Iraq Overshadowed by Schiavo?

A whole series of developments in Iraq are being reported today, although they will likely be overshadowed by the continuing Terri Schiavo saga. Things are mostly moving in a positive direction, although there is still plenty of terrorist activity.

Naming Of President Expected By Week’s End (Washington Times, p. 11)

Iraq’s National Assembly is expected to appoint the nation’s president by this weekend, while behind-the-scenes wrangling continues over who will get key positions in the new Cabinet. Sources close to the negotiations said a new government could be complete by April 1, as pressure builds from revered Shi’ite cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani and among ordinary Iraqis for the politicians to come to an agreement.

Atrocities against Iraqi civilians and security forces — both politically motivated and mafia-style violence — have been relentless since the Jan. 30 elections, which gave the country’s Shi’ite majority 146 seats in the 275-member assembly.
Iraqi police yesterday announced the arrests of 30 men implicated in dozens of slayings, beheading and rapes, Agence France-Presse reported, as shootouts and the telltale smoke plume of a car bomb rose above the Baghdad skyline.
“People are so fed up,” said Asmaa, a middle-aged Baghdad resident who declined to give her last name. The politicians, she said in a telephone interview, “are quarreling with each other.” “Everyone wants to take his share, each one wants to be minister, and the country is in complete chaos,” she said. Kidnappings are on the rise in the capital again after a lull. The son-in-law of Tariq Aziz, one of Saddam’s jailed henchmen, was recently taken hostage for a $750,000 ransom.

The Kurds, who won 77 seats in the assembly, are fighting hard to obtain guarantees that the oil-rich city of Kirkuk will be incorporated into Kurdistan, that their peshmerga militia be allowed to stand, and that a Kurd will lead the Oil Ministry and eight other ministries, said a Kurd in close contact with the leadership. Although the Shi’ite bloc and the Kurds have agreed in principle to a deal, including how much of the oil budget the Kurds will get, the details have yet to be worked out and signed. “If they don’t come up with something in the next 10 days, they are going to be in trouble,” said the Kurdish source, who has businesses in both Baghdad and the northern autonomous region of Kurdistan. If the National Assembly refuses to agree to Kurdish demands, he said, there will be no stability in the country. “The Kurds will have their own way,” he said. “No one can force them. They have 100,000 peshmerga, a government in place, 13 years’ experience running themselves, and they have no need to join the rest of Iraq. They way they look at it, Iraq needs them.” But a source close to Jalal Talabani, who is expected to be named president, said he expected the assembly would convene on Saturday to “square away the issue of president and prime minister.”

A Kurdish president will go a long way to alleviating this problem but nationalism may still emerge as the most difficult issue to manage. Still, it appears that things are going to be settled within the confines of the political system rather than through the force of arms.

It looks like the wrath of ordinary Iraqis has finally settled on those actually causing the problems rather than on the Coalition forces:

Iraqi Civilians Fight Back Against Insurgents (NYT rss)

Ordinary Iraqis rarely strike back at the insurgents who terrorize their country. But just before noon on Tuesday, a carpenter named Dhia saw a troop of masked gunmen with grenades coming toward his shop here and decided he had had enough. As the gunmen emerged from their cars, Dhia and his young relatives shouldered their Kalashnikov rifles and opened fire, the police and witnesses said. In the fierce gun battle that followed, three of the insurgents were killed, and the rest fled just after the police arrived. Two of Dhia’s nephews and a bystander were wounded, the police said. “We attacked them before they attacked us,” said Dhia, 35, his face still contorted with rage and excitement, as he stood barefoot outside his home a few hours after the battle, a 9-millimeter pistol in his hand. He would not give his last name. “We killed three of those who call themselves the mujahedeen,” he said. “I am waiting for the rest of them to come, and we will show them.”

It was the first time that private citizens are known to have retaliated successfully against the insurgents. There have been anecdotal reports of residents shooting at attackers after a bombing or an assassination. But the gun battle on Tuesday erupted in full view of at least a dozen witnesses, including a Justice Ministry official who lives nearby. The battle was the latest sign that Iraqis may be willing to start standing up against the attacks that leave dozens dead here nearly every week.

Iraq Moves To Expel Foreign Arabs (LAT, p.1)

In a bid to rid the country of foreign insurgents, the Iraqi government is using strict new residency rules to detain and expel non-Iraqi Arabs. Any Arab without the proper permit can be detained, interrogated and asked to leave the country, Interior Ministry officials said. So far the program has swept up mostly Syrians, Sudanese, Saudis and Egyptians, and about 250 people have been asked to leave. Far more are being detained — as many as 200 a day in the Baghdad area alone — although most are released within a few days. Though some are taken in for suspected terrorist activities, others are held with no evidence other than not having proper residency permits under the new rules. Such people can be deported without any evidence of having committed crimes. Although the focus has been on Arabs, a few Chechens and Iranians also have been detained.

“The fact is that some, not all, Arabs and foreigners have destroyed the reputation of Arab and foreign countries in Iraq,” said Brig. Gen. Taif Tariq Hussein, who heads the Interior Ministry’s residency office. “They have either helped in executing sabotage operations or they have carried out sabotage themselves. “Both Arabs and some foreigners have been harmful to this society,” he said.

The ostensible reason for the policy, established last month after extensive consultations among Iraqi security agencies, is to stem the insurgency. But many Arabs who have lived in Iraq for years fear that they will be lumped in with wrongdoers and deported. Many of these tens of thousands of Arab residents do not have papers that meet the new requirements.

This policy is highly questionable and potentially quite counterproductive. But it is at least an acknowledgement that foreign Islamists are a major source of the violence in Iraq.

Insurgents Killed In Failed Assassination (USA Today, p. 8)

More than 15 insurgents were killed after a failed attempt to assassinate a police chief in Mosul, and militants killed four Iraqis while trying to blow up a U.S. patrol. In the first attack, insurgents ambushed a convoy carrying security officials, including the top police chief, Brig. Gen. Abu Al-Waled, late Monday. That sparked a gunbattle in front of a mosque that left 17 militants dead, said Col. Wathiq Ali, deputy police commander. Ali said that 14 other militants were captured in the battle and that no security forces were injured. Later, insurgents hit a U.S. patrol with a bomb in a northwestern neighborhood of Mosul early Tuesday, damaging a Humvee as it crossed a bridge and killing four civilians in a car near the blast.

U.S. Central Command did not say whether there were any U.S. casualties in the incidents.

Iraqi Troops Attack Rebel Stronghold (WaPo, p. 11)

Iraqi Interior Ministry troops attacked what the U.S. military described as a training camp for insurgents Tuesday in a rural stretch of the Sunni Triangle, the latest in a recent series of engagements with large bands of guerrillas. The military said seven Interior Ministry soldiers and an undetermined number of insurgents were killed in the clash on the edge of central Iraq’s Tharthar Lake, northwest of Baghdad. Six ministry soldiers were reported wounded. The clash was one of several over a 24-hour period. A U.S. soldier was reported killed in western Iraq on Monday, and an improvised mine targeting an American convoy in the northern city of Mosul killed at least four Iraqi civilians Tuesday. Three were riding in a taxi and the fourth was killed in another car, hospital officials said.

Largely quiet after the U.S. invasion in 2003, Mosul has emerged as a flash point in the guerrilla campaign that the U.S. military has battled for almost two years. On Monday, insurgents tried unsuccessfully to kill the provincial police chief. Local television reported that in clashes that followed, 17 assailants were killed and several were arrested. Residents reported a heavy U.S. presence on the streets Tuesday.

The persistent violence has shadowed the naming of Iraq’s transitional government, which many in the country view as crucial in bringing stability. The inability of the main Shiite coalition, which holds a slim majority of seats in the new parliament, and Kurdish representatives to name a government has generated resentment and some cynicism, particularly after the enthusiasm that greeted the Jan. 30 vote.

Finally, a rather odd story on the ambassadorial switch:

Another Big Handover Looms For Iraq (WSJ p. 4 $)

As Washington’s emissaries to post-invasion Iraq and Afghanistan, John Negroponte and Zalmay Khalilzad are contrasting studies in American diplomacy. Mr. Negroponte has maintained a low profile, trying to avoid the appearance of a continuing U.S. occupation. Mr. Khalilzad has been much more public about wielding power. Now Mr. Khalilzad is set to succeed Mr. Negroponte as the American ambassador in Baghdad. The question is whether he will adapt to Iraq, or try to make the place adapt to him.

With Iraq’s new Shiite government certain to be eager to demonstrate its independence from the U.S., it will be important for the Bush administration to continue exercising power in the country subtly. If Mr. Khalilzad doesn’t tailor his style accordingly, he could set off fierce political squabbling between Washington and Iraq’s new government. In Afghanistan, “people regard him as the viceroy, and they say that [President Hamid] Karzai doesn’t say anything without checking with him first,” says Peter Babbington, a former British marine who runs the United Nations’ militia-demobilization program in Kabul. Mr. Khalilzad traveled the country to unveil U.S.-funded public-works projects, mediate between feuding warlords, and encourage religious and military leaders to join the political-transition process, frequently upstaging Mr. Karzai. He was thought to possess so much control over Afghanistan’s interim government that Iran’s state-run radio dubbed him “the King of the Shadows.”

Beyond tempering his penchant for publicity, Mr. Khalilzad may have to make more substantive adjustments in his new post. In Afghanistan, Mr. Khalilzad favored extending an amnesty offer to lower-level Taliban fighters and urged Mr. Karzai to add warlords to his government — including many who fought the U.S. or were known for poor human-rights records. In Iraq, the Shiite government opposes any efforts to reach out to Ba’ath Party veterans, former members of Saddam Hussein’s security services, or insurgents responsible for deadly attacks on civilians. Since President Bush announced plans this month to transfer Mr. Khalilzad, the diplomat has declined public comment, pending Senate confirmation hearings in April. In an interview this year in his heavily fortified Kabul office, Mr. Khalilzad made no apologies for his level of involvement in Afghanistan’s politics, saying he helped avert more bloodshed and instability in the country. “Certainly, there was the potential for more conflict,” he says, and preventing it took “a huge amount of political engagement with people.”

One wonders why Khalilzad was selected for such an important post if there’s questions as to his suitability. Obviously, managing public relations is a key component of the job.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.