Iraq: will regime call Bush’s bluff?

Two days ago, we noted, coordinated twin suicide attacks left some 70 Shi’ite worshippers dead in Khanaqin, a town within Iraq’s normally more tranquil Kurdish autonomous zone. Nov. 23 has seen a suicide attack—this time targetting a police convoy, and killing some 20 (only half of them police)—in Kirkuk, also in north but just outside the Kurdish-controlled zone. The attack came after a drive-by shooting on a liquor store lured police to the scene, in a busy market district. Earlier in the day, a suicide bomber detonated his car at a checkpoint on the south edge of Kirkuk, wounding three Iraqi soldiers.

In other news Nov. 23, the deaths of three US soldiers brought the total of the Iraq campaign to 2,100. And in Tikrit, a mortar round was fired at a ceremony attended by US dignitaries. It landed near the stage as a US Army colonel was giving a speech outside one of Saddam’s former palace complexes to mark its hand-over to the Iraqi government. The shell failed to explode, but sent US officials including Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and the top commander in Iraq, Gen. George W. Casey, running into the nearest palace. US combat helicopters swooped in, and an Iraqi interpreter with the Americans shouted in Arabic: “Do not worry! If there is more shooting, the American troops will return fire!” The dignitaries emerged minutes later to continue the ceremony, but it was cut short. Khalilzad shrugged off the attack as part of “a phenomenon existing in the country. We are used to it.” (LAT, Nov. 23)

Death-squad activity also continues. In largely unreported news Nov. 23, gunmen wearing Iraqi army uniforms broke into the home of a senior Sunni leader and killed him, his three sons and his son-in-law on the outskirts of Baghdad. Khadim Sarhid al-Hemaiyem was the leader of the Sunni Batta tribe and the brother of a candidate in the upcoming Dec. 15 election, said Interior Ministry official Major Falah al-Mohammedawi, who confirmed the surviving family’s account of the killing. One of the slain man’s brothers said the family had been attacked before. (AP via Times of India, Nov. 23)

On Nov. 21, Iraqi leaders, gathered at a reconciliation conference in Cairo, called for a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops. The gathering of Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish leaders, brokered by the Arab League, also said that Iraq’s opposition had a “legitimate right to resistance.” The final communique condemned terrorism, but was a clear acknowledgment of the Sunni position that insurgents should not be labeled as terrorists if their operations do not target civilians or non-military institutions. While the document called for a withdrawal timetable, it didn’t impose any specific dates. Most Shiite and Kurdish members of the government have supported the US position that setting a definite date would “encourage the terrorists.” But recently President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, said that foreign troops could start leaving in 2006 or 2007.

The final statement also called for the release of all “innocent detainees who have not been sentenced by a court” and an investigation into claims of torture by Shiite-led police forces. (CSM, Nov. 21)

This is a bold first step. But will the regime be able to buy peace and avert a full-scale civil war? And if the regime calls Washington’s bluff and actually asks the US to withdraw its troops, how will the White House respond?

See our last post on Iraq.

  1. Iraqi “resistance” blows up hospital, marketplace
    From Reuters, Nov. 25:

    A SUICIDE car bomber attacked a hospital south of Baghdad on Thursday, killing 34 people and wounding dozens more as militants stepped up their campaign of violence before elections next month.

    The explosives-packed car detonated as Iraqi security forces were gathered outside Mahmoudiya General Hospital and as US civil affairs soldiers were visiting the facility to look at ways to improve it, the US Army and witnesses said.

    Another car bomb exploded near a crowded market in Hilla, 100 km south of Baghdad, killing up to four people, police said. Police earlier said up to 14 may have been killed.

    In the Mahmoudiya blast, four US troops were wounded, but most of those killed and injured were civilians, including a young boy, whose mother had taken him to the hospital for treatment for a cold. “The glass flew at us,” she said, sobbing as she sat up in hospital. “His nose was hit and he could not breathe.” The body of her son, less than two years old, lay on the morgue floor at Yarmouk hospital in Baghdad, where many of the wounded were brought.

    Hasna Aboud`s son, who was due to get married next week, was also killed. “My 22-year-old son was killed while trying to bring me some medicine,” she said through her tears. “I lost my only son.”

    The bombings are the latest in a series of suicide attacks and car bomb blasts that have killed nearly 200 people since last Friday, in what appears to be an increase in violence by insurgents ahead of December 15 Parliamentary elections.