Sunday, February 26, 2006

DAILY WAR NEWS FOR SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 26, 2006 Iraqi police inspect the wreckage of a bus used today in an explosion in Hilla, south of Baghdad. (AP photo) THE CURRENT SITUATION IN IRAQ Note: I've decided not to use our standard "Bring 'em on" format today because I find the occasion too solemn for snarkiness. The compilation of incidents of violence today is undoubtedly even less complete than usual because both CentCom and the Iraqi Interior Minister have been attempting to suppress news accounts. (See below, Thannasis Cambanis article.) In spite of a continuing lock-down of the capital city, with a 20-hour-a-day curfew extended until Monday, the following incidents have been reported: Knight-Ridder reports a car bomb in An-Najaf killed at least seven and wounded 54. Apparently intended to attack a Shiite shrine, stopped at security cordon. Bomb kills five at bus station in Hilla,, a mostly Shiite town south of Baghdad. Two U.S. soldiers killed by roadside bomb in western Baghdad on Sunday. Total U.S. military killed in theater now stands at 2,290, according to AP. This story from AFP may refer to the same incident, but it gives the total killed to date as 2,291. Other incidents from Reuters:

MADAEN - One police officer was killed and two were wounded when their patrol was hit by two roadside bombs near Madaen, the Interior Ministry said. BASRA - Explosives packed into the washing area of a Shi'ite mosque in the southern city of Basra blew up on Sunday, causing minor injuries, police and witnesses said. Police said they suspected three men wounded in the blast had been planting the bomb when it exploded prematurely. RAMADI - A Baathist officer in the previous Iraqi regime was killed in Ramadi, west of Baghdad, police said. FALLUJA - Three bodies with their hands bound and bullet wounds to the head were found near Falluja, west of Baghdad, police said. The killings took place some three days ago, according to a medical source. **BAGHDAD - A mortar round landed near a Shi'ite mosque in eastern Baghdad, police said. No casualties were reported. Juan Cole, who can read Arabic, which I cannot, relays some additional incidents from Arabic language sources. He says that according to Karbala news,

Guerrillas blew up a Shiite shrine in Bashir, south of Tuz Khurmato. This Turkmen region near Kirkuk is largely Shiite. It was not clear how much damage was done to the shrine. The people of the region formed units to guard the shrines and places of worship from any further destruction. The same source says that Iraqi officers announced that 20 guerrillas attacked the shrine of Salman the Persian. They killed the guards and placed explosives at the tomb, then blew it up, destroying it. Salman al-Farisi was a companion of the Prophet Muhammad who advised the early Muslims on military tactics, and is said to have introduced the technique of digging a trench to trip charging enemy cavalry. Because he was from Iran, and because the Iranians largely became Shiites after 1500, Salman is especially beloved by Shiites. The desecration took place 24 hours after 48 Shiites were killed in the same region. They had been on their way to a peaceful demonstration against Wednesday's destruction of the Askariyah Shrine at Samarra.
Six killed, 38 injured in mortar attack in southern Baghdad. Gunmen fire on soccer game in Baquba, two dead. POINT OF VIEW FROM THE GROUND Christopher Allbritton was very afraid on Saturday night:
It’s clear the authorities, at least the ones who appear on television with titles such as “Defense Minister” and “U.S. Ambassador,” have no clue what to do. Their strategy seems mainly to consist of betting that Moqtada al-Sadr and the hardline Sunni group, the Muslim Clerics Association, really will make nice. Four sheikhs associated with al-Sadr and MCA spokesman Abdel Salam al-Qubasi publicly pledged a “pact of honor” and promised to end attacks. That’s nice. While these men were on television playing political footsie, we had reports that their followers were still trying to kill each other. There’s a real history here of saying one thing and doing another. We’ll have to see. More balderdash from the Americans, of course. U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad gave another press conference tonight in which he said the Iraqi “government” was holding lots of meetings, and that was good. Also, the Iraqi “government” has decided to ban people “who should not have arms” from patrolling the streets. “I think the government decision to ban that was a good thing,” he said. Well, sure. But in my experience, men with guns in their fists and rage in their hearts don’t wait around for their weapons license to come through when there’s killing to be done. And who is going to enforce this ban? The police? Badr Brigade members control the police of most of the southern cities. An entire Public Order Battalion in Baghdad is composed of Mahdi Army. In Anbar, most of the Army units are Shi’ites and Kurds. What happens when Mahdi militiamen run into a squad of their brothers in the police? Do you think they’ll turn in their guns? Or what happens in Anbar, where many of the police forces in the cities are now local (Sunni Arab) guys? Do you think they’ll confiscate the AK-47s of their mujahideen brothers off to fight the Shi’ite members of the 1st Division down the road?
Today, he's decided to hope for the best:
Readers of this blog in recent days know that I’ve been very alarmed about the violence going around me. I don’t live in the Green Zone, so I’m not insulated from it as much as they are, and I don’t give much heed to diplomatic happy talk. But so far today, it seems quiet around Iraq and politicians seem — for the moment, at least — to have convinced their followers to stand down. The Sunnis have made noises about coming back to the negotiating table and that’s a good sign. There also was no evidence of any conflict between various parts of the security forces, which was a chief concern of mine, considering how deeply embedded the various militias are to the police, Army, etc. But still… The curfew is due to lift tomorrow morning at 6 a.m. Baghdad and its surrounding towns are still piano-wire tense. The potential for mayhem remains high. That said, I hope we won’t see a resumption of violence tomorrow, despite the carnage of the past four days.
NEWS ARTICLES AND ANALYSIS Agence France Press has some tidbits.
al-Sadr, returning from Iran, says "'I call on all Iraqis, Sunnis and Shiites, Muslims and non-Muslims, to take part in a demonstration of unity in Baghdad to call for the withdrawal of the forces of occupation, even if this has to take place over time,' he told supporters. 'Sunnis and Shiites must back each other and help each other because there is no difference between a Sunni and a Shiite. Iraqis must avoid division and unite in the face of the Crusaders," he said, speaking of US-led coalition forces.'"
Also, contrary to indications from other sources, Khalilzad says U.S. forces are stepping up their activity:
"In the last 24 hours, we are conducting between 270 and 300 (patrols) in that range," US ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad said in a conference call Saturday, up from 60 a few nights back. "We are getting a lot of requests for more and our military leaders are looking at those requests." He said however that the overall situation was improving.
However, Britain's former ambassador to Iraq appears to disagree with the optimism.
Iraq is slipping into a state of low-level civil war, Britain's former ambassador to the country said Sunday. Sir Jeremy Greenstock, who was London's senior representative in Baghdad until 2004, said the conflict is increasingly pitting the country's rival ethnic and religious groups against each other. The sectarian fighting, he added, bore a resemblance to ethnic cleansing in some parts of the country. "One could almost call it a low-level civil war already," Greenstock told British television channel ITV1's Jonathan Dimbleby program. He said that though he didn't believe a "classic civil war" would follow, he feared that local communities will look increasingly to militias for protection, ignoring central authorities in the process.
No news on kidnapped journalist Jill Carol, although today is the deadline given by her captors to kill her if their demands are not met. (Note that although they initially demanded that all Iraqi women in U.S. custody be freed, they have subsequently made other demands which have not been made public.) Talabani calls for emergency meeting of various sectarian leaders to defuse violence. This story from KUNA is quite vague about what Talabani has in mind. This may be a reference to the meeting last night with government and party leaders, and Khalilzad. Not a major deal. Sure, this will fix everything. George the Conqueror calls Iraqi leaders, tells them to work together.
Robert Reid, AP: In an unusual round of telephone diplomacy, President Bush spoke with seven leaders of Shi'ite, Sunni Arab, and Kurdish political parties in a bid to defuse the sectarian crisis unleashed by the bombing of the Askariya shrine in Samarra on Wednesday. Bush ''encouraged them to continue to work together to thwart the efforts of the perpetrators of the violence to sow discord among Iraq's communities," said Frederick Jones, a spokesman for the White House's National Security Council. A second straight day of curfew in Baghdad and three surrounding provinces kept the city relatively calm, raising hopes the worst of the crisis was past. Authorities lifted the curfew in the areas outside Baghdad but decreed an all-day vehicle ban today for the capital and its suburbs. Still, the violence continued. . . .
The Globe's Thanassis Cambanis has a good overview. (Free registration may be required.) He mentions a couple of points I haven't seen elsewhere. in particular efforts to minimize the situation by some officials.:
Not since the 13th century, when Mongols sacked Baghdad, have Iraq's Sunnis faced such an assault on their community and houses of worship, Imam Ahmed Hassan al-Samaraei told worshippers at the Abu Hanifa mosque. ''These events serve only the enemies of Islam, Iraq, and the people of Iraq," said Samaraei. ''The Iraqi people should not be dragged into this sectarian war." Since Wednesday, when the golden dome of the Samarra shrine was blasted into a pile of rubble, hundreds of retaliatory attacks have been reported. Sunni groups assert that dozens of members and supporters have been murdered and that hundreds of mosques have been attacked. . . . Both Iraqi government and US officials dispute those reports. The spokesman for the US military in Iraq, Major General Rick Lynch, said yesterday that US forces investigated at least 25 reports of mosque attacks that proved false. and that since Wednesday only 22 mosques had been attacked. According to US military figures, 119 civilians were killed since Wednesday. The Iraqi government and Sunni groups put the number of deaths at more than 200. ''There have been pockets of violence, but we don't see that as a precursor to civil war," Lynch said. Interior Minister Bayan Jabr -- considered by Sunnis to be the power behind one of the most feared Shi'ite militias, the Badr Corps of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq -- said the government would arrest member of the news media and others who ''incite sectarianism" and spread false information about attacks. Still, over the television stations, in the mosques and political party offices, Shi'ite leaders repeated reports of Sunni terrorists killing Shi'ites, while Sunni leaders tallied a constantly growing number of retribution attacks against Sunnis, including death squad murders and mosque takeovers. Even the US military and Iraqi Army have reported instances of death-squad killings, but the extent of the phenomenon is not known.
According to the Gulf Times, Ayatollah Sistani has called for the Iraqi tribes to raise militias to protect the shrines.
NAJAF, Iraq: Shia spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called yesterday for Iraq’s powerful tribes to be deployed to protect the country’s holy places after three attacks on Shia shrines in four days, his office said. “Ayatollah Sistani, who received a tribal delegation from Kufa, asked that the Iraqi tribes reclaim their role of protecting the shrines,” said an official in Sistani’s office in the Shia clerical centre of Najaf. “After the crimes against the places of worship, including the blowing up of the mausoleum in Samarra and the attacks against the tombs of Salman al-Farsi and Imam Ali bin Mussa al-Rida, the tribes must take a stand and claim a role in the protection of these sites,” Sistani was quoted as saying.
This does not bode well for the prospects of secular government in Iraq, obviously UN's former Human Rights Chief tells The Independent that hundreds of Iraqis are tortured to death every month by Interior Ministry death squads COMMENTARY AND OPINION Robert Fisk: As torture in iraq was being exposed, Rumsfeld grovelled before Saddam. Excerpt:
Everyone in the Middle East rewrites history, but never before have we had a US administration so wilfully, dishonestly and ruthlessly reinterpreting tragedy as success, defeat as victory, death as life - helped, I have to add, by the compliant American press. I’m reminded not so much of Vietnam as of the British and French commanders of the First World War who repeatedly lied about military victory over the Kaiser as they pushed hundreds of thousands of their men through the butchers’ shops of the Somme, Verdun and Gallipoli. The only difference now is that we are pushing hundreds of thousands of Arabs though the butchers’ shops - and don’t even care. . . As Bouthaina Shaaban, one of the brightest of Syria’s not always very bright team of government ministers, noted: “What is the nature of the kind of Middle East sought by the United States? Should Middle East states adapt themselves to that nature, designed oceans away?” As Maureen Dowd, the best and only really worthwhile columnist on the boring New York Times, observed this month, Bush “believes in self-determination only if he’s doing the determining … The Bushies are more obsessed with snooping on Americans than fathoming how other cultures think and react.” And conniving with rogue regimes, too, Dowd might have added. . . . Rumsfeld’s latest pronouncements have included a defence of the Pentagon’s system of buying favourable news stories in Iraq with bribes - “non-traditional means to provide accurate information” was his fantasy description of this latest attempt to obscure the collapse of the American regime in Baghdad - and an attack on our reporting of the Abu Ghraib tortures. “Consider for a moment the vast quantity of column inches and hours of television devoted to the detainee abuse [sic] at Abu Ghraib. Compare that to the volume of coverage and condemnation associated with, say, the discovery of Saddam Hussein’s mass graves, which were filled with hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis.” Let’s expose this whopping lie. We were exposing Saddam’s vile regime, especially his use of gas, as long ago as 1983. I was refused a visa to Iraq by Saddam’s satraps for exposing their vile tortures at - Abu Ghraib. And what was Donald Rumsfeld doing? Visiting Baghdad, grovelling before Saddam, to whom he did not mention the murders and mass graves, which he knew about, and pleading with the Beast of Baghdad to reopen the US embassy in Iraq. . . .
Martin Chulov, The Australian: The gates of hell are open. Excerpt
Since at least March 2005, a secret campaign has been fought in communities that co-existed for more than 30 years under the iron fist of Saddam Hussein. Sectarian killings have been commonplace - a dozen Shia Muslims one day, about as many Sunnis the next. Just as had happened across the global ethnic killing fields of the past three decades; Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, Lebanon and Kosovo, the bodies were strewn where they fell, their homes and villages seized by those who slayed them. When the dictator Saddam strode the land, the Sunni minority walked with him, enjoying power and spoils that far outweighed their numbers. The Shias of Iraq, by far the largest ethnic group, mostly stayed silent, waiting for their turn to wield the levers of power - which was finally delivered to them in December. . . Jordanian regional analyst Labib Qamhawi says the beleaguered country is on a precipice. "I would say the threat of civil war is very, very imminent now," he says. "Unless the religious leaders and the political leaders on all sides join forces in preventing this possibility, we might see ourselves in the middle of a vicious civil war in a country that lacks effective central power. "This is a recipe for disaster because a large country like Iraq cut into pieces and partitions on various grounds [will not work]. The Iraqis must now gather forces and form a government of national unity that would prevail in the country, that would act as central government. The failure [to do so] is fusing various types of tension, whether religious or ethnic. The Sunnis must be rehabilitated within the Iraqi political system." The fledgling Iraqi democracy is nowhere near robust enough to see off the threat from mavericks such as Zarqawi, or even the Shia extremists certain to take the battle to him. Even in the eyes of Iraq's Sunni Arab neighbours, Saddam was an undisputed tyrant - but he was a strongman. Just as the former Yugoslavia was bound together by the iron rule of Tito, Saddam was his nation's glue. Once Tito was gone, Yugoslavia fell apart - with Croats, Serbs and Bosnians going their separate ways. History is in the process of repeating in Iraq.
Note: this is a fairly standard analysis, some may question its premises LOCAL NEWS Clatskanie, Washington soldier still struggling to recover two years after nearly dying in bombing Pocatello, Idaho Marine returns home to recover from severe injuries. Pineville, Missouri soldier killed on Friday along with Staff Sgt. from Salt Lake City who leaves widow and four children, and two othe soldiers. The "Reverend" Fred Phelps and his fellow sociopaths show up at the funeral of Army 1st Lt. Garrison Avery of Lincoln, Nebraska. Maybe somebody will come up with an IED for this gang I posted this at 11:00 Eastern Time. Reports of new incidents are coming over the wires as I publish. Commenters will undoubtedly keep us up to the minute. Quote of the Day:
It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The country was up in arms, the war was on, in every breast burned the holy fire of patriotism; the drums were beating, the bands playing, the toy pistols popping, the bunched firecrackers hissing and spluttering; on every hand and far down the receding and fading spread of roofs and balconies a fluttering wilderness of flags flashed in the sun; daily the young volunteers marched down the wide avenue gay and fine in their new uniforms, the proud fathers and mothers and sisters and sweethearts cheering them with voices choked with happy emotion as they swung by; nightly the packed mass meetings listened, panting, to patriot oratory which stirred the deepest deeps of their hearts, and which they interrupted at briefest intervals with cyclones of applause, the tears running down their cheeks the while; in the churches the pastors preached devotion to flag and country, and invoked the God of Battles beseeching His aid in our good cause in outpourings of fervid eloquence which moved every listener. It was indeed a glad and gracious time, and the half dozen rash spirits that ventured to disapprove of the war and cast a doubt upon its righteousness straightway got such a stern and angry warning that for their personal safety's sake they quickly shrank out of sight and offended no more in that way.
in Mark Twain, The War Prayer By Cervantes


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