Civil War Violence Reaches New Heights

Civil War Violence Reaches New Heights in Iraq
Religious Group Clashes with Police in Karbala
Bush Opposes Partition

Faith-based civil war violence killed 110 civilians each day in July, a new report shows, which is a new one-month record. The deaths come in the midst of a new security program and extra checkpoints pushed by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. It hasn’t worked.

A car bomb in Mosul killed 9 and wounded 36 at the HQ of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan headed by Jalal Talabani. Mosul is a largely Arab city with a Kurdish minority, but Kurdish troops and security personnel have been used in the city by the United States, and many of its inhabitants are afraid that the Kurds will try to annex it to their Kurdistan regional federation.

Other civil war violence on Tuesday, including bombings in Samarra and Baquba.

In another worrisome sign of collapsing security in Iraq, Al-Zaman/ AFP report that all hell has broken loose in the Shiite shrine city of Karbala. The city has been closed to visiting pilgrims for three days and a curfew is in effect after a battle between municipal police and a Shiite sectarian movement.

The Iraqi security forces, probably dominated in Karbala by members of the Badr Corps (originally trained in Iran) came into conflict with with followers of Shaikh Mahmud al-Hasani al-Sarkhi. Al-Hasani is strongly opposed to the continued US presence in Iraq, but is also fanatically anti-Iranian. The violent clashes killed at least 6 persons, including 3 from the Iraqi security forces. Al-Hasani’s office claimed that 25 of his followers were killed and 20 wounded. Some 200 of his men were arrested. (The local hospital reported receiving 6 corpses, but eyewitnesses said that bodies littered the streets and that the atmosphere was full of dread).

Al-Hasani also accused the Shiite religious authorities in the Iranian seminary city of Qom of cooperating with Iranian intelligence and some Iraqi parties now in power in Baghdad to get rid of him because he rejects a Shiite provincial confederacy in the south and insists on a united Iraq and opposes sectarian and ethnic politics. His office said that the attack on his followers was in furtherance of an Iranian plan to put the Iraqi Shiites under the authority of an Iranian ayatollah with big plans for the Middle East. (He is saying that his people were attacked by Badr Corpsmen infiltrated into local police and other state security arms. In turn, he is coding Badr as Iranian puppets. Badr is the paramilitary of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a leading party in the Iraqi parliament and in provincial governments.)

An Iraqi official who chose to remain anonymous said that Iraqi security forces assaulted the main HQ of al-Hasani in Bab Turij in the center of Karbala and fought with his followers, taking about 200 into custody.

President Bush met with a handful of Middle East experts and expressed opposition to seeing Iraq break up. He also said that the US would be in Iraq as long as he was president.

Long time readers know that I am also opposed to seeing Iraq partitioned, and think it would only cause more problems. But wanting Iraq to stay together and arranging for it to do so are not the same things.

You have to ask yourself, what are the policies that would split it up and what are the policies that would keep it together? I maintain that Bush’s policies have set in motion enormous pressures for partition, which did not exist in April, 2003. He has to change those policies if he is to maintain the country’s integrity. Making the Marines an adjunct to Shiite sectarian policies of debaathification and suppression of the Sunnis is maybe not a winning strategy and should be rethought. Using the Kurdish Peshmergas to police Kirkuk and Ninevah provinces or to attack Turkmen in Tal Afar is also not wise from the point of view of ethnic politics. Kirkuk has Arabs and Turkmen who fear Kurdish dominance, and Ninevah is majority-Arab and knows that the Kurds covet Mosul, Iraq’s third-largest city. If Bush hasn’t been using ethnic divisions to divide and rule, then he has just been unwise about them.

I personally think that a huge 9-province regional confederacy of the sort Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the clerical Shiite leader, wants to create, will break up Iraq. I also think that the Kirkuk issue should be settled now by negotiation rather than waiting a year and a half for the referendum to produce massive ethnic violence. Avoiding the break-up of Iraq now requires pro-active intervention and specific policy-making, not just mouthing pious hopes.

As for staying there until 2009 at least, that is also an aspiration on his part. It isn’t clear he can pull it off. The Iraqis are more and more angry at us, most recently for actively encouraging the Israelis to turn the Shiite parts of Lebanon into debris and mass graves. Imperial powers have been forced out of countries in the past when they just could no longer get the cooperation of local elites. Likewise, Congress pays for the US to be in Iraq, and the new Congress after the November elections may not be willing to do so.

Personally, I think the US should draw down most of its ground troops. It isn’t useful for our GIs to try to ride herd on Ramadi, and I think Ramadi will more likely turn out well in the medium term if they aren’t there. As Gen. John Abizaid pointed out in spring of 2003, we are a pathogen in the Iraqi body politic, constantly attracting antibodies. (He got the biology backwards but this is what he meant and he was right.) Our press doesn’t say much about it, but there is a a hot war going on in Ramadi; guerrillas hit a US base there with RPG fire on Tuesday and US troops engaged them. This fighting has been going on in Ramadi forever and whatever we are doing there is not causing it to subside.

The really worrisome thing is that Bush must recognize that he is in deep, deep trouble if he is meeting with bona fide academic Middle East experts like Vali Nasr and Eric Davis. I don’t think he likes academics very much, nor used, at least, to value academic ways of analysis.

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