Sunni militants staged a violent uprising in central Baghdad Saturday after Iraqi forces detained a leader of the Sons of Iraq, a mostly Sunni paramilitary force that until recently had received salaries from the United States and is now on the Iraqi government payroll.
Sixteen people were injured in the battle in the once volatile Fadhl neighborhood, and five Iraqi soldiers were missing - snatched Saturday night by members of the Sons of Iraq, a security official said.
The arrest of Adel Mashhadani, who leads the force in Fadhl, and his assistant, heightened fears among Sunnis that the Iraqi government plans to divide and disband the movements now that its taken control of all but a few thousand of the 94,000 members across the country.
So opens Leila Fadel's "Sunnis U.S. called allies in Iraq rebel after their leader's arrest" (McClatchy Newspapers) and this is major story with a variety of implications and questions. Alissa J. Rubin and Rod Nordland (New York Times) cover it in "Troops Arrest an Awakening Council Leader in Iraq, Setting Off Fighting" and state the arrests were carried out by Iraqi and US forces ("American and Iraqi troops arrested")
Abu Mirna, the media coordinator for the Fadhil Awakening Council, said: "American forces have broken the alliance with us by arresting our leader. Now there are clashes in the area between the Americans and Awakening fighters and you can hear shooting. It's chaos." Heavy gunfire could be heard over the telephone while he was speaking.
Fifteen Iraqis were wounded in the fighting, according to a high-ranking police official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the news media. American officials did not respond to requests for information.
Five Iraqi Army soldiers were also taken hostage, according to two officials in the Ministry of Interior, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were also not authorized to speak to reporters. The officials said the Iraqi Army called off the fighting to negotiate for the soldiers’ release. Awakening Council members demanded Mr. Mashhadani's release in exchange for the soldiers' freedom, the officials said.
It was the first time that disputes between the Sons of Iraq and the authorities have erupted into armed clashes in Baghdad. There have been arrests of some other Sons of Iraq members suspected of still working for insurgents, but not of anyone so prominent.
Rubin and Nordland authored a major piece on the "Awakenings" last Tuesday and noted the escalations of tensions taking place in which they noted 10,000 "Awakenings" had still not been turned over to al-Maliki's government and, of the ones who had: "After months of promises, only 5,000 Awakening members -- just over 5 percent -- have been given permanent jobs in the Iraqi security forces. Those promises were made last year when Iraq was flush with oil money."
Waleed Ibrahim, Wisam Mohammed, Aseel Kami, Abdulrahman Taher, Thaier al-Sudani, Tim Cocks, Michael Christie and Jon Boyle (Reuters) add that "Sahwa" and, in full, "Majalis al-Sahwa" or other terms for "Awakenings," that arrests continued on Sunday and:
A Reuters Television cameraman saw U.S. military vehicles alongside Iraqi army ones using loudspeakers to warn the fighters in Arabic to put down their weapons, while U.S. military helicopters hovered overhead.
[. . .]
Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha, a leader of Iraq's national Awakening Movement, condemned the al-Fadhil fighters -- a sign the fallout from these clashes might be limited.
"I hold the Sahwa in al-Fadhil responsible for breaking the law and raising arms against the government," he said. "I call upon both the Sahwa fighters and the Iraqi security forces to restrain themselves. These actions will undermine the security gains we have achieved."
Sheikh Risey isn't merely a thugh, he's mafia and he got his payoff when, following the provincial elections, the 'election' 'commission' rigged the results when he didn't like them. It is a major story and Leila Fadel files two stories on the issue. From her "Arrest of Sunni leaders raises fears of broader clashes:"
Tensions were high in Baghdad's Fadhil neighborhood Sunday, where at least 18 people were wounded in hours-long clashes on Saturday and Sunday morning. The Iraqi Army sealed off the district, and helicopters circled in the air, as Iraqi troops surrounded members of the Sons of Iraq and demanded they hand over their arms.
Paramilitary members surrendered by the afternoon and gave up their weapons. They also agreed to allow U.S. and Iraqi militaries to search homes for more arms. They had turned over 10 Iraqi soldiers they'd been holding late Saturday night, said Ali Abdel Razak, a deputy leader of the Sons of Iraq in Fadhil.
The government said it would not release Adel Mashhadani, the commander of the Sunni force in Fadhil, but Abdel Razak said tribal leaders from Anbar to Baghdad were involved in negotiations.
Ali al Dabbagh, the government spokesman, said Mashhadani had led a secret Baathist cell, referring to the party of the late dictator Saddam Hussein, and was creating an anti-government force.
In Baghdad a crackdown is ongoing and "Awakenings" feel targeted. Throughout the 'movement,' there has long been suspicion of Nouri al-Maliki and whether or not he would provide them with jobs and absorb into the Iraqi police, military and security forces. They voiced these fears throughout last summer. Now only 5% have been absorbed -- which is the number al-Maliki was telling the European press in the spring of last year he'd absorb and which kicked off the alarm among the "Awakenings" -- and there is also the issue that "Awakenings" now on al-Maliki's payroll are complaining that they haven't been paid in months.
The US started the "Awakening" Council "movement" by putting Sunni thugs on the payroll (having already installed Shi'ite thugs into the puppet government) because, as Gen David Petraeus and US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker repeatedly explained to Congress last April, paying them off meant they wouldn't attack US forces. When paid by US forces, they had many "duties" but primarily they were stationed at checkpoints where they controlled who passed and who didn't. In January and February, some still waiting to be absorbed felt the checkpoints were their responsiblity. What happens now that they feel under attack? What happens as the word gets out that al-Maliki hasn't paid a large number in months and that word is on top of the arrests and targeting of them in Baghdad? As Sinan Salaheddin (AP) explains, "How the Shiite-led government deals with the Sunni security volunteers is widely seen as a test of its ability to win the loyalty of disaffected Sunnis _ an essential step in forging a lasting peace in Iraq." The arrest on Saturday is said to be because of "Baathism" and that's the charge whenever al-Maliki wants to haul someone away: they're a Baathist, they're plotting to overthrow him, they're an enemy of the state, etc. Ned Parker and Caesar Ahmed (Los Angeles Times) explain:
The arrest of Raad Ali, who helped the Americans stabilize the western Baghdad neighborhood of Ghazaliya, came to light Sunday five days after his deputies said the Iraqi army picked him up in a midnight raid.
Ali, a former insurgent, had a close working relationship with the Americans, shared a military base with them, and said he had briefed visiting U.S. diplomats from Afghanistan about the Sons of Iraq movement.
Ali spoke regularly about the need for Sunnis to enter the political mainstream and leave behind their insurgency.
"What happened in 2003 happened. Then killings and displacements happened. There was no hope and no future," Ali told The Times last fall. "I changed my path and wanted to work with the government and the Americans. The Americans accepted me."
al-Maliki's last big claim of "Baathist conspiracy" exploded in his face. If this one does, he'll not only have the "Awakenings" to answer to, he'll also have an international community beginning to tire of his repeatedly playing "they're plotting against me!" Interestingly, the US military's statement doesn't mention any Baathist charge but does toss out their own constant cry of "al Qaeda in Iraq!": "Mashadani was arrested under a warrant issued by the Iraqi government. He is suspected of illegally searching, detaining and extorting bribes in excess of $160,000 a month from the citizens of Fahdil, improvised explosive device (IED) attacks that killed Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), leading an IED cell, leading an indirect fire cell, ties to Al-Qaeda in Iraq, and collusion with the terrorist network Jaysh al Islami." Al Jazeera quotes al-Maliki's military spokesperson stating, "We also have information that Mashhadani heads the military branch in Fadel of the [banned] Baath party [of Saddam Hussein, the executed former Iraqi president]."
They're just there to try and make the people free,
But the way that they're doing it, it don't seem like that to me.
Just more blood-letting and misery and tears
That this poor country's known for the last twenty years,
And the war drags on.
-- words and lyrics by Mick Softly (available on Donovan's Fairytale)
Last Sunday, ICCC's number of US troops killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war was 4260 and tonight? 4261. Turning to some of the violence reported today . . .
Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad sticky bombing which left two people injured, another Baghdad sticky bombing which claimed 2 lives and left eight more people injured, a Basra roadside bombing which claimed 7 lives, a Nineveh car bombing which resulted in seventeen people being wounded, an Anbar Province roadside bombing which wounded six police officers and another one which left Brig Gen Ali Mikhlif Al-Asafi injured. Reuters notes a Falluja roadside bombing which left six police officers and police major Mohammed Jar injured.
Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 "Mosul medical department" employee was shot dead in Mosul
Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 corpse discovered in Kirkuk.
Despite the continued bombing in Basra, all but 400 of the approximately 4,000 British soldiers are gearing up to leave, Reuters reports. Remember that when violence is offered as the excuse for Barack slowing down his draw down.
Afghanistan is not our focus but we'll note two things on the Afghanistan War. US President Barack Obama appeared today on CBS' Face The Nation with moderator Bob Schieffer (here for text report with video option and link for transcript). Daivd Zurawik (Baltimore Sun) observes that Barack sounded like LBJ on Vietnam when discussing Afhganistan:
But that is what Obama sounded like to me when he was talking about how some of the U.S. troops would only be training their Afghan counterparts for combat. It clearly sounded that way to Schieffer, too, because he came out hard-charging with questions for the president about his commitment of more troops to Afghanistan, and he took precious minutes at the end of his broadcast to do a stand-up outside the White House explaining the decision to focus on Afghanistan.
"When he decided to move more Americans into harm's way in Afghanistan, for better or worse, it became his war," Schieffer said of Obama. Schieffer closed by wondering whether Obama would look back one day on that decision from last week as a major turning point in his administration and legacy.
The questioning on Afghanistan and the related matter of whether or not we will follow terrorists into Pakistan and strike there was so pointed, that at one point, Obama said, "I'm enough of a student of history to know about Vietnam."
But he sure sounded like LBJ in 1965 when he talked Sunday about the Afghan Army as having "great credibility" and being "effective fighters" -- all they needed was a little "training" from the American troops. At least, Obama didn't use the 1960s's rhetoric of the U.S. soldiers and Marines only being advisers.
And Ron Jacobs evaluates Barack's Same Way To Quagmire in "Putting A New Coat on a Failed Strategy" (Dissident Voice):
The idea that a stateless organization such as Al-Qaeda can be defeated by occupying those regions of the world where it is supposedly headquartered seems foolish. The idea that killing people who live in those regions will further the first idea is equally foolish, of questionable strategic sense, and morally wrong. The predominant argument given by George Bush when US forces attacked Afghanistan in 2001 was that the Taliban government provided a haven to Al-Qaeda. Therefore, the entire nation of Afghanistan and its people deserved whatever death Washington rained down on them. This simplistic logic never allowed for the fact that it was quite likely that many Afghans did not support the Taliban. Nor did it acknowledge the obvious question of how bombing villages and cities would cause the capture of the Al-Qaeda leadership. Furthermore, the plan to launch an invasion and occupation of Afghanistan by belligerent foreign forces ignored the resentment such an action would bring.
Now, seven and a half years later, the occupying troops and Afghan people live with the results of Washington’s response. Occupying troops get killed regularly by villagers, Afghan policemen, Taliban forces, and Afghans aligned with other militias. Afghans face a daily struggle negotiating the ins and outs of life in an occupied country where any element of the armed forces around them–occupying troops, mercenaries, Taliban, members of the US-installed Afghan security forces, or criminals–can make their lives even more miserable. On top of this, the majority of Afghans live in impoverished conditions made worse by years of war. Given these conditions, it is no surprise that Afghan militias opposed to the occupiers are gaining ground. They provide security to ordinary Afghans while appealing to their desire to see the occupying troops leave. It’s not that Afghans necessarily accept the fundamentalist doctrines of these militias (Taliban and others) as much as it is that they share a common understanding as Afghans. A somewhat appropriate metaphor regarding Afghans’ support of these militias might be found in the situation vis-a-vis Hamas in Gaza. Many Palestinians do not support Hamas’ religious agenda, but see them as the only political organization that shares their desire to end the Israeli domination of Palestine and is willing to fight for that end. Obviously, there are great differences between the two sets of circumstances, but I believe the analogy holds up in a very basic way.
Likewise, the people in the so-called tribal regions of Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) resent the presence of foreign troops and unmanned rockets in their neighborhood. Consequently, they have opposed their presence, often with armed force. In addition, they have decided to align themselves with the Taliban and others in the region that oppose the foreign presence as well. Unlike Afghanistan, where the Karzai government in Kabul serves at the pleasure of Washington, the government in Islamabad has occasionally been more vocal than Mr. Karzai (who has expressed his own displeasure on occasion) in its opposition to the US forays across its border into the NWFP. This has not prevented Washington from launching its unmanned rockets into the region, but it may have prevented more helicopter and ground forays like the one in fall 2008. It remains safe to assume, however, that the Pakistani government will accede to Obama’s plans for the region and allow US forces to operate when and where they want to.
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Isaiah's latest goes up after this. Turning to the topic of the Mujaheddin-e Khalq (MEK), the Iraian group in Iraq since 1979 which is labeled as a terrorist organization by the US, Iran, Iraq and more. Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) quotes some offensive remarks made by Nouri al-Maliki's National Security Advisor Mowaffak al-Rubaie, MEK "should understand that their days in Iraq are numbered. We are literally counting them. . . . The party is over for them. The party is over for coalition protection for them." and, as Londono notes, "them" is al-Rubaie "referring to the U.S. military." The puppet's playtoy wants to say the "party is over for the" US forces? When did the party begin for them? When did the party begin? What an insulting remark from a sleazy, trashy assed piece of ___ who wouldn't even have a job if the US government had installed him and his man-crush al-Maliki. Because al-Maliki's crap-ass government can't protect the Iranians, the US military has had to. And the response to that is that "the party is over"? Trash always gets installed in a puppet regime. al-Rubaie just explains how much the trash can stink. Meanwhile Mustafa Mahmoud (Reuters) reports it's kick the can down the road yet again regarding the oil-rich Kirkuk which will now have any sort of decision or referendum on its status delayed until June at the earliest.
Pru notes Simon Assaf's "US's new colonial plan for Afghanistan" (Great Britain's Socialist Worker):
Details of Barack Obama’s new strategy for the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan make for grim reading.
The US president is planning to impose a colonial-style “chief executive” on Afghanistan. This person will rule “alongside” Afghan leader Hamid Karzai.
The function of this “executive”, who will be appointed by the US, will be to dilute the power of the Afghan president.
Mohammed Hanif Atmar, the current interior minister and a former intelligence officer during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, is being touted as the person to fill this role.
The revelations have drawn a harsh response from Karzai, who George Bush’s regime imposed on the country following the US invasion in 2001. Karzai declared that, “Afghanistan will never be a puppet state.”
The US has lost patience with its former ally. It accuses Karzai of sanctioning corruption and drug running – which are both true.
“What we’re looking for is a comprehensive strategy, and there’s got to be an exit strategy,” Obama told CBS television. “There’s got to be a sense that this is not a perpetual drift.”
But many Afghans see the move as an attempt to block Karzai’s plans for reconciliation with the resistance, including sections of the Taliban.
Under the US plan, all resources will be channelled to the provinces rather than through the central government. This effectively partitions the country by building up the power of local warlords and leaders of ethnic groups.
Resources will come under the direct control of US and European “civilians”, supposedly to improve the country’s infrastructure.
A similar scheme, proposed by Bush, led to widespread corruption among the Western firms that won the contracts. Many projects were never built or were of such low quality that they were unusable. Meanwhile, the companies pocketed billions of dollars in profits.
The new plan – misleadingly labelled an “exit strategy” – involves sending tens of thousands of additional US troops into the troubled south of the country, boosting the size of the Afghan army from 65,000 to 230,000 and extending the war further into Pakistan.
Obama is said to have approved expanding the area of operation for “Predators” – unmanned drones armed with deadly missiles, to include the Baluchistan region of Pakistan.
The Baluchi people form a distinct ethnic group, divided between Afghanistan, western Pakistan and eastern Iran.
The US is hoping that its “mini-surge” will create the conditions for stability in Afghanistan. Yet all the evidence points to the war continuing to create instability across the region.
The US strategy will be put to a gathering of ministers of the Nato military alliance in Strasbourg, France next week.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators will be holding a counter-summit, marches and protests at the event.
Activists from Britain, who will also protest against the G20 summit in London, plan to join the demonstrations.
For more information and to book coach tickets go to » www.stopwar.org.uk
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and the war drags on
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