War News for Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Bring 'em on
: Gunmen in southern Baghdad Tuesday killed a member of the Badr organization, the former military wing of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI, Capt. Taleb Thamer of the Baghdad police said.
Bring 'em on
: Meanwhile, gunmen in the southern town of Buhriz, a former Saddam stronghold about 60 kilometers north of Baghdad, opened fire on a car late Monday, killing four women and wounding three women and two children, Diyalaa police said.
Bring 'em on
: In further reports of violence, a policeman was killed by gunmen in Baghdad, police Lt. Thaer Mahmoud said.
Bring 'em on
: While gunmen killed two police officers in Baqouba, 60 kilometers northeast of Baghdad, Diyalaa police said.
Bring 'em on
: Gunmen opened fire in the western part of Baghdad on Wednesday on the car of a senior official in Iraq's Ministry of Agriculture, killing his driver and wounding the minister.
Bring 'em on
: Gunmen also opened fire on a car traveling to a US military base in the town of Baquba, north of Baghdad, killed one Iraqi man and wounding six, according to Reuters.
Bring 'em on
: US military sources revealed that a roadside bomb which exploded on Monday killed an American soldier south of Baghdad.
Bring 'em on
: An Iraqi guard was killed on Wednesday and an official at the Iraqi ministry of agriculture injured when gunmen opened fire on their procession in Baghdad, police sources said.
Bring 'em on
: Meanwhile, an Iraqi civilian was killed and three other injured during a fire exchange between police and gunmen in southern Baghdad, the sources said.
Bring 'em on
: In a separate incident, a roadside bomb exploded near a gas station in central Baghdad, killing an Iraqi civilian while a passing U.S. army patrol was unharmed by the explosion.
Two Weeks Notice
: More than 500 Scottish soldiers have been told that they will be heading to Iraq just days after Christmas, in an unexpected push to try to bring order to the country before coalition troops withdraw.
Fewer African-Americans Joining
: Fewer African-Americans are joining the Army, a trend likely to make it harder to keep the all-volunteer military at full strength. The percentage of African-Americans among all those who signed up for active-duty Army service fell from 24 percent in 2000 to 14 percent in 2005, according to Army statistics. That's the lowest percentage since 1973, when the draft ended and the all-volunteer military began, say David R. Segal and Mady Wechsler Segal, sociologists with the University of Maryland's Center for Research on Military Organization.
: A Marine in Iraq was shot in the back of the head and killed while sleeping in his barracks, his family said it was told by the military. The Pentagon said only that the Marine died of a "non-hostile" gunshot wound.
Must Have Inquiry
: The government has failed in its bid to overturn a court ruling that it must hold a full inquiry into the death of an Iraqi civilian who died in custody. The family of hotel worker Baha Mousa allege that he was unlawfully killed by British troops while in custody in Basra in September 2003.
Vote Fraud Claims Rejected
: Iraq's Electoral Commission has rejected a call from the biggest Sunni bloc to re-run last week's vote in Baghdad after partial results showed the ruling Shia Alliance with a big majority in the capital. Adnan al-Dulaimi, one of the leaders of the National Concord Front coalition, said the group rejected the results announced by the commission.
Kangaroo Trial Continues
: The trial of Saddam Hussein has resumed with the deposed Iraqi president back in court to hear further testimony from witnesses detailing abuse suffered at the hands of the former regime. Two weeks ago, just before the trial was adjourned because of general elections, the 68-year-old Saddam boycotted proceedings after denouncing the legality of the tribunal and telling the judge to "go to hell".
Was it a Swap?
: The United States says it will attempt to hunt down and put on trial a Lebanese hijacker released on parole after being in jail in Germany for 19 years. Sean McCormack, spokesman at the State Department, said on Tuesday that President George Bush's administration was disappointed by Germany's decision to free Mohammed Ali Hamadi, convicted in the 1985 hijacking of a Trans World Airlines jetliner.
: Donald Rumsfeld, the US Secretary of Defence, has said he doubts Osama bin Laden is in a position to assert full command over the global operations of the al-Qaida network. "I have trouble believing that he is able to operate sufficiently to be in a position of major command over a worldwide Al-Qaida operation but I could be wrong. We just don't know," Rumsfeld said.
Who's the Terrorist?
: Evo Morales, Bolivia's president-elect, has branded George Bush, the US president, a "terrorist", but a spokesman in La Paz said the remark must have been mistranslated. Morales spoke in Spanish to Aljazeera, which dubbed his comments into Arabic. "The only terrorist in this world that I know of is Bush. His military intervention, such as the one in Iraq, that is state terrorism," Aljazeera quoted him as saying.
Spying on Americans
: Rebuffing assurances from George Bush, the US president, Republican and Democratic members of the US Senate's Intelligence Committee have called for an immediate inquiry into his authorisation of spying on Americans. Chuck Hagel and Olympia Snowe, Republican Senators, joined Carl Levin, Dianne Feinstein and Ron Wyden, Democratic Senators on Tuesday in calling for a joint investigation by the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary Committees into whether the government eavesdropped "without appropriate legal authority".
Opinion and Commentary
Iraqi Message to Cheney
In his surprise visit to Baghdad on Sunday, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney was apparently pleased with the success of the elections. He should not. The elections are first and foremost an achievement carried out solely by the Iraqi people. Neither Cheney nor any other power should have a claim for their resounding success.
The nine-hour visit was Cheney’s first since the U.S.-led invasion that ousted President Saddam Hussein in April 2003. The main war architect had no cheering crowds waiting for him as he had predicted prior to the invasion. Nonetheless he bragged about the elections, seeing them as a milestone. That was not surprising because he and his troops had no other achievement to talk about in the nearly three years of their occupation.
Iraqi leaders seemed to share Cheney’s happiness over the ballot. But they also need to be reminded that they had nothing to do with the success of the vote. The credit goes for the Iraqi people. Iraqis went to polls in their millions not because they are happy with the status quo. They are tired and desperate and hope their votes will eventually elect a national government that will end the occupation and improve their worsening conditions.
The elections are, therefore, the fruit of the struggle of the Iraqi people who deserve better leadership after decades of oppression and tyranny. Iraqis have not felt a big difference since the fall of Saddam Hussein. And now they fear conditions will even exacerbate in the elections aftermath. The outgoing government, mired in corruption, accused of human rights abuses, inefficiency and sectarianism, is pressing ahead with its policies to harm the Iraqi people instead of rewarding them.
A few days after the elections and in a dubious move, it raised fuel prices to levels which millions of Iraqis cannot afford. Iraqis are angry but it is too late since they have already cast their votes. Amid rising violence, high unemployment and rampant poverty, Iraqis are in urgent need of state subsidies. But the outgoing government is just doing the opposite. It has scrapped fuel subsidies and says it is going to slash food subsidies, too.John Simpson of the BBC
Will the election undercut the strength of the insurgency?
President Bush's strategy is predicated on the idea that it will.
But why did so many insurgent leaders (with the exception of the religious extremists, who are in a definite minority) encourage the Sunni population to come out and vote?
The American academic Dr Juan Cole draws a comparison with the IRA and Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland: they used both the Armalite rifle and the ballot-box in their campaign.
The idea that voting necessarily drives out the men of violence is deeply questionable.
Is there now less of a danger of civil war and the break-up of Iraq?
As more soldiers leave, the risk of all-out civil war increases
All-out civil war on the scale of the former Yugoslavia certainly can't be ruled out.
But the Shias, on the urging of their religious leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, have been remarkably steadfast in refusing to respond to deliberate attempts to goad them into violent retaliation.
Still, some revenge attacks have happened, and no-one can be sure that the Iraqi state will definitely survive. But so far it's proved remarkably resilient.
Can the US withdraw its troops from Iraq soon?
It will have to, with the mid-term elections coming up in Washington next November.
But no-one has yet managed to explain how, if 160,000 US troops cannot stop the insurrection in Iraq, cutting down their numbers is going to make it easier for the Iraqi police and army to do the job.
Does the election mean that Mr Bush will regain the support he has lost?
Looking back over a long succession of wars of occupation fought by First World countries in Third World ones, from Iraq to, say, Algeria, I can't think of one where a government which chose to get heavily involved kept its initial popularity.
The only successful wars which the First World has fought in the Third World have been short and decisive, like the Falklands campaign and the first Gulf War. Once public opinion turns decisively against a war, it never seems to turn back.
The Iraqi election was a big success for the Iraqi people. Whether it will be a success for President Bush is a great deal less certain. Iraq's Funeral
Iraq is disintegrating. The first results from the parliamentary election last week show the country is dividing between Shia, Sunni and Kurdish regions.
Religious fundamentalists now have the upper hand. The secular and nationalist candidate backed by the US and Britain was humiliatingly defeated.
The Shia religious coalition has won a total victory in Baghdad and the south of Iraq. The Sunni Arab parties who openly or covertly support armed resistance to the US are likely to win large majorities in Sunni provinces. The Kurds have already achieved quasi-independence and their voting reflected that.
The election marks the final shipwreck of American and British hopes of establishing a pro-Western secular democracy in a united Iraq.
Islamic fundamentalist movements are ever more powerful in both the Sunni and Shia communities. Ghassan Attiyah, an Iraqi commentator, said: "In two and a half years Bush has succeeded in creating two new Talibans in Iraq."
The success of the United Iraqi Alliance, the coalition of Shia religious parties, has been far greater than expected according to preliminary results. It won 58 per cent of the vote in Baghdad, while Iyad Allawi, the former prime minister strongly supported by Tony Blair, got only 14 per cent of the vote. In Basra, Iraq's second city, 77 per cent of voters supported the Alliance and only 11 per cent Mr Allawi.
The election was portrayed by President George Bush as a sign of success for US policies in Iraq but, in fact, means the triumph of America's enemies inside and outside the country.
Iran will be pleased that the Shia religious parties which it has supported, have become the strongest political force.
Ironically, Mr Bush is increasingly dependent within Iraq on the co-operation and restraint of the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has repeatedly called for the eradication of Israel. It is the allies of the Iranian theocracy who are growing in influence by the day and have triumphed in the election. The US will fear that development greatly as it constantly reminds the world of Iran's nuclear ambitions.
Iran may be happier with a weakened Iraq in which it is a predominant influence rather than see the country entirely break up.
Another victor in the election is the fiery nationalist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose Mehdi Army militia fought fierce battles with US troops last year. The US military said at the time it intended "to kill or capture him".
Mr Bush cited the recapture of the holy city of Najaf from the Mehdi Army in August 2004 as an important success for the US Army. Mr Sadr will now be one of the most influential leaders within the coalition.
All the parties which did well in the election have strength only within their own community. The Shia coalition succeeded because the Shia make up 60 per cent of Iraqis but won almost no votes among the Kurds or Sunni, each of whom is about 20 per cent of the population. The Sunni and the Kurdish parties won no support outside their own communities.
The US ambassador in Baghdad, Zilmay Khalilzad, sounded almost despairing yesterday as he reviewed the results of the election. "It looks as if people have preferred to vote for their ethnic or sectarian identities," he said. "But for Iraq to succeed there has to be cross-ethnic and cross-sectarian co-operation."
The election also means a decisive switch from a secular Iraq to a country in which, outside Kurdistan, religious law will be paramount. Mr Allawi, who ran a well-financed campaign, was the main secular hope but that did not translate into votes. The other main non-religious candidate, Ahmed Chalabi, won less than 1 per cent of the vote in Baghdad and will be lucky to win a single seat in the new 275-member Council of Representatives.
"People underestimate how religious Iraq has become," said one Iraqi observer. "Iran is really a secular society with a religious leadership, but Iraq will be a religious society with a religious leadership." Already most girls leaving schools in Baghdad wear headscarves. Women's rights in cases of divorce and inheritance are being eroded.
Sunni Arab leaders were aghast at the electoral triumph of the Shia, claiming fraud. Adnan al-Dulaimi, the head of the Sunni Arab alliance, the Iraqi Accordance Front, said that if the electoral commission did not respond to their complaints they would "demand the elections be held again in Baghdad".
Mr Allawi's Iraqi National List also protested. Ibrahim al-Janabi, a party official, said: "The elections commission is not independent. It is influenced by political parties and by the government." But while there was probably some fraud and intimidation, the results of the election mirror the way in which the Shia majority in Iraq is systematically taking over the levers of power. Shia already control the ministry of the interior with 110,000 police and paramilitary units and most of the troops in the 80,000-strong army being trained by the US are Shia.
Mr Khalilzad said yesterday: "You can't have someone who is regarded as sectarian, for example, as Minister of the Interior." This is a not so-veiled criticism of the present minister, Bayan Jabr, a leading member of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the largest Shia party. He is accused of running death squads and torture centres whose victims are Sunni Arabs.
It is unlikely that the Shia religious parties and militias will tolerate any rollback in their power. "They feel their day has come," said Mr Attiyah.
For six months the Shia have ruled Iraq in alliance with the Kurds. Kurdish leaders are not happy with the way this government has worked. The Kurds, supported by the US, will now try to dilute Shia control of government by bringing in Sunni ministers and Mr Allawi. But one Kurdish leader said: "We have a strategic alliance with the Shia religious parties we would be unwise to break."
The elections are also unlikely to see a diminution in armed resistance to the US by the Sunni community. Insurgent groups have made clear that they see winning seats in parliament as the opening of another front.
The break-up of Iraq has been brought closer by the election. The great majority of people who went to the polls voted as Shia, Sunni or Kurds - and not as Iraqis. The forces pulling Iraq apart are stronger than those holding it together. The election, billed by Mr Bush and Mr Blair as the birth of a new Iraqi state may in fact prove to be its funeral.