Tal Afar Stormed
Threat of Ethnic Cleansing Grows in Iraq
Iraqi troops took the lead in the ground assault in the northern Turkmen city of Tal Afar, in an attempt by the US to showcase newly trained Iraqi army units. The problem is that they are perceived as mostly Shiite, and the Tal Afar campaign is targeting Sunni Turkmen neighborhoods. So the mayor has resigned in protest of a “sectarian” operation. Al-Hayat reports that a local Turkmen leader said that 152 civilians had been killed by “indiscriminate” fire coming from US helicopter gunships. It also said that (Shiite) Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari declare that he had ordered the operation against what he called terrorists, who, he said, had expelled people from their homes. Jaafari should remember what happened to the popularity of Iyad Allawi when he called for more US strikes on Fallujah.
Khalaf Juburi, police chief of Mosul, told al-Hayat that the operation against Tal Afar was aimed at removing a vile disease from Tal Afar.
The Iraqis say that they have closed the border with Syria, but in reality this move just means a couple of regular checkpoints are not longer admitting legal entrants. The long Syrian border with Iraq stretches through desert and other rugged territory and cannot actually be closed by decree. Defense Minister Saadoun Dulaimi turns out to be something of a braggart, since he threatened that after Tal Afar similar operations would be launched against Ramadi, Qaim, and other Sunni Arab cities. In fact, if Dulaimi just openly took a walk in Adhamiyah in West Baghdad, he would be killed on sight. So until he has control of his own capital, he would be advised not to brandish unrealistic threats.
Reuters reports several guerrilla operations on Saturday, including shootings in Baqubah and bombs in Mahawil and Samarra among other places.
Alissa Rubin of the Los Angeles Times draws attention to the pattern of reprisal killings between Sunnis and Shiites in Baghdad. She quotes a US foreign service officer who had been in Bosnia, who says that once minorities begin fleeing territory en masse, a spiral of violence tends to ensue. The implication is that Iraq may not be far from that spiral.
Actually, there are a number of places where there have already been substantial displacements. Thousands of Arabs have left Kirkuk. Shiites have fled Latifiyah. Sunnis Arabs have left the deep, Shiite south.
The Iraqi government agreed to pay the private security firm guarding Baghdad International Airport half the money it is owed, so that the airport has opened again. The spectacle of a private firm holding the Iraqi government ransom with regard to the national airport was not edifying, especially since US troops appear to have intervened in favor of the private company.
It is now often forgotten that colonialism was often spearheaded by private firms. The British East India Company is actually the entity that conquered much of India. The British government only took over directly after the failed 1856-1858 attempted revolution (which the British called a “Mutiny.”) Likewise the Netherlands East India Company had a semi-governmental role in what is now Indonesia. The thousands of private security guards in Iraq are not that different from the troops of the old East India Company in India. Many of the latter were also essentially mercenaries.
What is scary is that the privatization of “security” (i.e. the protection of the property of Bush’s rich friends at all costs, including substantial loss of human life) is now spreading back to the United States. Blackwater private security men, of the sort who caused so much trouble in Fallujah by acting like cowboys, are now openly toting M16s and other assault weapons in what is left of New Orleans. I’m not aware that the East India Company ever showed up back in London with several platoons to patrol the streets. But then, as the irredentist British neo-imperialists keep reminding us, they did empire better than we do.