings of abortion clinics from Hanoi in the early 1970s).
Hamza Hendawi of AP discusses in more detail the rising tensions between Sunnis and Shiites. Sabrina Tavernisse of the New York Times reports on the ethnic cleansing going on in some mixed Sunni-Shiite neighborhoods.
In Baghdad, al-Zaman says, thousands of demonstrators were organized by the Union of Mesopotamian Tribes to protest the detaining of Shaikh Wahid Zuaibil al-Hamidi, the Union’s secretary-general, by the ministry of the interior.
Sabotage of oil pipelines and other facilities has cost Iraq $11 billion in the past two years.
In Amara, al-Zaman reports, lawyer activists have met and are demanding explicit guarantees in the new constitution of personal liberty, human rights, and freedom of opinion. (These seem to be a small group of middle class activists, and I fear not very representative of Maysan province, which put the Sadrists (hard line Shiites) in control of the provincial government.
ash-Sharq al-Awsat: In Mosul on Sunday afternoon, guerrillas targeted a convoy of Ninevah provincial gendarmes with a bomb under a bridge. Two policeman and one other were killed, and two policemen were wounded. A fierce gunbattle ensued between the gendarmes and the guerrillas, with Mosul police coming to the aid of the gendarmes. The guerrillas fled into side streets in the end.
Near Baquba (an hour northeast of Baghdad), police discovered four bodies of persons who had been kidnapped Friday night by persons wearing police uniforms.
Reuters rounds up other “security incidents” in Iraq on Sunday:
Riyad (half an hour west of Kirkuk): A guerrilla detonated a car bomb near a police patrol, killing two policemen and wounding another. (The guerrillas were targeting the local police chief but missed).
Kirkuk: Three headless bodies were discovered in the city’s streets.
Ramadi: A suicide car bomber wounded two US soldiers and 4 civilians when he swerved into a house after failing to penetrate a US checkpoing.
Miqdadiya: Guerrillas fired mortar shells at an Iraqi army base northeast of Baghdad, wounding 10 civilians.
Baghdad: Guerrillas assassinated Abdul Kadhim Abdullah, a member of the Badr Corps (Shiite paramilitary originally trained by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards).
Hilla: The death toll from Saturday’s bombings rose to 9, with over 31 wounded.
It was revealed (via al-Zaman) that on last Thursday, a military intelligence officer in Basra, Zain al-Abidin Husain, was assassinated.
Switzerland demanded an explanation on Saturday of the shooting by US forces of one of its nationals, a Kurdish Iraqi with dual citizenship. His car appears to have made the mistake of getting too close to a nervous US military convoy. (US convoys are routinely targeted by suicide bombers in civilian cars).
Al-Zaman reports that US troops opened fire on a civilian car that was heading toward Jordan, killing a woman and her child. Again, the car appears to have gotten too close to a US convoy.
(These incidents show a benefit to the guerrillas of their car bomb attacks on US convoys, insofar as they create an atmosphere in which US soldiers and marines tend to shoot first and ask questions later, alienating ever more Iraqis by killing innocents).