Tens of Thousands Demonstrate Against Iraq War
Al-Hakim Calls for “Yes” on Constitution
Arrest Warrant in Basra for British
Over 100,000 protesters rallied in Washington, DC, against the Iraq War on Saturday. Protests were also held in London, San Francisco and other cities.
US troops entered Sadr City or Eastern Baghdad on Saturday in search of Mahdi Army elements they suspected of having launched guerrilla attacks. They encountered armed Sadrists and killed 8 of them. Earlier press reports that things were ‘quiet” in Sadr City required that we ignore what people there actually believe and say in Arabic in private.
Ian Mather reviews the situation in the Sunni Arab heartland, the Shiite south and the Kurdish north. He finds that only the situation in the last is at all encouraging.
Judge Raghib al-Mudhafar, chief of the Basra Anti-Terrorism Court in Basra, has issued a murder warrant for two British SAS officers who were arrested in that city last Monday and then freed by the British military. British Defense Minister John Reid rejected the move on the grounds that British soldiers in Iraq are not under Iraqi judicial jurisdiction and would have to be tried by British courts-martial instead. Judge al-Mudhafar dismisses this argument, saying he suspects at least one of the SAS undercover operatives of being Canadian and so not covered by extrajudiciality provisions. The British military is denying rumors that the two SAS men were attempting to obstruct Iranian operations in Basra. They rightly point out to the Independent that there are enough munitions in Iraq, and enough organized local militias, that one simply does not need to posit the Iranians as the troublemakers.
I find it difficult to believe that they two were simply gathering information, as suggested by their disguise of ordinary Arab clothing. They obviously could not really pass as Basrans. My suspicion is that they were on a mission of extraordinary rendition, i.e. capturing or killing some local leader they felt was endangering the British mission but who could not be detained through ordinary means. I don’t think it makes much sense to suggest that they were planning to blow up British soldiers and blame it on Shiites, so as to allow British troops to stay in Iraq (this is a conspiracy theory that has been alleged).
I’m afraid that the Great Basra Jailbreak looks to be the Dinshaway Incident for 21st century Iraq. It was acting high-handedly that got the British kicked out of Egypt, and acting high-handedly is likely to unite the Iraqi elite and masses against them, too. An unscientific poll [with a small “n” and lacking attention to getting a representative sample] by the Times of London found that 23 out of 40 Basrans polled said that the British troops should stay for the time being. They were afraid that without them the security situation would deteriorate in a major way. Members of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq apparently were delighted to see Muqtada al-Sadr’s militiamen taken down a notch. But I’m not confident that the Times of London asked the slum dwellers, and I suspect a majority of Basrans now want the British out. Certainly, that sentiment seems to be growing.
Angry Shiite militiamen fired Katyusha rockets at several British targets in the city, though not to much effect.
The Guardian reports that the British government has quiet plans to begin significantly reducing British troop presence in Iraq next May. The government denies the reports, which had surfaced in leaked Defense Ministry documents earlier in the summer.
This article in the Scotsman is an excellent overview of what has gone wrong in Basra. But the interviewees have several inaccurate impressions. First, the puritanical attitude in Basra does not derive from the influence of Muqtada al-Sadr, who just has a few hundred followers in this city of 1.3 million. Rather, the puritanism has been imposed by the Badr Corps paramilitary of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a major party in the province; and by the paramilitary of the Fadila Party, an offshoot of the Sadr Movement led by Ayatollah Muhammad Yaqubi. Second, the article neglects to mention that the Shiite religious parties won the Jan. 30 elections in Basra Province. The elected provincial government is responsible for hiring militiamen as policemen. The idea of creating a whole new police force not controlled by the civilian political parties, which some British observers have put forward, fails to reckon with the fact that there is already an elected federal and provincial government whose deputies would have something serious to say about any new gendarmes force.
James Glanz of the NYT explains what is at stake in the Shiite South.
Abdul Aziz al-Hakim the Shiite cleric who leads the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq and the United Iraqi Alliance (which dominates the federal parliament), has called supporting the new constitution a “spiritual duty.” Since the constitution was negotiated by SCIRI, its support is unsurprising. SCIRI controls 9 of Iraq’s 18 provinces, so it can play a major role in helping pass the constitution.
Al-Hayat [Arabic] reports that the rumors that Sistani would give a fatwa urging the faithful to vote for the constitution may have been overblown. The interviewees in the article maintain that the four grand ayatollahs in Najaf would not want to rob their followers of the prerogative of deciding for themselves which way to vote. The article does imply that they are encouraging people to vote. The problem here is that Grand Ayatollah Ishaq Fayyad has in fact already said that Shiites should vote for the constitution. It is admittedly not a formal fatwa.
In contrast, 150 Sunni Arab leaders met in Amman to sketch out a strategy for defeating the constitution in the October 15 referendum. They reject it in part because it allots them relatively little of Iraq’s oil wealth, which would rather go to the Kurds and the Shiites.
Iran’s foreign ministry rejected charges by the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia, Saud al-Faisal, that Iran was meddling in Iraq.
Saud al-Faisal had accused Iran of moving substantial numbers of men, as well as goods and materiel, into Iraq. The charges mirror those of hard line Iraqi Sunnis, who have never reconsiled themselves to the Shiite majority in Iraq and so are always positing big Iranian population transfers into the south. This charge is frankly silly. Saud al-Faisal also let it it slip that Saudi Arabia and the United States actively helped Saddam Hussein to put down the Shiite uprising in spring of 1991. He said, “We fought a war together to keep Iran out of Iraq after Iraq was driven out of Kuwait. Now we are handing the whole country over to Iran without reason.” ‘ How else can this statement be interpreted?
Many Iraqi Shiites are still furious at the US for allowing the Baath regime to suppress the Shiite uprising, since some 60,000 lives were lost in the repression.