Rubaie: No Permanent Bases; Bombing Near Allawi’s Compound; Basra Christians cancel Christmas Celebrations

Iraq’s national security adviser, Muwaffaq al-Rubaie, said Tuesday that the Iraqi nation would never permit permanent US military bases in that country. He named some areas where there would be continuing US support for the Iraqi military. The announcement does not envision an early departure of US forces, and seems mainly intended to blunt criticisms of the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq by the Sadr Movement for being to cozy with the Americans (see yesterday’s entry).

A suicide bomber detonated his payload Tuesday morning at a checkpoint near the homes of secular ex-Baathist politician Iyad Allawi and secularist Salih al-Mutlak of the National Dialogue Council. Supporters of Allawi, who was abroad, charged that the attack was an assassiation plot. Two persons were killed and 12 wounded in the explosion.

Al-Hayat, writing in Arabic, darkly hints that the bombing came as a response to a joint letter written by Allawi, Sunni Arab leader Adnan Dulaimi and others last Saturday. They had made an appeal to George W. Bush to withdraw support from the government of prime minister Nuri al-Maliki, charging that it was a vehicle for Iranian influence in Iraq and raised the specter of “religious fascism.”

Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that the man who tried to organize a tribal “Awakening Council” in the Shiite holy city of Najaf south of Baghdad was arrested by the Najaf authorities. They maintained that they needed to issue a license for such activities. At the same time, a tribal leader in Diyala Province complained publicly that the capital of Baquba has been infiltrated by Iranians. (This charge is not plausible, but many Sunni Iraqis have difficulty accepting that Shiite Iraqis are not being supplemented by Iranian Shiite immigrants.

The AP report linked above also says:

‘ Gunmen on motorcycles fatally shot the head of Iraq’s largest psychiatric hospital as he was returning home from work late Monday, police and a Health Ministry official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they feared reprisal. Dr. Ibrahim Mohammed Ajil, believed to be in his 50s, was the head of Rashad hospital, Iraq’s largest and well-known mental institution, which lies on the outskirts of the sprawling Sadr City district of Baghdad. According to figures from the Iraqi Health Ministry released earlier this year, 618 medical employees, including 132 doctors, as well as medics and other health care workers, have been killed nationwide since 2003. ‘

McClatchy reports that the killing of two Christians in the southern port city of Basra has caused the local archbishop to urge Christians to avoid decorations and gift-giving this Christmas, as an act of mourning. The two bodies were found in a district controlled by the Mahdi Army militia.

Reuters reports that formerly warring Shiite militias in the southern port city of Basra have called a truce. My own guess is that they believe such rhetoric of sweet reasonableness will hasten the departure of the British troops (there are still 5500 out at the airport, scheduled to go down to 2500 by March). It is also possible that, like crime families in New York, each has established a ‘turf’ within which it runs protection rackets and does gasoline and kerosene smuggling, so that the ‘truce’ is just a recognition of current turf boundaries. But obviously if any of them tried to expand into someone else’s territory, it would ignite fighting. I have seen the value of the gasoline smuggling and embezzlement from the state oil company by militias estimated at $2 billion a year. That these activities have suddenly ceased is not plausible.

The allegations by some interviewees that there isn’t much militia violence in Basra does not accord with other reports, of waves of assassinations, killings of unveiled women, and occasional gun battles. (See above). And the idea that the Iraqi 10th Division is likely actually to keep order in the city seems to me overly optimistic based on past behavior. The report, by Aref Mohammad, has some great nuggets of information:

‘ Cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s followers are thought to have the most clout on the streets, while the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council has influence in the security forces and the smaller Fadhila party controls the governorate. Each has a different view on regional autonomy: Sadr opposes it, the Supreme Council wants Basra as part of a Shi’ite region across the south and Fadhila wants autonomy for Basra itself. ‘

and:

‘ Faction leaders, once at daggers drawn, have taken to making conciliatory remarks. “The period of dispute between us and the governor are over. We have good relations with the governor and the Fadhila party,” Sheikh Ali al-Suaidi, a senior Sadrist in Basra, told Reuters. Prominent Fadhila member Aqeel Talib said the Sadr movement had “played a positive role in recent weeks”. ‘

Bill Gallagher is scathing on the proposed CNN ‘docudrama’ on the Bush administration’s confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program, a program that has now had to be scrapped because reality has set in. The fictional news was entitled ‘We were Warned’ and imagined that Iran had gone nuclear. Gallagher is developing an impressive critical voice as a practicing journalist.

(See also Barnett Rubin’s critique of Miles O’Brien for a hatchet job piece on CNN in which he compared Al Gore to comedian Jerry Lewis. I also noticed many months ago that CNN let Jeff Greenfield (before he went to CBS) do a shameful piece comparing Barack Obama’s wardrobe to that of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. A lot of editors run American “news” mostly as gossip and personal attacks in the service of the big corporations and the American right wing.

Ret. Col. Douglas MacGregor worries that the Sunni Arab awakening councils in Iraq could lay the groundwork for a large scale civil war when the Americans draw down their troops.

McClatchy reports political violence for Tuesday.

Reuters has more.

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