Bombings, Assassinations Continue
As Political Process Stalls
A bomb rigged to a motorcycle exploded outside a restaurant in Baghdad on Sunday morning, wounding at least 9 persons.
Political assassinations and bombings were carried out by guerrillas on Saturday in Basra, Baghdad, Baquba, Balad and Fallujah, among other places. Army and police figures were the main victims, though guerrillas kidnapped 5 civilians near Balad north of the capital.
Video footage of British soldiers kicking and beating Iraqi teenagers has surfaced. I saw it on Aljazeerah. It was taken by a British corporal who appears to have thought the whole thing a hoot. The teenagers had been demonstrating outside the British barracks, apparently. The soldiers landed 41 blows in a minute of tape, and also beat up on a corpse. Although the British government maintains that the incident is unrepresentative, one can only imagine that tens of thousands of Iraqis have been beaten by foreign troops (US, UK and others) during the past nearly 3 years. There are 15,000 in custody at any one time, and there have been lots of home invasions and repressions of demonstrations and of militia activity. Since the clannish Iraqis almost all have 24 first cousins who would die to defend their honor, the number of persons deeply affected by the beatings is in the millions. Imperialism requires brutality, but brutality weakens imperialism over the long run.
Riverbend describes a raid by Iraq’s mostly Shiite special police commandos in her aunt’s Sunni Muslim area of Baghdad. For more on the aftermath of such raids, see the items from the Iraqi press at the end of this posting.
Reuters reports that Sunni Arab guerrillas kidnapped 12 Iranian pilgrims at Samarra north of Baghdad on Saturday night. It says that Iraqi security forces found and freed 3 of them, but the other nine are still missing. The Iranian newspaper Baztab tells a different story. Baztab says that the pilgrims had been kidnapped some time ago, and that the last 4 were just released as a result of successful Iranian negotiations with the Sunni guerrllas. The newspaper maintains that this incident shows that Iran not only has enormous influence with Iraq’s Shiites, but that it can reach out to the Sunni Arabs, as well. (If this argument had any merit, the guerrillas would not have taken Iranians hostage to begin with; the “influence” of Tehran here. if there was any, almost certainly consisted of petrodollars laid on a guerrilla’s palm). I am sorry to say that I do not know if Reuters and Baztab are contradicting one another or reporting two different incidents, or what. We’re fair and balanced here at IC–we report, you decide.
Whenever they did it, these Iranian pilgrims had traveled north toward Samarra as part of their pilgrimage itinerary. Although it is now a largely Sunni city of 200,000, Samarra has a significant Shiite quarter clustered around shrines. They are the burial places of the tenth and 11th Imams, Ali al-Hadi and Hasan al-Askari. There is also a shrine at the place where the 12th Imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi, is said to have gone into supernatural realm from which he will one day return (rather as Christians believe in the ascent and return of Christ). The capture of the Iranian pilgrims wouldn’t make much sense if Iran was, as Mr. Rumsfeld keeps charging, backing the Sunni guerrillas, now would it?
The political news out of Baghdad on Saturday was the failure of the Shiite fundamentalist coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance, to choose a prime minister.
Nancy Youssef of Knight Ridder does a good job of explaining what is at stake. One candidate, Ibrahim Jaafari, is from a conservative background in the holy city of Karbala. When he fled Iraq in 1980, he spent some time studying in seminary at Qom in Iran. As prime minister, he raised eyebrows when he declined to shake hands with women. Jaafari is from the Dawa Party, some branches of which stayed in Iraq under Saddam. It is the oldest Shiite fundamentalist party, and dreams of a sort of lay Islamic state (i.e. with Islamic law but not run by clerics). Jaafari’s record as prime minister is mixed. The Kurdish president Jalal Talabani accused him of being high-handed. Others have accused him of being indecisive. (Can both charges be true?) On his watch, the security situation has continued to deteriorate. But it is his rival, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, that has the effective paramilitary force, the Badr Corps. As Badr has been recruited into the Ministry of the Interior special police commandos, Sunnis charged that they kidnapped suspected guerrillas and killed them, and they developed secret prisons where they tortured the mostly Sunni inmates. Again, Jaafari is accused both of laxness and severity at once.
His main rival, the cosmopolitan French-speaking Adil Abdul Mahdi, has been a Marxist, a Baathist, a Shiite fundamentalist, and more recently a free marketeer, and is reputedly favored (for the latter reason) by Washington.
Interestingly, the two branches of the hard line Sadr movement are split on this issue. Muqtada al-Sadr favors Jaafari. The Virtue Party led by Mustafa Yaqubi, a disciple of Muqtada’s revered father, seems to like Abdul Mahdi better. The Sadrists together have some 45 seats, but they do not form a united bloc because Muqtada and Yaqubi don’t get along. It is their disagreement that postponed a decision on Saturday. The coalition is attempting to reach a decision by consensus, since that would help keep them strong within the coalition and also in dealing with the Kurds and Sunni Arabs.
Also interesting is that the relatively hard line Iranian newspaper Baztab is backing Abdul Mahdi, and all but unilaterally awarded him the post in its Sunday edition. It said that Abdul Mahdi is close to the Islamic Republic, and that relations between Tehran and Baghdad would be even closer under his prime ministership than under that of Ibrahim Jaafari.
Now that the election results have been certified, parliament must meet within 15 days. But it needn’t immediately form a government or actually do anything while in early session. Once the UIA decides on its prime minister, they will attempt to cobble together a cabinet from the various parties in parliament in such a way as to give themselves a majority with their coalition partners. Four MPs have said they will vote with the Shiite UIA, so they only need 6 to have a slim 51 percent. Once the promises are made about the cabinet, they can settle with the Kurds the appointment of Jalal Talabani as president again, and he will appoint the prime minister. All this could stretch on for weeks or even months.
The final distribution of seats within the United Iraqi Alliance, as certified by the electoral commission, is analyzed by Reidar Vissar. He finds that a disproportionate number of the unapportioned seats went to the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, bringing its representation up to levels similar to those of the Sadr Bloc and the two Dawa Parties. These proportions were decided before the election, when each of the three was promised roughly 30 seats each, and the party leadership knew that it was likely to have the unapportioned seats to play with.
Vissar finds, though, that the leadership sometimes reached down in the lists to promote candidates into parliament that had not received many votes. The Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq appears to have wanted a representative in parliament on its list from the mostly Sunni Arab province of Anbar, a major center of the anti-US guerrilla movement. I presume this move is an attempt to outflank Muqtada al-Sadr, who had been attempting to make a pan-Islamic anti-American alliance with Anbar Sunnis.
That $8.8 billion that is unaccounted for from the Coalition Provisional Authority is still and probably forever will be unaccounted for, according to an auditor who spoke to CBS news. Abramoffocracy was too good to confine it only to the US–it had to be exported to Iraq.
Paul Pillar’s indictment of the Bush administration for its politicization of intelligence before the Iraq war is well worth reading. But the most important thing about the piece is the suggestion for how to improve things in the future. The problem is that all the major intelligence units are essentially part of the Executive. When the executive decides to use intelligence to go to war, the agencies have no independence and no way of effectively demurring. Pillar suggests an oversight board like the Federal Reserve with appointed members who cannot just be dismissed at will. If our economy is important enough to warrant a firewall between key decisions and the president, isn’t the intelligence base for taking the country to war? Pillar writes:
“The intelligence community should be repositioned to reflect the fact that influence and relevance flow not just from face time in the Oval Office, but also from credibility with Congress and, most of all, with the American public. The community needs to remain in the executive branch but be given greater independence and a greater ability to communicate with those other constituencies (fettered only by security considerations, rather than by policy agendas). An appropriate model is the Federal Reserve, which is structured as a quasi-autonomous body overseen by a board of governors with long fixed terms.”
Yuval Diskin, head of Israel’s Shin Bet domestic intelligence branch was caught on tape saying that the chaos in Iraq is likely a greater threat to Israel than was the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. He also admitted that Israeli courts and police discriminate against Arabs. He called West Bank colonists who threaten violence “terrorists” and “worse than Arab attackers.” Gee, Diskin and Cole agree 3 for 3 here. No doubt David Horowitz and the other American Likudniks will now consider him “dangerous.”
Tidbits from BBC World Monitoring of the Arabic Press for Feb. 7:
‘Al-Zaman runs on the front page a 120-word report on the statement issued by Electricity Ministry yesterday, 6 February, confirming that the high voltage power line linking Al-Nasiriyah and Khur al-Zubayr was sabotaged. An official source at the ministry attributed the current decline in electricity production to lack of fuel.
Al-Zaman carries on page 4 a 400-word report citing an official source at Mosul University confirming unrest in the university for the second consecutive day due to sexual harassment . . .
Dar al-Salam carries on the front page a 150-word report citing secretary general of Iraqi Islamic Party saying that Dr Ibrahim al-Ja’fari has rejected the call by Iraqi Al-Tawafuq Front to stop random arrests and raids by Interior Ministry.
Dar al-Salam carries on the front page a 250-word report citing in-charge of Iraqi Islamic Party’s Human Rights Committee saying that 300 persons were assassinated and 1659 others are missing from Interior Ministry’s and US prisons.
Dar al-Salam carries on the front page a 50-word report citing in-charge of British Seventh Brigade’s media in Basra saying that three mortar shells were fired at Shat al-Arab Hotel.
Dar al-Salam carries on the front page a 200-word report citing eyewitnesses saying that US forces have started withdrawing from Al-Anbar Governorate and will hand over the responsibility of security to local forces . . .
Dar al-Salam carries on page 2 a 200-word report citing eyewitnesses saying that commando forces broke into Al-Aqsa Sunni Mosque in Sab’ al-Bur and arrested nine persons who were found killed in different areas of Baghdad.
Dar al-Salam carries on page 2 a 120-word report saying that the National Guards checkpoint arrested a citizen whose body was found later.
Dar al-Salam carries on page 2 a 75-word report that US and commando forces arrested an Iraqi Islamic Party member and his son in Al-Jihad.
Dar al-Salam carries on page 2 a 60-word report that Interior Ministry forces arrested an Association of Muslim Scholars member in Karbala. . .
Al-Zaman runs on page 3 a 500-word report on the sharp increase in the consumption and prices of red meat and fish due to avian flu.
Al-Zaman carries on page 3 a 300-word report on the statement issued by Health Workers Federal Union yesterday, 6 February, announcing a new sit-in in Baghdad and other governorates on 18 February, demanding improvement in their living standards. . .
Al-Mashriq publishes on page 4 a 550-word report that UAE Red Crescent office in Iraq has started a big campaign to help poor Iraqi families all over Iraq. . .
Al-Sabah al-Jadid publishes on page 11 a 1,000-word report on the deterioration of public services in Al-Husayniyah district in Baghdad.
Tariq al-Sha’b carries on page 4 a 2,000-word report surveying the comments of Diyala’s inhabitants on internet services in the governorate.
Tariq al-Sha’b runs on page 4 a 1,600-word report on the need to organize the work of peddlers in Basra. . .
Al-Zaman runs on page 8 a 1,000-word column by Muthanna al-Tabaqchali on Iraq journalists’ sufferings and fear to express their true opinions and views.
Al-Zaman publishes on page 8 a 1,000-word article by Jasim Murad entitled “Stop killing children”, on Iraqi children’s human rights and sufferings. . . .
Al-Adalah carries on page 6 an 800-word article by Muhsin Jawamir criticizing the insulting cartoons of Prophet Muhammad, and calling on Westerners to analyze Islam without confusing it with terrorism. The writer also calls on Muslims to “forgive” those who insulted Prophet Muhammad. . .
Tariq al-Sha’b carries on page 3 a 300-word article by Abu-Ali al-Saffar criticizing the attacks against Iraqi university professors by students.
Tariq al-Sha’b runs on page 3 a 400-word article by Raysan Husayn commenting on the deterioration of electricity supply in Kirkuk.
Tariq al-Sha’b publishes on page 9 a 1,200-word article by Rida al-Zahir commenting on President Bush’s recent speech, saying that it was “confused” and did not present clear solutions for the US “failure” in Iraq. The writer also criticizes the “monopolistic discourse” of Iraqi politicians, calling on Iraqis to “tame” themselves according to democratic principles . . .
Al-Dustur publishes on the front page a 900-word editorial that many writers have abandoned their daily columns in protest of the daily threats against journalists and media. ‘