Bridge Damaged, 9 dead in Truck Bombing;
Sadrists, Sunni Accord Front threaten withdrawal from Iraqi Government; Dodd, Obama Critique McCain
Thursday morning in Baghdad, a truck bomb detonated on the Sarafiya bridge in Baghdad. Early reports gave the casualty toll as 9 dead, but observers said that five or six cars were sent into the river and likely the number of fatalities would rise. Aljazeera is saying that there were 20 passengers in the cars. The bridge is a major artery linking east and west Baghdad.
Two more US troops were announced killed on Wednesday, with several more wounded.
Reuters reports that police found 11 bodies in Baghdad on Wednesday, and 9 in Mosul. There were several bombings and mortar attacks in Baghdad.
British troops fought an intense gun battle with Shiite militiamen in a rough neighborhood of Basra, beginning on Tuesday, which left between 10 and 20 militiamen dead. I presume these are Mahdi Army, though it isn’t clear from the report in the Telegraph. There are several Shiite militias in Basra, and some Marsh Arab tribes function as militias or mafias.
The Iraq Islamic Army, a major Sunni Arab guerrilla group, says that it is willing to parlay with the Americans on three conditions: The US Congress must announce that the US will leave Iraq; the Sunni Arab resistance must be recognized as a legitimate party in the dispute; and the talks must be sponsored by Russia, Turkey or the European Union. The IIA excludes ex-Baathists from its ranks and has recently been fighting Salafi extremists who call themselves “al-Qaeda,” but says that it wants to unite the Sunni Arab resistance.
Sunni and Shiite guerrillas are continuing to engage in ethnic cleansing of neighborhoods in Baghdad despite the increase in the number of US and Iraqi troops there.
The International Committee of the Red Cross has issued a report saying that the situation for Iraqi civilians is bad and getting worse, and that there has been no tangible improvement for them in Baghdad. It says that thousands of bodies are at morgues throughout the country because families do not know they are there or are afraid to go pick them up. Mothers keep their children at home until the dead bodies are collected from the street so they won’t see them.
The Iraq War has spurred terrorism and provided a training ground for al-Qaeda, according to a new British report.
The US military spokesman Major General William Caldwell argued on Wednesday that Iran is giving military aid to Sunni guerrillas in Iraq. Since the Sunni guerrillas are killing and blowing up Shiites every day, and since Iran is closely allied with the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq and its Badr Corps paramilitary, the leaders of which have repeatedly been targeted by Sunni guerrillas. That Iran is trying to kill its own guys in Iraq is flatly implausible. Caldwell can come out and say it every day, and I will come out here and say it is implausible every day. Anti-Iranian sentiments are a key characteristic of the Sunni Arab guerrillas.
Iranian arms may be being smuggled into Iraq, but it is unlikely that the government is doing the smuggling, or that they are more important than all the other arms that are being smuggled into Iraq from a variety of neighbors. So the US military might well find Sunni guerrillas with Iranian arms.
We also know that some Sunni guerrillas want to foment a war between the US and Iran. So captured Sunni guerrillas may be feeding interrogators this line that they are getting help from Iran, to make trouble. That is, whatever the US military is finding in the way of evidence for this absurd allegation can be explained in some other plausible way, so as to avoid our having to come to conclusions that make no sense whatsoever. I am hoping that journalists covering the war will treat these allegations with the profound skepticism they deserve.
The easy way for the US military not to be inconvenienced by arms smuggling into Iraq from neighboring countries is for it to leave Iraq.
These ridiculous allegations against Iran of supporting Baathists and Salafis in Iraq are probably just pressure tactics. The Iranians want the US to release five diplomats who had been invited to Irbil by Kurdistan president Massoud Barzani, but who were kidnapped by the Bush administration. The US maintains that they are intelligence field officers. Iran is threatening not to attend the upcoming Sharm el Sheikh conference on Iraq if their men are not released.
The US is refusing to release the Iranian personnel.
Young nationalist Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr issued a communique on Wednesday sharply rebuking Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki for saying in Japan that there was no need for a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops in Iraq.
Tens or hundreds of thousands of protesters assembled in the holy city of Najaf on Monday, despite the dangers of traveling in Iraq, to protest the continued US military presence in the country, answering Muqtada’s earlier call. Monday was the fourth anniversary of the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime. Muqtada said in his statement that his parliamentarians are considering boycotting the al-Maliki government.
The 32 Sadrist deputies engaged in such a boycott in November and December (to protest al-Maliki’s meeting in Jordan with George W. Bush), making it difficult or impossible for parliament to get a quorum. (Many of the parliamentarians actually live abroad, whereas the Sadrists are in town, so their absence is crucial). A Sadrist boycott of the al-Maliki government, coupled with the defection of the Islamic Virtue Party from his coalition, could make it difficult for parliament to function, and could stop the passage of the proposed petroleum investment bill. The Bush administration appears privately to have told al-Maliki that passage of that bill by June is a benchmark on which his government will be judged.
Al-Zaman writes in Arabic that its sources say that a Sadrist withdrawal is unlikely. It says that the Sadr Movement is now made up of three major groups: Sadrists who have become loyal to al-Maliki; the parliamentarians; and the Mahdi Army, which is loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr.
The Iraqi Accord Front, a coalition of Sunni Arab fundamentalists with 44 seats in parliament, may withdraw from the political process, as well. Several of its MPs have been targeted for raids by the US military and have been tied to Sunni guerrilla groups. Others have abruptly fled the country without filing the requisite paperwork. MP Khalaf Ulyan, one of 3 leaders of the Front, had his house raided recently and the US alleged it found weapons there. He is abroad.
If the Sunni Arabs in parliament withdraw, and the Sadrists withdraw, that really could spell the end of any quorum and produce [an even more] complete legislative gridlock. Al-Zaman is saying that the Iraqi Islamic Party, one of the three members of the IAF coalition, has indicated that it would not depart from the political process.
Prime Minister al-Maliki was forced to reaffirm that foreign policy is the prerogative of the Baghdad government, in the face of threats and pronouncements of Kurdistan Regional Government president Massoud Barzani on April 6. Ankara is enraged by Barzani’s threats to cause trouble in Diyarbakr if Turkey interferes in the Kirkuk issue.
The US military in Iraq appears to have killed an awful lot of Iraqi civilians out of being trigger happy. I mean, you sympathize in a guerrilla war situation with troops being suspicious even of civilians, but a schoolboy with a bookbag?
48 percent of adult respondents in a recent poll said that Bush should sign the appropriations bill that contains language on setting a timetable for US troop withdrawal from Iraq.
43% said that they thought Bush should veto the bill.
Barack Obama criticized John McCain on Wednesday, suggesting that the current surge in the number of US troops will not resolve Iraq’s civil war.
Senator Chris Dodd, a Democratic presidential candidate, called for more diplomacy on Iraq and criticized the idea that an increase of troops can succeed. He critiqued the position of John McCain in support of a “surge,” as a military solution to the problem.
The retired generals seem implicitly to agree with Obama and Dodd since they are voting with their feet. Bush cannot so far sign any of them up to be a “war czar” to oversee the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars. Mostly, they have figured out that Dick Cheney actually calls the shots on war policy, and that Cheney is inflexible and not living in the same dimension as the rest of us. Having responsibility for two wars with no actual authority to make policy would be an unenviable position to be in. News that SecDef Robert Gates wanted to close down Guantanamo and stop the torture, and was over-ruled by Cheney, probably gave these candidates pause.