Parliament to Open Amid Continued Violence
Guerrilla violence killed at least 19 persons on Wednesday in Iraq. Some reports say that among the victims were two school teachers in a Shiite district, who had their throats slit in front of their students, by terrorists. There are reports that local police are denying the veracity of these reports. Al-Hayat, on the other hand, says the reports were confirmed to it by the Iraqi State Ministry for National Security [Ar.]. Al-Hayat also says that the Iraqi Ministry of Education has designated April 12 an annual day for the commemoration of “martyred students.”
Al-Zaman says that hot fighting is still going on between the Marines and guerrillas in Ramadi.
Those killed on Wednesday included 4 Fijian contract workers delivering supplies to a US base. A car bombing in Baghdad, one of several, killed 7 and wounded 20.
A report prepared by 125 NGOs and released in Karbala says that 19,548 persons have been kidnapped in Iraq since the beginning of 2006, and 15,462 persons have been wounded. The article reports that “The 19,548 people kidnapped includes 4,959 women and 2,350 children . . .”
On the one hand, these numbers strike me as unrealistically high. I presume they come from the first three months of the year. The article does not say where the statistics come from, though I presume they are from the Iraqi police. On the other hand, the precision of the numbers suggests that there are real statistics behind the report, not just wild guesses. What takes me aback is that I would figure 20,000 kidnap victims would require on the order of 100,000 kidnappers to pull the operations off. That would make kidnapping one of Iraq’s major industries.
Parliament will convene on Thursday, according to CNN. This meeting suggests that some progress has been made in negotiations to choose high government officials. Ibrahim Jaafari, the candidate of the (Shiite fundamentalist) United Iraqi Alliance for prime minister, says that it is “out of the question” for him to step down. He is opposed by the Bush administration, the Kurdistan Alliance, and many Sunni Arabs.
The Sunni Arab fundamentalist bloc, the Iraqi Accord Front, has dropped Tariq al-Hashimi as its candidate for speaker of the house, and is proposing Adnan Dulaimi instead. The religious Shiite parties shot down al-Hashimi, apparently in revenge for the Sunni Arab opposition to Jaafari. Knight Ridder explains the disconnect between the feuding politicians in the green zone and the ordinary Iraqis that elected them, and are exposed to violence in the Red Zone (i.e. Iraq).
Al-Zaman reports that MP Sami al-Askari, member of the United Iraqi Alliance, said that the parliament will vote on the speaker of the house and his two deputies now that the major parties have agreed on which candidates to put forward for these posts. The Sunni religious coalition, the Iraqi Accord Front, will field Usamah al-Tikriti and Adnan Dulaimi. The Kurdistan Alliance has put forward Adil Tayfur for deputy speaker. The candidates from the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance are Jawad al-Maliki (Dawa Party), Humam al-Hamudi (Badr Organization), and Khalid al-Attiyah (Independent).
Al-Askari alleges that the United Iraqi Alliance has dropped its earlier opposition to Tariq al-Hashimi, and is now sanguine about his running for vice president. The Shiite UIA candidate will be Adil Abdul Mahdi of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq.
(Cole: I presume that the reemergence of al-Hashimi comes because he has dropped his opposition to Jaafari as prime minister. Al-Hayat says that Dulaimi admitted that the Sunnis of the Iraqi Accord Front had offered to drop al-Hashimi’s candidacy if the Shiites would drop Jaafari. But it was the Shiites who had the upper hand, and they forced al-Hashimi out to make a point, without giving up anything at all. The Shiites played hard ball on this one).
He said that Iyad Allawi, the secular ex-Baathis Shiite and former interim PM, had no luck in his bid to become a vice president, given these party decisions.
He said that the Dawa Party met on Wednesday and took a final decision to back Jaafari for prime minister.
As for the Kurdish opposition to Jaafari, al-Askari said that the United Iraqi Alliance will do a deal with Jalal Talabani, who wants to be president. Talabani needs a 2/3s majority in parliament to become president, and cannot get it without the United Iraqi Alliance, which has 128 members and has 4 other MPs who have announced that they will vote with it. Al-Askari says that the UIA will only pledge to support Talabani if he retracts his opposition to Jaafari.
(Cole: The Shiite fundamentalists are in striking distance of having a simple majority in parliament, and are much more united, despite some frictions, than their opponents. It was always the case that if they maintained their unity, they would be able to impose their will with regard to the incumbents of high political positions. The attempt made by US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and former interim PM Iyad Allawi to marshall the Kurds, Sunni Arabs and secular Shiites against Jaafari appears to have been defeated, by simple steadfastness on the part of the UIA.)
Al-Askari said that a subsequent session of parliament will elect the president and his two vice-presidents. In the Iraqi constitution, the president must offer the prime ministership to the candidate nominated by the largest party in parliament. According to the constitution, he has one month to form a government. If Jaafari gets it, he will have to find at least 6 MPs who will vote with the UIA. Some of the secular-leaning Shiites in Allawi’s National Iraqi list may desert him for an opportunity to join a majority government rather than remaining a small, powerless bloc with only 9% of the seats in parliament, who are locked out of major (and lucrative) positions. After all, if Jaafari becomes PM again, he will head a government with some $17 billion a year in oil and other revenues, which in Iraq is a lot of money. It is controlled by the state, i.e. by the majority bloc in parliament, and there will be a temptation to jump on that gravy train. Although some parliaments have rules against crossing the aisle once a member is elected, I doubt there is any such constraint in Iraq.
UN envoy Ashraf Qazi met Wednesday with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, urging him to work to end the political deadlock in Baghdad. One is struck by how much more useful this UN mission seems likely to be than the visit of Rice and Straw, which backfired and made Jaafari dig in his heels. And, of course, Sistani would never have agreed to see them. There is an Arabic proverb that “The worst of the learned is the one who visits princes.”
Al-Zaman says that Qazi conveyed to Sistani the UN’s deep concern about the rise in sectarian violence after the destruction of the Askariyah Shrine in late February.
Al-Sharq al-Awsat remarks on that an article that recently appeared in Newsweek that says a shadowy force of 146,000 security men has emerged to guard the major Shiite shrines, and that the federal ministries of defense and interior say they know nothing about it. Indeed, Interior Minister Bayan Jabr blames them for acts of terror! It is worth remembering that Sistani called for such a militia force after the Samarra bombing. See also this comment at BTC.
There are 5,000 orphans in Baghdad alone. The whole capacity of Iraqi orphanages is 1,600.
Iraqi families are fleeing mixed Sunni-Shiite neighborhoods in large numbers.
A RAND study says that the US government botched the opportunity to improve health care in Afghanistan and Iraq.
A cynic would say that the Iraqis are lucky if US firms in Iraq didn’t loot their health care budget and just ship it to private accounts in Switzerland.
Scott Ritter’s most recent interview is well worth reading. He has the distinction of being able to say to us all, “I told you so!”
Little known fact department: Maintenance and repair of US military vehicles in Iraq is far more expensive than replacing the vehicles blown up by the guerrillas. Whatcha wanna bet the spare parts are very expensive, on purpose? The military industrial complex has families to feed, too.
Feminist activist Yanar Muhammad explains why she thinks women’s rights in Iraq have deteriorated.
An Iranian shipping company will form partnerships with Iraqi and Omani lines.
Thanks for the kind words to Sam Freedman. Money quote: “As for FOX, it’s a fascinating political movement, but it’s not a news organization in any way I recognize. If that’s scolding, then I’m guilty as charged.”
My condolences to Mohammed and his brothers at Iraq the Model on the tragic loss of their brother-in-law. Even just losing friends to war, as I have, is deeply traumatizing, and losing a family member is much worse. We haven’t always agreed politically (though I think our views have converged over time), but I admire their fighting spirit. Reporting these awful statistics every day is almost numbing, but when it affects someone you feel you know (even just by reading them), it brings home the reality.