Chirac Calls for Withdrawal Timetable
5 GIs die in Iraq
Bombings, killings continued apace.
The US military announced the deaths of 5 US GIs by Iraqi guerrillas on Thursday. Guerrillas in east Baghdad killed three US soldiers with a roadside bomb. In al-Anbar province, a US marine died from earlier injuries inflicted by the enemy. An accident killed a fifth, on Wednesday, in north Baghdad.
AP reports that Thursday was another bloody day in Iraq, with a big bombing in a Shiite market and an overall death toll that AP estimated at 49. It says that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is planning a cabinet shuffle to improve the image of his government.
Al-Sharq al-Awsat [The Middle East] charges [Ar.] that last winter and spring after the Sadr Movement joined the political process, the government of then PM Ibrahim Jaafari allowed elements of the Mahdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr to infiltrate the Ministry of the Interior and other security agencies. This access to the levers of power allowed the Mahdi Army to become more sophisticated and gain better training and organization. The London daily further charges that the 278,000 missing weapons that had been provided to Iraqi security forces by the Americans were distributed to the militias.
If all this is true, the US has unwittingly been supporting and arming the very militias it hoped to undermine and combat.
French President Jacques Chirac said Thursday while meeting with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. Regarding the international troop’s presence in Iraq, “he (President Chirac) said that in the eyes of France, it is important to fix a prospect of withdrawal. . .” Talabani replied that he felt it important that US troops remain for another 3 years.
Al-Hayat reports that [Ar.] Sunni Arab guerrilla groups such as the Army of Islam and the 1920 Revolution Brigades have been meeting with tribal sheikhs and each other in an attempt to form a leadership council. They intend for it to continue the intensive negotiations with the Americans that had already begun in Amman.
Al-Hayat maintains that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a fundamentalist Shiite, is disgusted that the Americans are talking to these Sunni guerrilla groups (who are blowing up Shiites). It suggests that al-Maliki’s recent order that the US military lift its blockade of Karrada and Sadr City (Shiite areas) was a sort of payback for those talks. (I don’t find these charges plausible, since the evidence is that the Maliki government is also talking to the guerrillas. See the translated piece that follows below.) [See also the comment appended below of an informed critic of this posting; makes a good point but there is actually evidence of the Iraqi government talking to the “insurgents.” Maybe they don’t want the US doing so as a parallel track.]*
Reuters reports political violence on Thursday. Excerpts:
‘BAGHDAD – A motorcycle bomb killed seven people and wounded 45 others in a crowded market in Baghdad’s Shi’ite Sadr City district . . .
BAGHDAD – Gunmen attacked a police patrol and killed three policemen and wounded another in central Baghdad . . .
BAQUBA – Gunmen attacked a police patrol killing two policemen and wounding two others . . .
NEAR BAQUBA – Gunmen set up a fake security checkpoint and killed the drivers of two fuel trucks and kidnapped three other people near Baquba, police said.
UDHAIM – Gunmen killed five people in two fuel trucks after they set up a fake checkpoint in Udhaim, 60 km (40 miles) north of Baquba, police said.
MAHMUDIYA – The bodies of four people were found blindfolded in Mahmudiya, police said.
YUSUFIYA – Police found the bodies of three people with their hands tied in the town of Yusufiya, police said.
MOSUL – A mortar round hit a house killing two people and wounding seven others in the northern city of Mosul, police said.
RAMADI – U.S. forces conducted an air strike in the insurgent stronghold city of Ramadi, 110 km (68 miles) west of Baghdad, and killed a local al-Qaeda in Iraq leader and his driver on Wednesday, the U.S. military said on Thursday. A U.S. statement said Rafa al-Ithawi, the Emir of Shamiya, frequently harboured foreign fighters who entered Iraq illegally. ‘
Vice Premier Barham Salih says that Iraq’s new draft petroleum law, which will govern foreign investment in the industry, should be completed before the end of this year. This is what it has all been about. The law will also specify whether the contract must be signed at the regional or national level.
People keep asking me about the US munitions depot that was blown up in October by the Sunni Arab guerrillas. Although it was a big set of explosions that shook Baghdad, it was away from barracks and seems not to have killed anyone. There are wild reports on the web that 300 Americans died in the explosions. It is not plausible. You cannot cover up US military casualties, especially on that scale. The families always know, and they would blow the whistle. That the guerrillas can blow up US munitions that way is pretty depressing and a sign of how little the US is in control. But there wasn’t a secret bloodbath here.
Remember how Senator Rick Santorum and Congressman Curt Weldon insisted that documents from Iraq be posted so that rightwing bloggers could comb through them and demonstrate that Saddam had WMD and ties to al-Qaeda after all? Well, the documents showed the opposite, including a frantic APB on Abu Musab al-Zarqawi when they thought he might have entered Iraq. But worse, some of the documents might have been useful to anyone who really did want to make a nuclear weapon. They’ve been pulled back down.
* An informed reader writes:
‘ Juan, You have mixed up, unwittingly I am sure, two processes which have to be kept clearly separate if anyone is to understand what is going on.
One is the meetings in Amman between the Iraqi National Reconciliation committee with Iraqi political figures (many of them ex-Baath and/or ex-Army), the purpose of which was to encourage them to attend the next meeting of the National Reconciliation in Baghdad.
The other process was meetings between Iraqi resistance factions and Americans, the purpose of which, according to Al-Hayat this morning, is to prepare the ground for official negotiations, and it was for that reason that the factions are described in Al-Hayat as preparing a common-front structure, with formation of a unified “political committee”.
In the Al-Rai article (last Tuesday, Oct 31, page 7) whose translation you publish, the Iraqi ambassador is quoted: He “admitted that there are contacts between US officials and Iraqi resistance factions in Amman; however, he stressed that the meetings held during the past two days at the Iraqi Embassy in Amman are not related to those contacts”.
What angered Maliki was the US-Resistance negotiating process, and it is wrong and misleading for you to say that “the evidence is that the Maliki government is also talking to the guerillas.”
And when, in the context of reporting on reconciliation proceedures, you describe the resistance factions as “blowing up Shiites”, you sound more like a partisan than an “informed commenter”. ‘