Black Sunday Yields 81 Dead in Iraqi Bloodbaths
Interior Admits Death Squads
The Washington Post reports that four bombs in Iraqi cities killed altogether some 30 persons on Sunday, and left dozens wounded. In addition, in what al-Hayat calls “the war of corpses,” 51 bodies were found in the streets, handcuffed and executed, victims of Iraq’s ongoing religious civil war.
The most important of the bombings was that in the Shiite holy city of Karbala, the site of the shrine of Imam Husain, the martyred grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. Karbala is more than a city, it is a potent symbol of the righteous suffering of the Shiites and their leaders, which is woven into their ritual life. Shiites chant the name of Karbala while whipping themselves in sympathy with the pain of Husain and his small party of warriors and family members. They go on “visitation,” a kind of lesser pilgrimage, to the tomb of Husain. Any big act of violence at Karbala resonates strongly with Shiites, makes their eyes sting with tears, and fills their breasts with righteous anger. The guerrillas set off the bomb near the mansion of the governor of Karbala province, only half a mile from the revered shrine of Husain. Some Shiites will certainly avenge the bombing with nighttime reprisal killings of Sunni Arabs.
Speaking of feelings of sadness and victimization, many Iraqi Shiites have traditionally expressed those feelings in poetry. Banned under the Baath, it is making a comeback.
In Baghdad, a car bomb in Adhamiyah was set off as an Iraqi Army convoy approached. It killed 8 and wounded 15, including some of the targetted troops. Another bomb seems to have targetted the HQ of the Al-Sabah newspaper, a government mouthpiece, killing 1 and wounding 5, all civilians, A bomb in the al-Sina`i district of Mosul killed 3 soldiers on patrol.
A US Marine died of wounds incurred in fighting in Anbar Province in the country’s west.
In the aftermath of Saturday’s shooting down of a British military helicopter and a subsequent riot against British soldiers who came to get the bodies that left 5 Iraqis dead and 28 wounded, pamphlets are circulating in the southern port city demanding an immediate British withdrawal [Ar.] .
The British were already in the process of withdrawing from Maysan and Muthanna provinces, and plan to reduce their forces by 800 to 7,200. The problem is that smaller forces will depend more heavily on helicopters, and if radical Shiite militiamen are getting hold of SA-14 shoulder held missile launchers, Saturday’s incident might be only the beginning. Similar weapons were given by the US to Afghan Mujahidin in Afghanistan and used effectively against Soviet helicopters from 1986.
The Iraqi government says that 100,000 Iraqis have fled their homes since late February because of campaigns of faith-based ethnic cleansing.
Interior Minister Bayan Jabr said Sunday that an officer and 17 other persons had been arrested among the special police commandoes of the ministry and charged with running death squads. This announcement is the first official confirmation that the death squads were being run out of Interior, as many charged. Bayan Jabr would like to keep his job, analogous to head of “Homeland Security” in the United States. He is supported by the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance, but is depised by most of the other parties in parliament and seems likely to be forced out. Sunday’s attempt to come clean was probably too limited to save him. Give him credit, though– he at least implicated an officer. This step is not one that Donald Rumsfeld ever dared take with regard to torture at Abu Ghraib.
Dan Murphy reports from Baghdad that the situation in the capital is rapidly deteriorating. It is down to only 3 hours of electricity a day. 2500 persons have been killed in religious reprisal attacks since late February. And not only are the militias of religious parties powerful, but now each neighborhood is throwing up its own militia.
Meanwhile, Nancy Youssef argues that Muqtada al-Sadr is attempting to transform his militia, the Mahdi Army, into an analogue of the Lebanese Hizbullah, which is a militia, a powerful political party, and a set of social services rolled into one.
An Iraqi author alleges that in the absence of effective government regulation, substandard goods are flooding into Iraq.
Tariq Ali argues that Iraq hasn’t been as much of a catastrophe as it could have been for the Bush administration, only because Iran’s ayatollahs have tacitly allied with the Americans on key issues. He points out that if Bush’s manufactured crisis with Iran goes forward, Iraq could go very bad.
Samuel Berger argues sensibly in the Wall Street Journal that the US should pursue direct talks with the Iranian government as a way of resolving bilateral disputes.