Street Battles in Baghdad;
75 Bodies Found;
Diplomatic Ties with Syria Bruited
Al-Zaman reports in Arabic that on Monday running street battles erupted in several districts of Baghdad between guerrillas and Iraqi police. In Salikh, the Bank district, Sumer, and Tujjar, residents were forced to flee their homes lest they be exposed to kidnapping or caught in the cross-fire. The fighting, mainly with small arms fire, began when guerrillas attacked a police checkpoint. Police attempted to close off the affected neighborhoods. They also closed Salikh Bridge, which is among the main point of access to Baghdad from northern provinces such as Diyala, Kirkuk and Sulaymaniyah. The closing created traffic jams and forced drivers to use an alternative route into the city.
The toll of killed and injured from this fighting was not known when reporters put al-Zaman to bed.
Reuters reports political and sectarian violence in Iraq for Monday.
Iraq and Syria agreed to reestablish diplomatic relations, for the first time since 1982. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was for a long time the Da’wa Party’s bureau head in Damascus, in the 1980s and 1990s. Many Iraqi Shiites see the Syrian regime as Baathists and they will not forgive them for that. But al-Maliki’s experience of being given refuge from Saddam by the Baathists in Damascus gives him a different point of view. My suspicion is that al-Maliki has been working on this rapprochement behind the scenes since he was elected to office. It is probably happening now because it coincides with the Baker commission recommendation that the Americans talk to Syria about stabilizing Iraq.
Although Washington is always accusing Syria of letting jihadis into Iraq, I’m unconvinced it is deliberately doing so. The Baath regime in Damascus is dominated by Shiite Alawis, a kind of local folk Shiism that doesn’t have ayatollahs and accepts a sort of mythological way of thinking. The Baath regime’s biggest enemy is Sunni fundamentalism. So the idea that Bashar al-Asad is deliberately building up a fundamentalist Sunni statelet right next door just strikes me as unlikely. The border is 800 miles long, and probably can’t be controlled. If relations warm between Baghdad and Damascus, Syria may try even harder to round up the Sunni jihadis.
President Jalal Talibani will go to Tehran soon to consult with Iranian president Mahmud Ahmadinejad.
‘ In all. 25 Iraqis were killed Monday in a series of attacks in Baghdad. Ramadi and Baqouba. police said. The bodies of 75 Iraqis who had been kidnapped and tortured also were found on the streets of the capital. in Dujail to the north of Baghdad and in the Tigris River in southern Iraq. ‘
I was also sad to read that guerrillas shot and killed Fulayeh al-Ghurabi, a Shiite professor at Babil University.
At the Middle East Studies Association meeting in Boston, several Iraqi professors spoke on the horrible situation at the universities.
My Salon.com article, ‘White Collar Crime,’ on the rash of sectarian kidnappings in Iraq, is on the web.
Bill Gallagher, a Peabody Award-winning journalist, asks ‘Who’s Running the White House Now?’.