Iraq: US threatens to pull support; “resistance” blows up beauty parlors

This would be funny if it weren’t so tragic. Having played the divide-and-conquer game of pitting Iraq’s ethnic and religious groups against each other, treating the nascent state as a pie to be divided up by sectarian factions, the US and Britain now realize it could collapse into civil war and lecture about the importance of “national unity” and “nonsectarianism.” Meanwhile, the heroic Iraqi resistance continues its glorious crusade against…liquor stores and beauty parlors. From AP, Feb. 21:

BAGHDAD — Britain’s foreign secretary told Iraqi leaders Tuesday they must form a national unity government free of domination by a single group, reinforcing U.S. pressure on political leaders to put aside ethnic and sectarian differences in the interest of the nation.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said the results of the Dec. 15 parliamentary election showed the Iraqi people want a “broad government of national unity” to bring together “all the different elements” of Iraqi society.

“It is a crucial moment today for the people of Iraq,” Straw told reporters alongside President Jalal Talabani. “The international community, particularly those of us who played a part in liberating Iraq, obviously have an interest in a prosperous and stable and democratic Iraq.”

Straw said the election results showed that Iraqis want a government where “no party, no ethnic or religious grouping can dominate.”

(In other words, they’ve finally realized the Shiite parties they put in charge are more loyal to Tehran than to London and Washington.)

In the latest violence, seven people were killed and at least 27 wounded Tuesday in a series of bombings, some targeting liquor stores and women’s hair dressers in Baqouba, according to police.

Shortly after midnight, eight hair dressers were blown up in one street by extremists who have broadened their targets beyond Americans, Iraqi security forces and government officials. The blasts caused huge damage but no casualties, according to the Diyala police.

Explosions also hit three liquor stores, killing one owner and wounding three other people, said police in the city 35 miles northeast of Baghdad.

An Iraqi Cabinet minister escaped injury when a bomb exploded near her convoy in eastern Baghdad, police said. Three security guards were wounded. The attack against Suhaila Abed Jaafar, minister of migration, occurred as she was traveling along the Mohammed al-Qassim highway, police Lt. Mohammed Khayoon said.

The British official arrived in Baghdad late Monday after the United States’ ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, delivered a blunt warning that Iraqi leaders risk losing American support unless they establish a national unity government with the police and the army out of the hands of religious parties.

There is growing international concern over the direction of the talks among Iraq’s Shiite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish political parties as they attempt to put together a government following the December elections. Those talks, which began in earnest this month, have snagged because of deep divisions among the three groups.

The United States, Britain and other coalition members have a strong stake in the talks, believing that a national unity government is essential to their strategy of handing over security to Iraqi soldiers and police so that international troops can begin to go home this year.

One key issue is control of the ministries of Defense, which runs the army, and Interior, which manages the police. Sunni Arabs have accused the Shiite-run Interior Ministry of widespread human rights abuses, including kidnappings and murder.

Khalilzad told reporters Monday that those two ministries must be run by “people who are nonsectarian, broadly acceptable and who are not tied to militias” of political parties. Otherwise, he warned “Iraq faces the risk of warlordism that Afghanistan went through for a period.”

A coalition of Shiite religious parties won 130 of the 275 seats in the new Iraqi parliament. Although they have agreed in principle to a unity government, Shiite leaders insist their strong showing in the election gives them the democratic right to control key levers of power.

A Kurdish alliance won 53 seats and two Sunni Arab blocs together took 55 seats a major increase over Sunni representation in the outgoing parliament. Iraqis have until mid-May to form a new government, but U.S. and Iraqi officials warn the process could take longer because of political differences.

Mistrust and bitterness among the communities run deep. Much of it is rooted in oppression of Shiites and Kurds by Saddam’s Sunni-dominated regime and fanned by the current insurgency. Shiites and Kurds dominate the security services and most of the insurgents are Sunni Arabs.

Oh, and the heroic Iraqi resistance is also continuing its glorious crusade against random Shiite civilians. AP, Feb. 21:

A car bomb exploded Tuesday at an outdoor market in a Shiite area of southwestern Baghdad, killing 22 people and wounding 28 in the deadliest such attack against civilians in the capital in a month.

The blast in the neighborhood of Dora – one of several bombings across Iraq that killed a total of 29 people Tuesday – left cars burning and nearby stores ablaze. Children screamed while women wailed “Our children have died!” and “The terrorists, may God punish them!” The suspected bomber was arrested.

See our last post on Iraq, and on the new torture revelations.