Heavy Fighting in Ramadi
Anbar Mourns Zarqawi
Al-Zaman reports that heavy street fighting broke out on Friday in downtown Ramadi between US forces and guerrillas. According to the al-Zaman correspondent in the city, the fighting was heaviest at 20th and at 17 Tammuz streets and the al-Kas district. Medium strength weaponry (i.e. more than just light arms) were used. The US deployed gunship helicopters. US Marines occupied several tall buildings. (In urban warfare, tall buildings become like Hamburger Hill, the high ground on which you can put mortar emplacements and dominate the district). There has been no confirmation from US military sources of the fighting, but it is suspected that this was a reaction by Zarqawi's supporters in the city. Zarqawi had for some time been based in Ramadi, but was forced by US pressure to leave it in summer of 2005 for the area near the border with Iran, according to al-Zaman's sources.
Al-Zaman adds, "According to our correspondent, the prayer for the dead was read in most of the mosques after the Friday congregational prayers, in Hit, Qaim, and Ramadi, on the occasion of Zarqawi's death. Marine patrols with Lebanese translators were seen near the major mosques in more than one place in Anbar province, to monitor the preachers.
DPA says there are mixed reactions to the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Al-Anbar province. Some hope security will now improve. Some think that the US exaggerates Zarqawi's importance. This was the chilling one:
' Thirty-year-old professor Ahmad Yassin said 'the martyrdom of the jihadist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi represents a grave loss for both the Arab and Islamic Worlds. We lost a great man who died defending the Islamic civilization from Zionist imperialism. I don't think this man can be replaced.' '
Zarqawi would just have been a serial killer if he had lived in normal times, the sort where police are surprised to find hundreds bodies buried in his back lot, and suddenly solving missing persons cases in the region for years back. That anyone at all, much less a highly educated intellectual, could speak of him in these glowing terms sends chills down my spine. Because it means he has a legacy.
Al-Zaman/ DPA say that guerrillas attacked a US convoy in Al-Amiriyah in Baghdad and that there were casualties but it was not possible to confirm this report. Gunmen in the southern city of Basra assassinated Professor Ahmad Abdul Qadir Abdullah, who taught in the college of sciences at Basra University. The corpse of Fahd Muhammad Abdul Rahim was also found in the street in Basra. Guerrillas launched an attack in Kirkuk. In the oil refining town of Baiji, guerrillas killed three engineers who worked at the refinery.
Police found five bodies in various parts of Baghdad, including a woman's. They had been shot except for the woman, who was strangled. A body was found in Kirkuk.
Six Iraqis, including two policemen, were wounded by a roadside bomb in the Sayyidiyah district of Baghdad.
Baghdad citizens had to walk on Friday, as a ban on vehicle traffic was enforced to stop any campaign of car bombings by supporters of the slain terrorist, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Three huge explosions had ripped the capital on Thursday, killing 31 and wounding scores.
On late Thursday, the brother of the governor of Ninevah Province was assassinated as he left a mosque after afternoon prayers, according to al-Zaman. Another brother, Usamah, had been governor of Ninevah in 2003, and was assassinated. Duraid Kashmula, a surviving brother, is the current governor. Guerrillas at one point also tried to kill his son.
On Friday, al-Zaman says, guerrillas also attacked the funeral procession for the slain Zuhayr Kashmula! When security isn't good enough even for major provincial governors' family members to be safe, or even for their funerals to be safe after they have been murdered, imagine what it is like for ordinary people.
A senior Iraqi oil ministry official was abducted late Thursday, it was announced Friday.
The Jordanian Daily al-Ra'i gives some details on the new security ministers appointed in Iraq. Prime Minister al-Maliki appears to have just gone to the parliament with the names, without a lot of negotiation with all parties, since some were surprised by some of the choices. Working by consensus had not produced results, so he gave parliament a choice of voting yes or no. A minister needed 138 to be confirmed. Only 198 out of 275 parliamentarians were in attendance.
182 voted for Jawad al-Bulani as Interior Minister. Izzat Shahbandar of the secular National Iraqi List headed by Iyad Allawi complained that he had not heard before that Bulani was a candidate, and complained that al-Maliki had not consulted them about this move. He complained that al-Ubaidi for Defense and al-Wa'ili for national security were essentially sectarian candidates, and said he hoped that Bulani was not cut from the same cloth. Bulani is an independent member of the Shiite coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance. He rushed to assure everyone that he belongs to no specific party within the UIA, and especially not to the Fadila Party. He pledged to act as an Iraqi nationalist. The NYT reports that Bulani served as an officer in the Iraqi army until 1999 and never left Iraq. Since the fall of Saddam, he has experimented with several political parties, including the Sadr Movement, the movement of Marsh Arab leader Abdul Karim al-Muhammadawi, and the Iraqi National Congress of Ahmad Chalabi. The NYT says he was at one point a member of the Iraqi Hizbullah, but left in 2005. There are two Iraqi Hizbullahs. One is the party of al-Muhammadawi, which has shrunk as the Marsh Arabs largely went over to Muqtada al-Sadr. The other is a sub-branch of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. The NYT hyperlink, for which the reporter is not responsible, goes to articles about the Lebanese Hizbullah, which is not related to either of the two Iraqi organizations with this name. Clueless American observers get this wrong all the time, and NYT should clarify.
142 voted for Abdul Qadir Muhammad Jasim al-Ubaidi as Minister of Defense. That is, al-Ubaidi was just barely confirmed. If he had been rejected, it would under ordinary circumstances have caused a government crisis. MPs from the Iraqi Accord Front (fundamentalist Sunni) objected to al-Ubaid, who is a Sunni Arab but had been a Baath Party member and military officer until he broke with Saddam over the invasion of Kuwait.
160 voted for Shirwan al-Wa'ili as minister of state for national security. He is from the Dawa Party - Iraq Organization, the section of the party headed by Abdul Karim al-Anizi, which operated inside the country in the Saddam years. PM Maliki is from the Islamic Dawa Party, which mainly went into exile. Adnan Dulaimi of the (Sunni religious) Iraqi Accord Front objected to al-Wa'ili and asked that the vote be postponed. He complained that he should at least have been warned that the nomination was coming. PM Nuri al-Maliki replied that appointing the cabinet ministers was the prerogative of the biggest bloc in parliament, the United Iraqi Alliance, and as such did not require consultations with other parties. (This statement would not actually be true if he really was trying to lead a government of national unity).
My guess is that the Shiite members of parliament from the United Iraqi Alliance mainly voted for Maliki's nominees. But UIA lacks a majority in parliament, and these nominees probably passed on the strength of votes from UIA ally the Kurdistan Alliance. My guess is that the Kurds had problems voting for a Sunni Arab former officer who only broke with Saddam in 1990, and who was therefore in the regime during its attacks on the Kurds in the late 1980s. As an ex-Baathist he got no support from the religious Sunnis, who have 44 seats. And some Shiites may not have supported him. He may have gotten support from Allawi's list, and from the National Dialogue Front, mainly Sunni ex-Baathists. Al-Maliki took a real chance in just springing him on parliament without an assured majority, and if 5 MPs had voted differently, he would have lost the gamble and a lot of face. I would speculate that he succeeded by putting together a different coalition for each of the three votes, and that that is how he will remain prime minister in future, if he can.
Required reading: Gareth Smyth's excellent interview with Muhsin al-Hakim, 33, the son of Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim (who is both the leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and the head of the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance coalition in parliament). Muhsin has long been a political spokesman for the Badr Corps, the paramilitary of SCIRI. I knew that SCIRI dominated the provincial governments of several southern provinces of the Shiite south, and that the deputy governor of Najaf, e.g., is from the Badr Organization (the Badr Corps ran as a party in its own right in both local and national elections!) But Muhsin here lets it drop that the governors of five provinces are Badr. He says that these are the most orderly and secure provinces in the country. And it is true, that in contemporary Iraq the choice may be between having law and order with militia rule, or having chaos with ineffective government forces. Better yet would be law and order with effective government forces, but in June 2006 that just is not where we are at in Iraq.