Update: Guerrillas set off bombs outside churches in Baghdad on Sunday, wounding 7 persons. Attacks on Christians are a hallmark of the extremist Salafi groups in Sunnism. About half of Iraq’s indigenous Christian community has fled the country since 2003, and there now may be as few as 400,000 left.
Late reports put the number of Iraqis killed in bombings on Saturday at 10, 4 in a northern village near Mosul and the others in Baghdad. Dozens were wounded. The bombing came in what was described as a largely Shiite village just northeast of Mosul called Gogili [Ar. Kukjili], which I suppose must be Turkmen (about half of the Turkmen are Shiites). Mosul, Iraq’s second or third largest city at nearly 2 million (the size of Houston) is majority Sunni Arab and its guerrilla movement deeply resents Shiite dominance over the federal government. Some guerrillas are extremist Salafis, who have a particular hatred for Shiites.
One of the bombs set off in Baghdad also targeted Shiites, since it hit a billiards hall in Karrada, an upper class Shiite district. Of course, with an attack on a center of Western-style entertainment, any violent puritan movement could be implicated, including Shiite ones.
In other news on Saturday, the Iraqi Parliament was unable to take up a measure extending permission for 100 British naval personnel to remain in Iraq to help the Iraqi naval protect oil platforms. Smuggling of refined petroleum products is still big business in Iraq, and the oil facilities of the South are vulnerable to terrorist attacks, as well. Members of parliament from the Sadr Bloc (about 32 strong) walked out before the vote could be held, depriving parliament of a quorum. The Sadrists oppose the presence of foreign troops on Iraqi soil, and their pressure was responsible in part for the American agreement to withdraw by 2011. Few parliamentarians are in Iraq in the dog days of July, and the body will likely go on hiatus in August, so a quorum may not be forthcoming for a while. I’d be interested in knowing more about why it is felt that the British sailors are still needed, and why it is they need to be based in Iraq.
Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Saturday rejected outside pressure to reconcile with those he branded “murderers and criminals.” He was referring to the powerful remnants of the Baath Party, which is still strong in Mosul and some other provinces. The US is said to be pushing for talks with Baath cell leaders in an attempt to bring these largely Sunni secularists in from the cold and further isolate the Salafi jihadis (what the US calls ‘al-Qaeda.’)
Al-Zaman reports in Arabic that the Arab political forces in the disputed province of Kirkuk have united under a single banner, They are calling it the Arab Political Council. Meanwhile, Turkmen frighted by recent guerrilla violence are requesting the federal government to allow them to pack heat.
Sawt al-Iraq reports in Arabic that residents of Diyala Province are fearful because of severe tensions between the civil government and the security forces. Diyala is probably majority Sunni Arab but with strong Shiite and Kurdish minorities. The Shiites ruled it from the fall of the Baath Regime in 2003, however, and they set up its police force, with some police recruited from Shiite militias. The provincial elections in late January returned a government with a Sunni majority. So now it is at odds with the Shiite-dominated police. The latter went into the town of Shaikhi and are accused of shooting up a Sunni wedding reception. The Sunnis, relatives of Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, say it was a massacre. The police maintain that they simply engaged in a firefight with al-Qaeda. There therefore appear to be strong sectarian overtones to this tension between the bureaucrats and the police.
Aljazeera English reports on Iraq’s security challenges. Will Iraq’s guerrilla movements strike now or bide their time until the departure of US combat troops next summer? Pulitzer prize-winner Anthony Shadid is among the interviewees.
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