Sunday, September 28, 2008

Don't look now, but Iraq still simmers

As Senator McCain continued his chest-thumping about the "success" of the Surge, and how we're on the road to victory in Iraq, during Thursday's debate, the bombings continue, millions of Iraqis remain either in foreign exile or as refugees within their own country, and, as the story appended here relates, tensions between Arabs and Kurds are high, especially over the still unsettled issue of Kirkuk. Republican commentators seem convinced that the US has rounded the far turn and is at the top of the stretch on the road to Iraq's freedom, and the more often they hammer that point, the more likely that Mr. and Mrs. American Citizen are going to buy into it. Yes, US combat fatalities are down, but Iraqi military and police are being killed every day, at an alarming rate. And today, Marc Lynch posted at his Abu Aardvark site (which I highly recommend) a link to a report from the Iraqi Arabic press that al-Qaeda in Iraq has begun to reach out to the members of the Sunni Awakening, whom the Maliki government has begun to target are who are slowly being hung out to dry by the US (despite US military commanders' protests to the contrary). Remember, the Sunni Awakening began as rejection of al-Qaeda's heavy-handedness, but the local militias that comprised it (1) accepted US help only as an alliance of convenience, and (2) harbored a deep distrust of the Shiite-dominated Maliki government, which they saw as too much a tool of the Iranian regime.

It's not at all clear that those who fought al-Qaeda as part of the Sunni Awakening are going to remain onside. They hope to be able to gain some measure of political voice when (or if) the provincial elections take place, but a lot could happen before then - and if the elections do come off (the hope seems to be for January 2009), there's no assurance that they will come off without major hitches and resulting complaints about unfairness . . . which could be more than enough to set off a new round of violence.

Sorry to be such a pessimist, but I see too many signs of what I might very inelegantly term "re-destabilization" to start breathing easy about Iraq's future. ((And now see the new essay by Peter Galbraith in the 23 Oct. 2008 issue of the New York Review of Books.)

Iraq: Kurdish politician killed in disputed region

By VANESSA GERA, Associated Press WriterSat Sep 27, 2:04 PM ET

Iraqi police fatally shot a Kurdish politician in one of Iraq's most volatile provinces Saturday, a killing that underlines the growing tensions between Kurds and Arabs in parts of the north.

Even as Iraq has seen a sharp decline in Sunni-Shiite sectarian violence, hostility is deepening between Kurds and Arabs in Iraq's north as Kurdish authorities begin to exert more authority beyond the boundaries of their autonomous region.

Riya Qahtan, a member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, was killed Saturday morning in Jalula, a small town 80 miles (125 kilometers) northeast of Baghdad in the ethnically mixed province of Diyala, said Jabar Yawer, a spokesman for the Kurdish military, or peshmerga. Jalula has a mostly Sunni Arab population with a substantial Kurdish minority.

The incident occurred after two Sunni Arab policemen stopped three members of the Kurdish secret service at a market and demanded they show identification. They refused, and within minutes police reinforcements arrived at the scene, arrested them and took them to police headquarters, Yawer said.

Qahtan then went to the police station and persuaded officers to release the detainees, who had been working as guards for his party. But as the group was leaving, two policemen opened fire and shot Qahtan, Yawer added.

The two policemen were being investigated as suspects in the shooting, a police official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

Also Saturday, the U.S. military arrested five suspected Iranian-backed Shiite extremists accused in recent rocket attacks on Iraqi and American forces.

The military said it captured the five suspects in three separate locations in a largely Shiite neighborhood in eastern Baghdad, acting on intelligence information.

The extremists are suspected of links to the Hezbollah Brigades, a Shiite extremist group that the U.S. believes is backed by Iran. Tehran denies U.S. allegations that it is supporting violence in Iraq.


Associated Press writers Sameer N. Yacoub in Baghdad and Yahya Barzanji in Sulaimaniyah contributed to this report.

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