2 US Troops Killed, 3 wounded; Turkey Bombs KRG again; Iraqi Cabinet Proposes Amnesty

The banner under all CNN stories on Iraq on Wednesday in the US was “Progress in Iraq 2008,” with the ‘reduction in violence’ the subtext. This is not news, it is propaganda. CNN can’t know what 2008 in Iraq will be like, and this ‘progress’ banner gives a positive impression of what is still a dreadful situation. I mean, really, this is a Fox Cable News sort of tactic. And, they did not even report most of the actual news in Iraq (see below).

Turkey bombed Iraqi Kurdistan again on Wednesday. This time the guerrillas of the Kurdish Workers Party [PKK] had already fled farther from the border (perhaps they were tipped off that the attack was coming). So the Turkish bombs fell on empty villages. The US embassy in Baghdad expressed support for the air strikes on the PKK, but warned that it would object to civilian deaths or a destabilization of northern Iraq. Uh, I’m afraid when you have a NATO ally bombing a country you militarily occupy to kill members of a terror group supported by your local allies who have been killing soldiers of the NATO ally– you already have destabilization. And, if the Turkish military really has killed 150 Kurds on the Iraqi side of the border since Dec. 16, it certainly has killed civilians.

The BBC reports that the Iraqi cabinet reported out to parliament a bill calling for the release of large numbers of detainees in US and Iraqi prisons in that country. The US holds about 26,000 prisoners, and Iraq holds about 24,000, for a total of 50,000 (some sources report a higher number), or about 0.2% of Iraq’s entire population. The real reason for the cabinet’s having passed this law in my view is that the Sunni Arab “National Accord Front” has made it a precondition for rejoining the largely Shiite government of PM Nuri al-Maliki. One question is whether parliament will pass it. Al-Maliki is now a minority prime minister, and I’m not sure the Kurdish and Shiite members of parliament will be willing to let thse mostly Sunni Arab prisoners go . . .

The Kurdistan Regional Authority’s parliament agreed Wednesday to postpone the referendum on Kirkuk for 6 months. The Iraqi constitution called for Kirkuk Province to hold a referendum by December, 2007, on whether Kirkuk should become part of the Kurdistan Regional Authority (which has grouped and administratively replaced the former provinces of Irbil, Dohuk and Sulaymaniya). The Kurds have flooded Kirkuk with Kurdish residents, some but not all having lived there before Saddam Hussein expelled them. They would therefor likely win such a referendum. Holding it is opposed by the Turkmen and Arabs of Kirkuk, who do not wish to be ruled by the Kurdistan Regional Authority. Kicking this problem down the road for 6 months avoids a crisis now, but guarantees one whenever the measure goes through. I’d say the Democrats should hope that the referendum is not postponed for a year or more, since in that case the resulting crisis will likely break on their watch.

Sawt al-Iraq reports in Arabic htat Abd al-Jalil Khalaf, the police chief of Basra, told the al-Arabiya satellite news channel on Wednesday that a shadowy group calling itself “Commanding the Good and Forbidding what is Prohibited” has recently killed 50 women in the southern port. It is probably a puritanical Shiite group, and it says it objects to make-up (tabarruj or the wanton display of oneself in public). The women killed have been for the most part Muslims (both Sunni and Shiite), though two were Christians.

DPA reports in Arabic that Syrian border authorities found and confiscated Israeli-made listening devices that appeared to be on their way to Iraq.

Tina Susman at the LAT reports on how the US military is ‘weaning’ local Iraqi officials off US help and insisting that they apply for it to the central government in Baghdad. As historian of African decolonization Fred Cooper has pointed out, this ‘weaning’ process is actually just decolonization, of the same sort the French had to do in Senegal or the British in Uganda, back in the late 1950s and the 1960s. My own suspicion is that the US officer corps knows that the US military is likely to draw down quite substantially over the next two years, and that such decolonization moves have become urgent.

Reuters reports political violence in Iraq on Wednesday:

NINEVEH PROVINCE – Two U.S. soldiers were killed and three others wounded in a gunbattle in Nineveh Province north of Baghdad, the U.S. military said.

BAGHDAD – Seven dead bodies were found in Baghdad over the past two days, police said.

NEAR BAQUBA – The decomposed bodies of 17 men were found dumped in a town near the restive city of Baquba, 65 km (40 miles) north of Baghdad, the Iraqi army said.

KANAN – Gunmen attacked an Iraqi army check point, killing three soldiers and wounding another seven in the small town of Kanan, east of Baquba, a security source said.

BAQUBA – Three members of a neighborhood patrol fighting with Iraqi forces and the U.S. military against al-Qaeda were killed and two were seriously wounded when a booby-trapped house exploded as they entered it in Baquba, police said.

MOSUL – Three children were killed and two wounded when a roadside bomb in a garbage dump exploded while they were playing nearby in the city of Mosul, 390 km (240 miles) north of Baghdad, police said.

LATIFIYA – Two bodies were found bound and shot in the town of Latifiya, 40 km (25 miles) south of Baghdad, police said.

BAIJI – Gunmen killed Ali al-Igaidi, a tribal leader, in a drive-by shooting in the town of Baiji, 180 km (110 miles) north of Baghdad, police and hospital sources said . . .

McClatchy adds:

Baghdad – Around 9 a.m., a roadside bomb targeted an American patrol at Bab Al-Muatham ( north Baghdad ) . No casualties recorded but some damage to one of the convoy’s vehicles . . .

Kirkuk – Wednesday afternoon, gunmen kidnapped Hamid A.Abdul Latif , a member of Democratic Party of Kurdistan in front of his house at Jalwla district . . .

Hannah Allam of McClatchy writes a perceptive survey of the censoring of the internet in the Middle East. Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States are the worst, whereas Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and Jordan [I would add Turkey] at the moment have little official censorship. (The governments of all four countries allow parliamentary elections (though only Lebanon’s are relatively un-fixed) and are opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood and similar such puritanical groups. I suspect that they leave the internet uncensored for the same reason they allow belly dancing to be shown on television– a little bit of libertinism is seen as an antidote to too much puritanism. And, multiparty parliamentary elections promote a free internet, since the parties have an interest in it for campaign purposes). I predict that the countries that heavily censor the internet, such as Syria, will suffer for it economically and with regard to development. By the way, Informed Comment is proudly censored in several Middle Eastern countries.

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