4 US GIs Killed
House Dems set to Pass ’08 Withdrawal Language
Shiite on Shiite Violence in Basra
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appears to have put together a winning bill by both authorizing additional funding for US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan (something antiwar Democrats oppose) and by specifying a withdrawal date of 2008 (something the antiwar representatives very much want). The danger for her was that the antiwar left would peel away and she might not have the votes to pass the bill, which Republicans will vote against in the main. But most close observers of the Hill on Thursday were convinced that Pelosi would win this one.
The Senate Appropriations Committee seems set, a little unexpectedly, to report out a similar bill with the withdrawal language in it. Because of the Senate’s provisions for filibuster and consensual decision-making, however, it seems very unlikely that the language will survive when it goes to the whole Senate.
Bush has promised to veto any bill sent him with the withdrawal language in it.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon made a surprise visit to Baghdad Thursday, holding a joint news conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. As the PM was speaking, the auditorium was shaken by a katyusha rocket that landed only 50 yards away. Al-Maliki apparently has nerves of steel and did not even flinch, but Ban Ki-moon ducked at the sound of the blast. Al-Maliki had been in the midst of asserting that the security situation in Iraq was improving.
Reuters reports political violence in Iraq. Guerrillas killed three US troops on Wednesday, it was announced, and another on Thursday.
44 persons were killed or found dead around Iraq on Thursday, according to the wire services, including 25 bodies that showed up in the streets of Baghdad.
There was a prison riot in Basra, with inmates revolting on the grounds that they had been held 2-4 years without trial.
Clashes broke out in Basra between the Sadr Movement and the Islamic Virtue Party or Fadhila. The violence left 7 persons wounded, and city authorities imposed a curfew. Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that Mahdi Army militiamen burned down the major HQ of the Islamic Virtue Party after having invaded the offices of the electricity administration and having expelled its employees and imprisoned the manager. The two parties were said to be vying over control of a building that the British authorities had been using but which they had recently abandoned. The attack on the electricity administration offices came about, it was alleged, because the director had disciplined an electricity worker from the Mahdi Army. Some observers say that this conflict presages what is likely to happen in Basra when the British leave.
Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that the speaker of the Iraqi parliament, Mahmud al-Mashhadani, has compared the Mahdi Army to al-Qaeda in Iraq as among the most dangerous threats to Iraqi security. The Sadrist members of parliament vehemently rejected this characterization. MP Qusay Abdul Wahhab said that the Mahdi Army is just the Iraqi Resistance, that it has been dormant for several months, and that the real threat to Iraq comes from radical Sunni Arabs who excommunicate all Muslims who do not think like them (especially Shiites, whom they target for killing).
US troops found caches of chlorine and nitric acid in guerrilla storehouses in the Ghazaliya district of Baghdad on Thursday, raising the specter that the guerrillas are increasingly turning to chemical weapons. They have conducted several attacks using chlorine gas.
The US is attempting to avert a potentially disastrous Turkish military intervention in Iraqi Kurdistan. The Turks accuse Kurdistan of harboring 3600 guerrillas of the radical Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), who, it says, are committing acts of terrorism in eastern Anatolia and then slipping back over the border into Iraq. Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul is threatening hot pursuit by Turkish troops across that border. Such an incursion could set off the tinderbox that is northern Iraq.
Prince Hassan of Jordan supports Turkey in this regard. He warns against an ethno-religious breakup of Iraq, saying it will lead to the Balkanization of the entire Middle East.
Total’s CEO has been detained in connection with a bribery charge related to Total’s interest in Iranian petroleum.
Iraqi Christians are being forced to flee their country by the violence and because they are sometimes targeted by Sunni Arab guerrillas who wrongly associate them with the West. This article estimates them at 5% of the Iraqi population, which is probably incorrect. There were 800,000 or so of them before the war, but my understanding is that they may be down to 500,000 now, which would make them 2 percent of the population. Likewise, it strikes me as highly unlikely that 40% of Iraqis fleeing the country are Christian. The vast majority of Iraqi expatriates (some 800,000) in Jordan are Sunni Arabs, e.g.