Over 60 Dead as Faith-Based Killings Continue
Kurds to the Rescue?
By my count, nearly 200 Iraqis have been killed in civil war violence during the past 3 days, dozens of them murdered for having the wrong religious identity (Shiite or Sunni).
The Associated Press reports that bombings and shootings took the lives of 60 Iraqis on Tuesday. There were more than twelve bombings, mostly in the Baghdad area. AP writes,
‘ “Suicide bombers struck across the street from Baghdad’s heavily guarded Green Zone, killing up to 16 people – the deadliest attack in a wave of bombings and shootings that threatened to shatter confidence in Iraq’s new government. In all, about 60 people died in more than a dozen bombings, shootings and ambushes – mostly in the Baghdad area, police reported. The dead included 10 Shiite Muslims slain by gunmen who fired on their bus as it left the capital for a funeral in southern Iraq, police said. ‘
Reuters’ early report also rounds up some of the violence but the casualty count is lower than it became later in the day.
A lot of people in Baghdad, Washington and London are uttering a lot of brave words about this descent into mass slaughter. 200 Iraqis dead on the basis of being Sunni or Shiite is equivalent proportionally to 2,200 Americans dead, killed because they were Catholic or Protestant. September 11 killed less than 3,000 Americans, and the Iraqis are often having a death toll on that order every few days.
PM Nuri al-Maliki says that the Iraqi security forces can handle it, which is clearly just not true. US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad is taking heart from the existence of Iraqi institutions and the participation of Sunni Arabs in the government (the Iraqi Accord Front announced an end to its suspension of participation.)
But behind the scenes these officials and others know exactly what is happening. The Iraqis are at the brink of hot civil war again. It is one thing for people to be blown up indiscriminately by car bombers. It is quite another for neighborhood- or mosque-based militiamen to set up checkpoints in a nearby district and pull people out of their cars and homes, examine their identity cards for tell-tale family names and places of birth, and shoot them dead on the spot for being from the wrong sect of Islam. How many days like Sunday would you have to have for it to equal a Srebrenica? Answer: 16. There are a lot of days in the year.
So everybody is worried to death, but what to do? US troops apparently simply cannot get hold of security in those Baghdad neighborhoods. They actually announced a security sweep in Adhamiyah and elsewhere fairly recently, but security is not better. They have limited options. If they let neighborhood militias police the localities, they might cut down on car bombings. But strengthening and ensconcing local militias might encourage them to raid rival neighborhoods and do a little ethnic cleansing.
So Al-Hayat reports that PM al-Maliki and Massoud Barzani have had an epiphany while meeting in the north.
What if Kurdish troops were deployed in Baghdad under an Iraqi military command? The Kurds are not Arabs at all. They might be able to function as honest brokers between Sunni Arabs and Shiite Arabs. It is true that most of them are Sunnis. But most Kurds aren’t Islamists and a lot of them belong to mystical Sufi orders or to socialist political parties. So their Sunnism isn’t of a sort that would make them favor the Sunni Arabs. And, they had suffered a lot from some high Sunni Arabs in the Saddam regime. On the other hand, they are unlikely to tilt toward a hyper-Shiite group like Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army.
But would the Kurds do it? A spokesman for the Kurdistan Democratic Party is saying, “yes.” He said that the deteriorating security situation in the capital “provokes the anxiety of the Kurdish parties, who fear that this escalation will lead to the widening of the scope of sectarian violence, will affect the situation in Kurdistan.”
Adnan Dulaimi of the (Sunni fundamentalist) Iraqi Accord Front said only that the suggestion needed to be studied. It is clear that the Sunni Arabs would prefer the Kurdish troops to the special police commandos of the Interior Ministry, whom they consider little more than death squads. Bringing the Kurds in under the rubric of the Iraqi army would strengthen the Sunni Arab minister of defense and weaken the Shiite minister of the interior.
Jalal al-Din Saghir of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Shiite) said that the United Iraqi Alliance has no objection to Kurdish troops in Baghdad, as long as their mission is keeping peace and order and as long as they behave within the law, and under the authority of the Iraqi government.
Al-Hayat reports that Mahdi Sabih, commander of security forces in Baghdad, told it aht the suggestion has not be studied inside the security establishment yet. He said he thought using peshmerga was better than using Arab or Muslim troops, as some had suggested.
These are desperate times, and call for desperate measures. There is a danger of the Kurdish troops producing a backlash that exacerbates Arab-Kurdish tensions. But if the consideration is holding the country together, well, it is already showing signs of deep fissure and that has to be stopped before anything else.
The Kurds want a referendum in Kirkuk Province in December ’07 on whether oil-rich Kirkuk will accede to the Kurdistan regional confederacy. If the referendum is held, the province will certainly join. it is increasingly Kurdish in character anyway. Helping Baghdad is a way to build up good will so as to make the holding of the referendum a necessity. So anyway, Maliki promised them their referendum. Was he trading Kurdistan for security in Baghdad?