Italians to Pull Out nearly Half of Troops in June
Sectarian struggle among Tribes at Suwayra
Congrats to Mariam Karouny for an excellent story on how the Virtue (Fadhila) Party is staging what she calls a “go-slow” in Basra’s oil industry to protest the federal government’s refusal to appoint a member of Virtue as Minister of Petroleum. Since Basra controls southern petroleum exports, and Virtue controls much of Basra, there is a real disconnect now between on-the-ground power and bureaucratic authority. The governor of Basra is from the Virtue Party, and it occurs to me that part of his annoyance with the local represtentatives of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani is that the latter’s great supporter, Husain Shahristani, a nuclear engineer, got the petroleum ministry.
Italy will bring 1100 of its 2600 troops in Iraq out in June according to Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema. Prime Minister Romano Prodi’s complex coalition is divided on how fast to bring all the troops home, and his razor thin majority in the senate makes his position delicate.
Reuters rounds up some of the violence in Iraq on Friday. One bomb in Baghdad killed 9 and wounded 31. Another wounded 20, though several of those may have later died. Another wounded 5. Reuters tends to file these reports on security relatively early in the day, so it left out a lot of incidents. Two were killed in Kirkuk. Bodies showed up dead in Kut in the south. Altogether some 19 were killed, though my experience is that if you count up all the persons killed and those discovered dead, the totals are higher than the wire service reports suggest.
RevisedA tennis coach and two of his players was killed on Thursday. Some suspect radical Sunni fundamentalists, who had put about a pamphlet insisting on moderate dress. Al-Zaman blamed the Mahdi Army. Puritanical dress codes may well be behind the incident, though it is still murky.
This item from Reuters is important: “Suwayra – Police said they found on Friday near Suwayra, south of Baghdad, the body of a member of the Mahdi Army militia which had bullet wounds and showed signs of torture.” It turns out that the supposed tribal feud “over land” near Suwayra is actually a political struggle, with one of the sub-tribes having joined the Mahdi Army and acting aggressively in the region.
I have the following account from someone there who has been following this:
‘ The [sectarian conflict near Suwayra] faded out in November of last year.
It suddenly errupted three days ago. There were actually three days of violence in that area. The first day was an attack on Obaid by members of the Ghuran tribe who were members of the Mahdi army (at least they carried Mhdi army id’s). 14 people were killed.
The second saw an attack from Suwaira security forces (although the area administratively belongs to Baghdad).
The third day saw a massive assault by Iraqi and US army accompanied by helicopter gunships and fighter planes. The assault lasted for 10 hours . . .
It is absolutely fascinating for me to see that piece of information being propagated on Iraqi news channels, newspapers and websites as a land dispute. It was originally based on a “police source”.
It is now almost certain that the US army was misled into taking action against one of the two parties yesterday.
The whole thing was a ‘sectarian’ assault that failed miserably the first time. It failed again this time . . .
In yesterday’s ‘American’ raid only one man was killed – young Marwan (!!) 6 were injured and about a dozen detained (exact number unconfirmed).
Today, all tribes in the area (Sunni and Shiite) were in uproar against the Ghurraan. Their 3 acts were seen as treacherous. The Ghurraan shaikh, Saad A. A. al-Bassi sent word to Obaid that he was enlisting support from his tribe to disown the sub-clan that was responsible (known as Rattaan). A few hours ago I received word (unconfirmed) that Saad was arrested by the Iraqi National Guard!
Americans arrested the brother of one of the Sunni Arab members of parliament, drawing protests from her about parliamentary immunity being violated. MP Taysir Awwad may be under the impression that Bush honors things like parliamentary immunity at home.
In Basra, a Sunni prayer leader was assassinated. Waves of Sunni refugees have been fleeing largely Shiite Basra for Baghdad in recent weeks.
Al-Zaman reports that tension over security returned to Basra on Friday after 10 corpses were discovered in a Basra district. They were said to be innocent Sunni Arabs not involved in lawless violence.