Marsh Arabs Attack Basra Governor
22 Killed, 93 Wounded in Baghdad Bombings
Security Collapses in Mosul
The Gulf Daily News writes that bombs killed 22 and wounded 93 in the center of Baghdad on Wednesday. Later reports put the deaths at 25.
‘ BAGHDAD: Three car bombs hit commercial districts of downtown Baghdad yesterday, killing at least 22 people and wounding 93 . . . A bomb blast near the city’s main bus station killed at least eight people and wounded 28, hitting a street market popular with Iraqi Shiites travelling by road to southern cities. . . Later, two more bombs went off in rapid succession, killing 14 more people and wounding 65, according to an interior ministry official. A thick column of smoke poured into the air above Sadun Street in the heart of Baghdad after the explosions, which damaged a row of shops and a popular coffee shop. ‘
Saadun street is a popular place of residence for Christians and Kurds.
Reuters reports on other civil war violence in Iraq, including bombings and killings in provincial cities like Muqdadiyah and Baqubah.
The security situation in southern Iraq continues on its worrisome downward spiral.
In Basra, one policeman was killed and 4 wounded when armed men staged an attack on the HQ of the governor of Basra province. An official source told al-Zaman “Gunmen in about 15 vehicles surrounded the governor’s offices and directed gunfire at it. The guards replied with fire at the source of the attacks.” Government reinforcements reached the building after about an hour.
Another source said that the attackers were tribesmen of the Marsh Arab Bani Asad tribe, who had two days ago cut the road between Basra and Baghdad after one of their chieftains, Shaikh Ghazi al-Khuyun, was killed by armed men in the industrial quarter of Khamsah Mil (5 Mile). A military spokesman played down the extent of the violence and said that a partial curfew had been imposed in Basra.
Marsh Arabs had been forbidden to enter Basra under the old Baath regime, but the British allowed them in after April 2003. They were displaced by the decline of their marshes, in which they had farmed, fished, and smuggled. Some of these Marsh Arab tribes now function as urban mafias and are involved in extortion rackets. They also conduct feuds and turf wars with one another and with party-militias such as the Virtue Party (Fadhila). The Basra governor belongs to the Virtue Party, and his dispute with the Bani Asad almost certainly has the character of a turf war over some economic resource in Basra.
The atmosphere in Karbala, a Shiite holy city, remained tense and a curfew remained in effect on Wednesday. Tuesday had witnessed an armed conflict between Iraqi security forces and Hasani’s militiamen, in which 10 of his followers were killed and 281 were arrested. A police officer was also killed, and another wounded, in that clash. Shops remained closed and the streets were largely deserted, with street peddlars staying at home. The night before yesterday gunfire could be heard and there were reports of further clashes. Karbala has been closed to people from other provinces for the next 3 days as a security measure. (Ordinarily there is a constant flow of pilgrims to the shrine of Imam Husayn, the martyred grandson of the prophet).
The arrested followers of Shaikh Hasani were sent to Najaf, a stronghold of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the enemy of Hasani and his disciples. Security forces in Najaf are conducting a search for followers of Hasani.
A wave of small demonstrations swept several cities, including Hilla and Kut, staged by followers of Shaikh Mahmud al-Sarkhi al-Hasani, a maverick follower of the late Ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr (d. 1999). The demonstrators protested the arrest of nearly 300 of Hasani’s followers in Karbala on Tuesday. They also said that Iran was instigating political instability in Iraq. Abd al-Zahrah al-Ma’muri, a rally organizer who was wounded in the hand, told al-Zaman, “There is an atmosphere of terror . . . they want to make us disappear using Iranian intelligence agents, who dominate everything and muzzle everyone, even the grand ayatollahs. But we will not be silent because we follow the pure, Arab, Iraqi Speaking Religious Authority.” Presumably he is referring to shaikh Hasani. He said the protestors’ only demand was the release of the persons imprisoned, whom they characterized as simply having wanted to reaffirm Iraqi national identity. He called on the police to be even-handed and not to submit to the political centers that are openly linked to Iran. (He appears to mean the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq and the Badr Corps, both of which have strong links to Iran).
In Kut the day before yesterday, fighting broke out between Hasani’s militiamen and Iraqi police, leaving two policemen dead and three wounded.
In Mosul, al-Zaman reports [Ar.], several districts on the right side of the city witnessed the outbreak of clashes between armed men and Iraqi police patrols that continued for two hours. Among the districts where this violence occurred were Yarmuk, Amil, New Mosul, Suq al-Ghanam, Suq al-Ma’ash, and others. Five guerrillas were killed and 6 captured, Iraqi police said.
The guerrillas were said by Iraqi authorities to belong to the Majlis Shura al-Mujahidin (Council of Freedom Fighters), though some were thought to actually be from the former Iraqi army. Security has been poor in Mosul for the past two weeks, and when the guerrillas are attacked in one district they switch to another. The withdrawal of 3000 US troops, who were sent to pacify Sunni Arab districts of Baghdad, appears to have allowed this downward spiral of security in Mosul, Iraq’s third largest city. The day before yesterday, guerrillas attacked the party HQ of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. Kurds are a small minority in Mosul, but Kurdish Peshmerga soldiers have often been given security tasks by the US in the largely Sunni Arab city. In June, 25 Kurds were assassinated in Mosul.
Syria will share fuel with Iraq. Well, I guess Mr. Bush will be happy with Damascus now that it is helping Iraq out, right? This report notes: “Before the U.S. invasion Iraq used to produce up to 20 million liters of gasoline a day. Current production is estimated to be 3 million liters.” George W. Bush managed to produce a gasoline crisis . . . in Iraq.