Thursday, August 26, 2010

More attacks in Iraq

Yesterday, Iraq was slammed with bombings and Jason Ditz ( counts 92 dead from violence with 379 more people left injured. The press consensus yesterday appeared to be that security personnel were the primary targets of yesterday's violence. Violence continues today. Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reports a Baquba attack today has claimed 6 lives. The target? Sahwa members. Sahwa, also known as "Awakenings" and "Sons Of Iraq," are fighters (mainly Sunni -- but according to Gen David Petraeus's April 2008 Congressional testimonies, not exclusively Sunni) who were paid by the US military to stop attacking US military equipment and US military personnel. In 2008, as Congressional members began to get vocal about the financial cost of Sahwa (approximately $300 per member per month with over 96,000 Sahwa), the transition to Iraq's government or 'government' out of Baghdad picking up the bill was supposed to take place. Despite claims in November and again in early 2009, as late as the summer of 2009, the US was still footing the bill regularly for many Sahwa. Despite claims by Nouri that he would absorb a number of Sahwa (about 20%) into Iraq's security forces, that really didn't come to be and Sahwa members began waiting weeks and weeks for late monthly payments and then came the targeting of them, followed by attempts to disarm them, followed by more targeting.

Al Jazeera puts the number dead at 8 (cites police sources for the number) and notes that 52,000 Sahwa continue to remain unemployed/unabsorbed into Nouri's 'new Iraq." Reuters adds, "A second simultaneous assault on another Sunni militia group in the same province was thwarted, with one attacker killed and two arrested, Interior Ministry and provincial officials said."

For Morning Edition (NPR), Mike Shuster files a report about reactions to the waves of violence.

Mike Shuster: They did the bombings because of the Americans, said Abu Salman at his butcher shop in the Karada neighborhood of Baghdad. They claim that when the Americans leave, there will be more bombs in Iraq. Abu Mohammed, a construction worker, agreed. "They do think the Americans are weaker now, so let's do it," he said. Abu Salman added, "They are getting stronger because there's no government and there's no protection in the street."

Surveying the landscape, The Econminist offers, "American commanders were quick to remind Iraqi and American audiences this week that their troops could still return to patrolling the streets if needed. That is meant to be reassuring, and to a growing number of Iraqis it is. But it does not address the underlying problem, namely the inability of the Iraqi state to function effectively, including running the police. Many Iraqis expect the police to respond to the latest attacks by hiding behind even more sandbags and blast walls." March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board notes, "These elections were hailed prematurely by Mr Obama as a success, but everything that has happened since has surely doused that optimism in a cold shower of reality." 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. They are claiming they have the right to form the government. In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister. It's now 5 months and 19 days. Phil Sands (National Newspaper) notes that if the stalemate continues through September 8th, it will then be a half a year since Iraqis voted.

Salah Hameid (Al-Ahram Weekly) sketches out some possibilities:

However, Iraq watchers are sceptical about American optimism, warning that the Obama administration is in danger of underestimating the difficulties Iraq faces.
One scenario being pointed to is that Iraq could slide back into civil war if there is a political and security vacuum following the US withdrawal.
Commentators are pointing to the political stalemate in the country that has created another hurdle to the US goal of achieving stability in Iraq.
Even if a new government emerges in the immediate future, it will likely be too weak to steer the country through the whirlpool of the conflicting interests of rival sectarian and ethnic groups, commentators say.

Andrew England (Financial Times of London) provides an overview of the current situation and speaks with, among others, Raad Sabah:

It might be easy to assume that Mr Sabah would be happy the US is reducing its troops to 50,000 ahead of a complete military withdrawal by the end of 2011. Yet he grapples with a dilemma many Iraqis share – the desire to see the military machine depart, countered by the fear of what will emerge in its absence. "I hate the Americans ... because they created sectarianism, but they have become the safety valve for Iraq," says Mr Sabah, a member of the Shia majority often oppressed under Saddam. "They are the disease and the medicine at the same time."
Iraqis' fears are fuelled by a lack of faith in their political leaders and the knowledge that sectarian distrust still runs deep after the nation was sucked close to full-blown civil war by Shia-Sunni violence in 2005-08. While security has since improved, some provinces are less stable than others, with Baghdad among the most violent.

Also looking at the country's reaction is Iraqi Arwa Damon (CNN):

The most recent killing had been that morning. An 18-year-old murdered and his sister wounded. Their father was in the south for the anniversary of the death of his father, who was killed in a roadside bombing a year ago. While the father was away, gunmen stormed into the house and shot the kids. The father says he does not know why and the gunmen have not been found.
"We accept that we don't have [electrical] power, we can deal with the lack of clean water," the maintenance man said. "But the security, the security, we can't handle this anymore."
He stepped in closer as if he was sharing a secret, his eyes pleading for an answer, a solution, an end.
"When I ride my motorbike I am always checking left and right. In the street I am always looking around me," he whispered. "You just don't know anymore, the person next to you could kill you."

Lastly, on another topics, Alexandra Tweten explores suffrage in "The Echoes of Suffrage" (Ms. magazine). The e-mail address for this site is