40 Casualties In Mahdi Army Clash With

40 Casualties in Mahdi Army clash with Sunni Arab guerrillas

AP reports that major clashes were fought Saturday at Mahmudiyah south of Baghdad between Mahdi Army militiamen (puritanical Shiites) and local Sunni Arab guerrillas killed or wounded about 50 persons late on Saturday. AP writes, ‘ Some 40 persons reportedly were killed or injured — no breakdown was immediately available — in the clash between forces of the Shia Mehdi Army militia and Sunni militants near Mahmoudiya, 30 km south of the capital, police reported. ‘

Six other Iraqis were killed in separate incidents, and the deaths of two US marines were announced. Police found 10 more corpses in Iraq on Saturday. These are typically young men targetted for reprisal killings because of their religious sect.

The poorly named Islamic Army of Iraq, a neo-Baathist guerrilla group, announced Saturday that it is watching journalists in that country and will act against those it [arbitrarily] deems spies.

Knight Ridder reports that even Iraqi politicians are admitting that their inability so far to form a government after the December 15 elections is making the situation in the country worse and giving an opening to the guerrillas.

Al-Sharq al-Awsat reports [Ar.] that Member of Parliament and Sadrist leader Shaikh Nasir al-Saaedi [al-Sa`idi] said Saturday that two knotty issues confront the attempt to form a government in Iraq. The first is the position of the blocs in parliament on the constitution, and respect for the electoral achievement of the political blocs that make up parliament. He said that the attempt to curb the prerogatives of those parties that actually won the election constitutes a voiding of the election outcomes and an insult to the Iraqi people who risked all to come out and vote. (Fears are being raised that the proposed “national security council” will form an unconstitutional brake on the powers of the elected government.)

He said that he and the other Sadrists are committed to Dawa Party leader Ibrahim Jaafar as the United Iraqi Alliance candidate for prime minister. He said that setting aside Jaafari risked breaking up the UIA and betraying the trust of the Iraqi people.

The Kurdistan Alliance has led a charge, supported by the Sunni Arab parties and by the Kurds to unseat Jaafari.

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Saturday that US-Iran talks on Iraq will be conditional and limited. He told IRNA, “We essentially do not trust the Americans but we will conditionally negotiate with them about Iraq while taking into account the interests of Iraqis and the world of Islam.”

I hear behind the scenes from people on the ground in Iraq. Little mainstream reporting gives a sense of the grittiness, grimness, death and destruction that they discern behind the traffic jams and the frantic shopping/ hoarding of everyday life. Kudos to Jeffrey Gettleman for telling it like it is. One remembers what a controversy it caused when Farnaz Fassihi of the Wall Street Journal let it be known in October of 2004 via an email how bad things were in Baghdad, how shocking her first-hand account seemed to many Americans who were not being given the full story by their government or their press (sometimes the latter is stenographer for the former). Gettleman’s thoughtful and hard-hitting piece is sort of like Fassihi 2, except that the NYT published it and the Wall Street Journal never published Fassihi’s backgrounder.

Jeffrey Gettleman also explains the practical difference between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq.

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