Khalilzad Apologizes for Arrest of Ammar al-Hakim
Maliki Government stalls Changes in Debaathification
The US has released Ammar al-Hakim and US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad apologized profusely for his arrest. The US military is giving three reasons for his arrest: He entered Iraq at a closed border station, his passport was expired, and his party was armed to the teeth. In fact, however, his passport was valid until September 17, 2007, and nobody travels overland in Iraq without being armed. It is most likely that the US doesn’t want Shiite leaders slipping over to Iran in this way, because it is trying to reduce Iranian influence with US allies in Iraq. That is, al-Hakim’s offense was probably his trip itself, though that cannot be admitted by Washington.
Al-Zaman reports in Arabic that al-Hakim complained of being hooded and treated roughly while in US custody. Al-Zaman says that al-Hakim’s cell phone was confiscated, and hints broadly that the real reason for the arrest was to get access to his telephone records and the documents he had with him. The US suspects the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq of getting aid from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, and Washington wants it stopped.
Al-Zaman provides two other interesting but unconfirmed narratives. One is that al-Hakim’s party came under fire as they entered Iraq near Kut and one or two of his guards were actually killed. The paper also reports an allegation that the US in arresting al-Hakim was acting on a tip from the Sadr Movement of Muqtada al-Sadr, which is popular in the Kut region and is a rival of the al-Hakims.
In contrast, al-Hayat reports that the US may have been hoping that the convoy coming from Iran was that of Muqtada al-Sadr, whom they have determined to arrest. In that case, the incident would be a case of mistaken identity.
Al-Hakim says his guards were abused and still have not been released. US military sources say that they were following procedure in verifying his identity, since passports can be forged, and that the issue had to go to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki for resolution since the latter had prohibited lower-level officials from just releasing detainees.
I am unconvinced by this explanation, since there was not good reason to doubt al-Hakim’s passport, and it can’t have taken 12 hours to call al-Maliki. There is also the question of why US troops were even in the area, since it is a Polish sphere of operations. They had to have come over for some specific purpose. The likelihood is that it was an intelligence operation of some sort.
The incident, which produced a small demonstration in Basra and a lot of bad feeling among Iraqi Shiites, demonstrates the dangers of Bush’s cowboy policies in Iraq, such that he recently urged suspected Iranian agents be shot on sight. If Ammar had been killed instead of arrested for 12 hours, there would have been hell to pay.
The same al-Zaman article says that the security plan in Baghdad has been altered because of guerrillas increasing successes in shooting down US helicopters, and their recent use of attacks on chlorine gas trucks. Without as much chopper support, and facing the possibility of being gassed, US and Iraqi troops have been forced to change their tactics (obviously, the details are not specified).
Guerrillas in Hilla, a Shiite city south of Baghdad, set off a bomb under an automobile, wounding 6. There was scattered mortar fire in Baghdad, and five bodies were found there.
Paul Richter of the LA Times reports that a keystone of Bush’s surge policy, reconciliation between Shiites and Sunni Arabs, is being impeded by the refusal of the Iraqi parliament to reconsider the guidelines for Debaathification. Since most Sunni Arabs had family members with Baath ties, they have been hurt economically and politically by the firings. When you systematically screw over 20% of the population, you create a civil war.
Al-Zaman reports in Arabic that the Sunni Pious Endowments Board has suspended its activities in protest against the firing, by Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, of its head. The former head had pushed for an international investigation into the alleged rape of a Sunni woman by Shiite security personnel. A strike by the endowments board is potentially powerful symbolic politics. Sunni religious foundations in Iraq are numerous and often wealthy and influential. Al-Maliki seems just to have lost their confidence.
Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that six Sunni Arab guerrilla groups have vowed to take revenge for the rape. (Presumably by attacking Shiite police).
Even voters in the southeastern states (Georgia, the Carolinas, Virginia), which have in recent decades been strongly Republican, have turned against Bush and against the Iraq War. Personally I think certainly Virginia and maybe North Carolina is there for the taking by the Democratic candidate for president in 2008, if the candidate conducts a good campaign. If I were in charge, I’d put about posters showing the schools in those states that haven’t been painted while Bush has been pouring money into the Iraq maelstrom the way a drunk gambler pours money into the gaming tables at Las Vegas.
Sarah Smiles reports in The Age that even the Defense Minister of the hard line Howard government in Australia, Brendan Nelson, has admitted that a conventional victory in Iraq is elusive. This is like saying that a successful landing of The Titanic in New York was elusive.
Some 800 civilian contractors (many of them functioning essentially as military police) have been killed by guerrillas in Iraq, and over 3,000 have been wounded. This is a “hidden cost” of the war that most news stories and politicians’ speeches ignore.