US government sources maintained on Monday that the cross-border raid into Syria that left 8 dead had succeeded in killing “Abu al-Ghadiyah” (Badran al-Mazidi) of Mosul, a member of the fundamentalist vigilante group of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (originally called “Monotheism and Holy War” but more recently “The Islamic State of Iraq”). Al-Zarqawi was killed in 2006. US intelligence fingered al-Mazidi as a major facilitator for networks of fundamentalist vigilantes who were infiltrating into Iraq from Syria. The administration allegation is that it struck when it did because it got especially good information on al-Mazidi’s exact whereabouts.
Apparently Syria declined to move against al-Mazidi, leading to charges by the US military that the ruling Baath Party in Syria was actively harboring al-Qaeda. That charge does not seem plausible to me, since the Alawis at the top of the government are terrified of Sunni fundamentalism and are vulnerable to being overthrown by it. (Sunnis are some 80 percent of Syrians; a folk Shiite group,the Alawis, are at the pinnacle of the government). The US is always over-estimating how powerful and efficient these ramshackle, personalistic regimes in the Middle East are, and attributing things to deliberate plotting that are likely just the result of incompetence or cowardice. Washington also tends to over-estimate the importance of individual leaders such as al-Zarqawi and al-Mazidi. Mostly they are fairly easily replaced. It is not as though they have been through a military academy or anything. When al-Zarqawi was killed, it changed absolutely nothing with regard to violence in Iraq. Others than Mazidi can smuggle North African volunteers into Iraq.
I still think the timing of the raid had to do with the US presidential election, and that it is likely Bush and Cheney want to make sure Iraq stays off the front pages for McCain’s sake, since otherwise his talk of “victory” might seem hollow. It is also possible that the White House was offering the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad a carrot in hopes it would smooth the passage of the draft security agreement.
In fact, some Iraqi politicians said that the raid would complicate negotiations on the security agreement. Certainly, Iran’s opposition will have stiffened. Kurdish parliamentarian Mahmud Osman charged that the US acted without Iraqi government knowledge. Iraqis are touchy about the idea of the US using Iraq as a launching pad for attacking neighboring countries. Even Ali Dabbagh, spokesman for Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who approved of the American action, said that it would not be allowed after the first of the year.
NYT reports that al-Maliki has been mainly using Arab police and soldiers in his security campaign in Mosul, drawing down Kurdish troops of the Iraqi Army. Kurds had dominated Ninevah Province because Sunni Arabs boycotted the Jan. 2005 provincial elections, but they are a minority. Kurdistan nationalists wish to annex some areas of Ninevah to the Kurdistan Regional Government. There is growing tension between Arabs and Kurds in the north, reflected in the increasingly difficult relations between al-Maliki and Kurdistan president Massoud Barzani.
The oil city of Kirkuk is another arena of Kurdish-Arab competition and potential violence.
Al-Sharq al-Awsat reports in Arabic that the Shiite grand ayatollahs in the holy city of Najaf are signalling to Iraqis that they may vote for whatever party they choose, religious or secular, so long as they judge it competent in solving the country’s problems. In past elections the top Shiite clerics had urged voters to cast their ballots for the United Iraqi Alliance, a coalition of Shiite fundamentalist parties. That coalition seems to be breaking up, and Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani has been deeply disappointed in its record in power. Sistani had all along been opposed to the Iranian model of clerical rule, but he had in the past favored the Iraqi religious Right. If al-Sharq al-Awsat is accurately reporting his views, this move toward pragmatism and willingness to see lay Shiites vote for secular parties marks a further evolution of his thought.
The US-built wastewater plant in Falluja that has been a costly failure, to the tune of $100 mn. and sewage in the streets, according to LAT.
McClatchy reports political violence in Iraq on Monday:
– An American squad raided the New Baghdad and Baladiyat neighborhoods, Iraqi police said, with no more details. The coalition reply was, “Coalition forces killed five criminals after a small arms fire attack in Baghdad’s New Baghdad security district, Oct. 27. At about 1:20 a.m., Multi-National Division – Baghdad Soldiers were attacked with small-arms fire at a joint security station. The Soldiers were able to identify those responsible for the attack and returned fire. A total of five attackers were killed with no U.S.casualties.
-A roadside bomb detonated in Ameen neighborhood (east Baghdad). Three people were killed and five others were injured. Also two civilian cars were damaged.
– Around noon a roadside bomb detonated near the Kindi hospital intersection (northeast Baghdad). Two people were wounded.
– An adhesive bomb detonated under a civilian car at Khilani intersection (downtown Baghdad). Two people were killed and seven others were wounded.
– Police found one dead body in Mashtal neighborhood in east Baghdad today.
– Gunmen killed a civilian near the jewelry shops in downtown Mosul.
– Gunmen opened fire on an Iraqi army patrol in Al-Jazair neighborhood (downtown Mosul). Two soldiers were wounded.
– A suicide car bomber targeted an Iraqi police patrol in Borsa neighborhood in Mosul. One policeman was killed and two others were wounded.
– Turkish artillery bombed some villages in the northeast of Dohuk in Kurdistan region before noon, Peshmerga sources, the security forces in the area, said. Also they said that the Turkish had bombed the same area last night, too. No casualties or damages were reported.’