Monday, March 1, 2010

Iraq's elections: coming none too soon?

The AP reports that Iraqi civilian deaths from war-related violence has jumped significantly over the last month, from 177 in January to 255 in February.  Tensions are high across the country: Sunni extremists continue to launch terror attacks that kill people on an almost daily basis; Sunni politicians deemed to have been to cozy with Saddam's Baath regime are being denied the opportunity to run in the elections; Shii groups in the south are accusing each other of cheating.

Of course, most of America has been glued to the Olympics, or maybe checking into how the "troops" are managing in Afghanistan.  Iraq has been consigned to yesterday's news; the country has moved on; and anyway, what are a couple of hundred Iraqis killed in a month?  Doesn't everyone know that the Surge fixed everything there?  (Dick Cheney would even have us send a group hug to W. to thank him for how well Iraq is turning out.)

Perhaps those folks need to look to Iraq's north, and remember that major issues dividing Arabs and Kurds there have been repeatedly kicked down the road since 2005, but that those issues are still there, only getting worse.  The CSM reports on how what could have been a major dust-up was only narrowly averted only days ago in the Nineveh governorate.  Now, Kurdish president Massoud Barzani says the governor of the province, a Sunni Arab from a party that some see as too close to the Baath,  will be arrested if he enters Kurdish-controlled areas. The governor runs a province with a large Kurdish population, yet refuses to appoint more Kurds to official posts; the Kurds, in protest, refuse to attend provincial council meetings.

Barzani went on to describe the governor as a "criminal" and said a warrant would be issued for his arrest in connection with an incident this month involving US forces. Things were made worse by the local US military commander, who seems to have poorly gauged just how high the tensions have been raised.  His insensitivity seems mirrored in the CSM quote from a US military official, who brusquely, even contemptuously, tossed off the remark that
“He is the governor - as much as they hate his guts, he is the governor.  The fact that they hate his guts is immaterial.”
How much you wanna bet that this gentle soul has never heard of (Sunni Baathist) Saddam's genocidal Anfal campaign against the Kurds during the late 1980s, or of the town of Halabja, where Saddam's forces dropped chemical weapons that killed hundreds of Kurds?  Decades of mistrust underlie the tensions in Iraq's north.  They're not going to be overcome by a US injunction of "Hey, that's tough, but who cares now?"

A lot is riding on these elections in 7 days.  They're not going to be pleasant, and the aftermath is likely to be very tense - especially, as was recently reported, some electoral skullduggery is afoot.

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