Rash of Kidnappings of Dozens of Shiites
Iraq Government misplaces or Steals $8 Billion
AP reports that Sunni Arab guerrillas kidnapped 22 Shiite shepherds and stole thousands of sheep on Wednesday when the Shiites came up from Karbala to al-Anbar Province in search of pasturage. Reuters reports that there was also another major kidnapping on Wednesday: “LATIFIYA – Gunmen manning a fake checkpoint kidnapped passengers traveling in six minibus taxis and a car, near the town of Latifiya 40 km (25 miles) south of Baghdad, an official in the Hilla police chief’s office said. . .”
Six minibuses would have had a lot of people in them. This route is one traveled by Shiites going back and forth from Baghdad to their holy cities.
Reuters reports that in addition to the shooting of 11 electricity workers near Hawija in the north, in the northern mixed oil city of Kirkuk: “Nine civilians were wounded on Tuesday when three roadside bombs exploded in a mainly Kurdish district of Kirkuk, 250 km (155 miles) north of Baghdad, police said . . .”
A returning US naval reservist reveals how bad the situation is in Iraq. Money quotes:
‘ “If you’re going to walk around over there, I’d strongly suggest investing in Kevlar (body armor),” Christensen said. “There are definitely warmer spots of American compassion, but things are still very … touchy.”
Christensen said his team was discouraged from interacting with Iraqi citizens, because it was difficult to tell friend from foe.
“There would be 10- or 11- year-old kids that would give us a ‘thumbs up’ when we drove by them, and then throw grenades under our truck after we passed,” he said.
But Christensen said the worst violence was saved for Iraqi groups that assisted in the American reconstruction of the country, such as the Iraqi Security Forces.
“If there is one group of people that they hate more than us, it’s the Iraqi Army,” he said. “If they catch wind that one of our convoys is working with the Iraqi Army, they’ll fight to the death. You take a few minutes for yourself before you (leave the base) on missions like that.” ‘
Let me just get this straight. The US is putting all its hopes in the prospect that “as the Iraqi forces stand up, we’ll stand down.” But the Iraqi forces provoke the fiercest resistance among the guerrillas, and their presence on a mission actually increases the danger to US troops! I don’t think this standing up business sounds as though it is going well.
Until the Iranian government announced Wednesday that it would release the 15 captured British sailors and Marines, , according to al-Sharq al-Awsat writing in Arabic, the inhabitants of the southern Shiite port city of Basra were growing anxious that they might get caught in the crossfire of any hot conflict between the West and Iran. Some complained about the relative passivity of the Iraqi government during the crisis. “They were acting as though it had happened in some other country,” one Basran said.
A spokesman for Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani denied on Wednesday that the Shiite spiritual leader opposes a new law supported by President Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki that would reinstate Baathists in high government positions if they cut off any relationship to the Sunni Arab guerrilla movement. Sistani’s opposition was reported by visiting politician Ahmad Chalabi, who admittedly has credibility problems.
Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that Shiite Vice President Adil Abdul Mahdi of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq has been working on a Status of Forces Agreement that would define the relationship between the Iraqi state and the multinational forces (mainly American). His draft is said to insist on Iraqi control of the airports and borders. US troops would require permission to kick down doors and conduct searches. These provisions were discussed by Iraqi officials and MPs with American officials. Among the parliamentarians engaging in the talks was Qusay Abdul Wahhab, a member of the Sadr Movement, which has demanded an immediate US departure. As the next item makes clear, the Sadr leadership was distressed at Abdul Wahhab’s participation in these talks and has expelled him from the party over it. Salman al-Jumayli, a leader of the Sunni Arab Iraqi Islamic Party, denied that his party had approved the draft SOFA. He said his bloc insists on provisions for a withdrawal timetable for American troops.
Al-Zaman reports in Arabic that the politburo of the Sadr Movement announced Wednesday that it had expelled two members of parliament from the party because they had met with US officials during the past two days. Abdul Mahdi al-Mutayri, a member of the Political Committee that took the step, said, “The Committee expelled the former minister of transportation, Salam al-Maliki, and the MP Qusay Abdul Wahhab, who met with American officials two days ago.” He clarified, “Muqtada al-Sadr approved the expulsion.” He was referring to the young Shiite nationalist cleric that leads the Sadr Movement begun by his father. He said that consorting with Occupation officials is contrary to the principles of the Sadr movement. Al-Zaman says that this announcement is the first public indication of the existence of tensions within the Sadr Movement, which has a fourth of the seats in the United Iraqi Alliance, the ruling Shiite bloc in parliament.
Al-Zaman also reports that the Iraqi government has been secretly transporting unidentified corpses from the Baghdad morgue to a vast cemetery near the Shiite holy city of Karbala. The Baghdad daily says that 2500 unidentified corpses have been disposed of this way since last June. It alleges that the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has forbidden the Baghdad morgue from announcing the true death toll, but that morgue officials admit that 16,000 unidentified or unclaimed corpses came in during 2006.
Privatizing Iraqi petroleum may not be so easy if the oil workers union has anything to say about it. And, it does.
Iraqi officials cannot account for $8 billion during the past 3 years, with much of it embezzled. Some $2 billion disappeared during the prime ministership of US-appointed PM Iyad Allawi.
Al-Zaman reports in Arabic that Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, the Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar Seminary and among the leader Sunni authorities in the world, has conveyed to the Iranian leadership his dismay at the support it has given to the militias of religious parties in the Iraqi government and to death squads that kill and kidnap on a sectarian basis. The message was contained in a letter that was carried to former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami, who had visited Cairo last week. Khatami, according to al-Azhar sources, had promised to pass it on to the Iranian leadership.
In the Khatami period, al-Azhar had pursued Sunni Shiite ecumenism. Tantawi even signed off on a joint fatwa with Sistani and other Shiite clerics accepting that Shiites and Sunnis were both Muslims in good standing and that it was wrong for one Muslim to declare another Muslim an infidel for belonging to one of the four major Sunni rites or to the Jaafari school of Shiite Islamic law.
This letter is a sign that tensions are growing between even mainstream, moderate Sunni and Shiite clergymen throughout the Middle East, tensions fueled by the sectarian violence in Iraq.