Shiite Crowds Protest Bombings, US Support for Sunni Arabs;
11 GIs Killed
The US military announced that Thursday was the bloodiest day for US troops since they entered Iraq in March, 2003. The number of GIs killed that day rose to 11. [Readers have written in to say that this assertion is not true and other days have been bloodier. Perhaps a qualifier dropped out when I summarized a summary; sorry for the confusion.]
Friday saw further bombings, in Baghdad and Mosul, targetting police and police commandos.
According to AP, protesters came out in Shiite East Baghdad (Sadr City) and Kadhimiyah on Friday to rally against US support for Sunni Arab politicians, who, they say, have behing the scenes links to the guerrilla groups that were responsible for Thursday’s bombing in Karbala, which killed 53 persons and wounded twice that many. The demonstrations were staged by the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a leading Shiite party. The number of protesters was given as only 500 by the New York Times, but as 5,000 in the Arabic press. Crowds are hard to count and their size is easy to exaggerate.
In Karbala, further funerals and mourning sessions [Ar.] turned into angry demonstrations.
The crowds chanted slogans against US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and Sunni Arab Neo-Baathist Salih Mutlak of the National Dialogue Council, whom they accused Khalilzad of supporting. Khalilzad is an Afghan Pushtun of Sunni extraction and has urged a pragmatic reconciliation between Shiites and Sunnis. He has also attempted to have the Ministry of the Interior taken away from SCIRI and given to ex-Baathists from the party of Iyad Allawi.
These demonstrations and denunciations of the US by the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq constitute the first major anti-US street action by followers of this party. Previous major Shiite anti-US demonstrations had usually been staged by the Sadr movement, while SCIRI had maintained a tacit alliance with the Americans. The demonstrations should be seen, however, not as the end of the marriage of convenience but as a way for SCIRI to pressure the US to back off its criticisms of SCIRI management of the Ministry of the Interior.
The US military admits to being in negotiations with Sunni Arab guerrilla movements, in hopes of splitting the Iraqi fighters from the radical Salafis around Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Al-Sharq al-Awsat reports that [Ar.]Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani supports a government of national unity, which would include the Sunni Arabs and preserve the unity of the country, according to a parliamentarian who visited him on Friday.
Al-Zaman/ AFP/DPA [Ar.]: In the city of Amarah, a government security official announced the assassination of Salam al-Khafaji, the head of the Khafaji tribe in Maysan province while he was traveling to Suwaira.
On Friday, guerrillas fired mortar rounds a the shrine of revered Sunni Sufi shaikh, Abdul Qadir Gilani [al-Kilani] in the Khilani district of Baghdad near the Eastern Gate. Part of the dome of the shrine was damaged. Radical Salafi Sunnis have puritan tendencies and abhor saints’ shrines (rather as Protestants felt about Roman Catholic saints and shrines). Some branches of the Qadiri Sufi order, a mystical brotherhood, have declined to join the Sunni guerrilla movement, which has caused the Salafis a la Zarqawi to attack them. It may also be that the guerrillas hope that Sunnis who revere Gilani will blame Shiites for the attack, instigating civil war.
Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari complained while on pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia about the poor quality of Saudi preparations for the event. Some 53 pilgrims died when their hostel collapsed. Tragedies during pilgrimage are so frequent that many observers believe the Saudis are neglecting their duties as hosts of the event.
The Saudi minister of the interior, Prince Naef, angrily rejected Jaafari’s criticism, saying that he was just posturing in hopes of salvaging his fading political career. (In fact, Jaafari has a real shot of being the prime minister of Iraq again). The Saudis also said they had be nice enough to let the Iraqi delegation come in numbers greater than their allotted quota, implying that Jaafari was being ungracious.
Tension between the Shiite-dominated government of Iraq and the Wahhabi state in Saudi Arabia have been high since September, when a major Saudi prince castigated the United States for spreading Iranian influence in the region by installing Iraqi Shiites in power.
The Sunni fundamentalist leader of the National Accord Front, Adnan Dulaimi, called Jaafari’s comments wrong and oppressive.