Bombings Kill Dozens In Street Crowds

Bombings Kill dozens in Street Crowds
Sunni Arabs threaten withdrawal from Parliament

Iraqis were unified for a brief period on Wednesday as they came out in the streets from the north of the country to its south, from Irbil to Baghdad to Basra, to celebrate the country’s soccer (football) victory in the Asian Cup. People danced in the streets, sang, waved Iraqi flags, and drove with car doors open and passengers celebrating. Iraqis have constructed a powerful nationalism during the 20th century that Western observers now often discount, but those celebrations were a glimmer of the pre-Bush Iraq.

Sunni Arab guerrillas must have been planning for these street celebrations, since they hit them powerfully and effectively in Baghdad, with two car bombs, killing 55 and wounding 135 according to late reports. There were other bombings and mortar attacks in the capital, and 18 bodies were found in the streets. A vehicle with Iranian pilgrims was attacked.

The Sunni Arab Iraqi Accord Front is threatening once again to suspend participation in parliament. This development would be a severe blow to PM Nuri al-Maliki, who is trying to put together a new political bloc of ‘moderates’.

The US House of Representatives voted on Wednesday overwhelmingly to bar permanent US military bases in Iraq or any attempt to control Iraqi petroleum. Some Republicans apparently voted for the measure somewhat insincerely, arguing that there are no such things as permanent US military bases abroad, because bases require the consent of the host country. The Republicans may feel that the vote will nevertheless give them some cover in the 2008 elections. House members have to contest elections every 2 years, and the American public is clearly becoming impatient with the war.

Work began on the joint US-Iranian-Iraqi committee on security in the wake of Tuesday’s meeting. The Iranians are also considering higher-level talks.

Catch Farideh Farhi’s important discussion of the talks between US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and his Iranian counterpart at our group blog. She argues that Crocker’s show of pique with the Iranians was designed to mollify US rightwingers who oppose such talks, while we should keep our eyes on the substantive outcome of the negotiations, i.e. the joint committee on Iraqi security that targets “al-Qaeda in Iraq.”

Fred Kaplan reviews the leaked Crocker-Petraeus security plan covering through 2009 and finds it unlikely to succeed. Kaplan is skeptical about the ability of Iraqi security forces to “hold” neighborhoods in Baghdad. And, he cannot see how a temporary alliance of convenience with fractious, Shiite-hating Sunni tribesmen of al-Anbar Province against al-Qaeda in Iraq can produce a stable partnership or end sectarian fighting. He quotes military historian Stephen Biddle giving the plan only a 1 in 10 chance of success.

The military historian Tom Collier here in Ann Arbor wrote me on this plan,

” In its schools, the Army teaches a format for the study of any problem. It starts with “1. Assumptions,” and then goes on to facts bearing on the problem, conclusions, and recommendations. Students are taught that if the assumptions are incorrect, then the rest of the study will be invalid.

The “detailed plan” that Michael Gordon reported seems to be based on two shaky assumptions:

1. U.S. troops can use force to create “sustainable security” for the Iraqi government to function, and

2. Given that security, the Iraqi government *will* function and will reach “political reconciliation” among “disparate factions,” provide basic services, and stop the violence.

In other words, 1. we hope that we can put wings on a frog and, 2. we hope that the frog will then fly to paradise. And based on those assumptions, the “detailed plan” calls for U.S. troops to fight and die “until at least ’09.” Wow!!!” –Tom Collier

An audit has shown that only 42% of Bechtel’s reconstruction projects in Iraq was completed. Bechtel maintainst that changing priorities of key funder, the US Agency for International Development, caused 10 of 24 projects to be abandoned.

I wrote Wednesday about the disappointing harvests in the southern province of Dhi Qar, which the Arabic press attributed in large part to soil salinization.

Here are expert comments I received on this issue, which profoundly affects Iraqi food security. Not my field, and I did not realize how full of salts fresh water is, such that if it isn’t drained properly it salinizes the soil, too. I think I was probably misled by what I had read on Egypt, because its peasants and government appear to have been much more expert in dealing with this problem even after the Nile was dammed. So my correspondent wrote:

“Salinization of the soils in southern Iraq is very severe, perhaps even more severe than the Indus basin in Punjab or Sindh. The reason is the combination of poor drainage in the southern part of Mesopotamia and reduced flow of water due to damming of the rivers upstream. There are huge tracts of land in Dhi Qar, Basra, Missan, Babil, Diwaniyah and even Najaf and Karbala that are white with salt and thus unsuitable for agriculture. The fix, install good drainage and flush the soil of salt, will require large sums of money and a deliberate and thoughtful plan. The money at least theoretically exists but thoughtful planning is no where to be found.

The Ministry of Science and Technology worked with the Ministry of Agriculture and an American group to test a salt tolerant wheat variety in areas south of Baghdad. Farmers who participated were able to reap an economic crop for the first time in many years, some noted that it was magic. What happened to that variety is anybody’s guess. The chaos that engulfed the south and which paralyzed the government after 2005 ruined plans for large scale reproduction of the seed. Thus what you report in Dhi Qar is really nothing new. Agriculture in the southern part of Iraq was ruined long ago by poor stewardship of resources and deliberate destruction.

In Egypt, rice production in the delta is promoted to guard against salt water intrusion. The construction of the Aswan High Dam has compelled farmers and authorities to be watchful of creeping salinization all along the Nile basin because the Nile does not act as the ultimate drain it once was. But the issue with respect to salt is minor compared with Iraq and it is under control. ”

At the Napoleon blog, Bonaparte’s letters to his brother Joseph in spring-summer 1798.

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