Regional Conference Prepared Iraqi

Regional Conference Prepared
Iraqi Military to Assume control within a year
Gates Confirmed

The US now has a secretary of defense who knows that we are not winning in Iraq, who wants to do something about it, and who doesn’t think nuking Iran is just a dandy idea. Although his involvement in Iran-Contra dogged Robert Gates in the build-up to the confirmation hearings, it did not emerge as a big issue. It may be that by now having a SecDef who once was involved in selling US weapons to Khomeini and who therefore has a potential back channel to leaders in Tehran, is not seen as such a bad thing. Let’s see if Gates can finally redeem university presidents who enter high federal office, after Woodrow Wilson gave them a bad name.

The Arab League called Tuesday for a regional conference within 4 months to attempt to resolve Iraq’s crisis. Its members also called on the Iraqi government to dissolve all militias, and to curb Iranian interference in the country.

In the aftermath, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki climbed down from his previous reticence on the idea of a regional conference. He had recently rejected a similar proposal by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. He sent envoys to neighboring countries to begin preparing for it. He thus appeared to be over-ruling political allies such as Shiite cleric Abdul Aziz al-Hakim and (Kurdish) Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, both of whom have said that Iraq can resolve its own problems.

Western reporting on the new support for the regional conference in Baghdad tended not to link it to the Arab League decisions, though they seem to me to be central to the about-face.

AP reports that the US military in Iraq says that by next fall, Iraqi troops will be responsible for all 18 provinces in the country and control of all 10 Iraqi army divisions will be in the hands of the Iraqi government. This accelerated timetable came as a result of al-Maliki’s discussions with Bush in Amman last week.

Reuters reports civil war violence in Iraq on Tuesday. Major incidents:

‘ BAGHDAD – Three car bombs near a fuel station killed 16 people and wounded 25 in the southwestern Bayaa district of Baghdad, police said.

BAGHDAD – Gunmen ambushed a bus carrying employees for the Shi’ite Endowment, a religious body that oversees Shi’ite mosques, in northern Baghdad, killing 14 people and wounding four, the organisation said. An Interior Ministry source said 15 were killed and seven wounded in the attack in Qahira district.

BAGHDAD – Insurgents attacked a U.S. patrol on Monday, killing one U.S. soldier and wounding five others in northeastern Baghdad, the U.S. military said. ‘

There were several other attacks in the capital. In Ramadi, dozens are said to have died in clashes between Iraqi security forces and local Sunni Arab guerrillas. The Iraqi police chief claimed that 68 guerrillas were killed but mentioned no casualties among the security forces, which is not plausible.

A spokesman for the Saudi Interior Ministry expressed concern on Tuesday that jihadis who fight in Iraq and recruit Saudi young men for the battle are coming back to Saudi Arabia and becoming a threat to the country’s security.

Al-Hayat reports that its sources in Washington are saying that Iraqi Shiite cleric Abdul Aziz al-Hakim brought with him a letter from the government of Iran for Bush, when he met with the president on Monday.

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