Iraq: US bombs Shi’ites, tilts to Sunnis?

The LA Times reports Aug. 25:

U.S. forces firing from helicopters Friday pursued militiamen loyal to a radical anti-U.S. Shiite cleric into a west Baghdad district, killing at least 18 people, reportedly including some civilians…

U.S.-led forces said Friday’s predawn raid in the Shula district, controlled by cleric Muqtada Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia, was in response to an attack on a U.S. patrol in the area. But residents said the U.S. helicopter attack caught many people asleep on their roofs, where they go to escape the stifling heat of apartments that get only an hour or two of electricity each day.

Hospital officials reported that two female bodies were among those brought to two local morgues, and a Sadr spokesman said four women had been killed. Angry relatives and neighbors vowed revenge as they carried the victims’ coffins through the streets.

…While an Aug. 25 New York Times analysis of sectarian factionalism in Iraq notes:

In the capital, offices run by the militia and civilian organization of the populist cleric Moktada al-Sadr have opened like franchises across the city. His militia, the Mahdi Army, known as Jaish al-Mahdi, now controls businesses ranging from real estate and ice to guns and gas. One Mahdi commander from eastern Baghdad recently estimated that the militia controlled 70 percent of the city’s gas stations, a figure that is hard to verify but which falls in line with what American officials describe as a sophisticated network that combines brutality with business.

Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker, for example, recently called the organization “Jaish al-Mahdi Incorporated.”

Mr. Sadr does play a role in the government. His party — encouraged by the Americans to join Iraq’s government — controls several ministries rich in resources, including the Health Ministry. Without Mr. Sadr’s support, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, a fellow Shiite, would not have become prime minister.

Like many others here, Mr. Sadr and his followers have recently turned on Mr. Maliki, repeatedly pulling out of the government to register discontent. And yet, Mr. Sadr has not called for a replacement.

Many here say that is because he knows that a strong government would be likely to crack down on what his organization has built.

“The people outside the law, the militia, the terrorists, the tribal leaders — all these people benefit,” said Qasim Dawood, a Shiite member of Parliament. “There are people living on the crisis, gaining their power through the crisis.”

New sources of power have also formed in the Sunni community. Millions of dollars in American reconstruction contracts have gone to Sunni tribal groups in Anbar who now work alongside the Americans to fight homegrown groups like Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.

Similar bands of Sunni “guardians,” as the American military often calls them, have formed in Diyala Province and in Sunni areas in and around Baghdad.

So now the US is bombing Shi’ites, while underwriting Sunni militias. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton and others on Capitol Hill are openly calling for the replacement of Iraq’s Shi’ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki (as if this were a decision to be made in Washington and not Baghdad). (AP, Aug. 23) Looks like the tilt back to the Sunnis we have long predicted is well under way.

See our last posts on Iraq and the sectarian civil war.