Iraq: March 3, 2004

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The Iraqi governing council delayed the signing of the new constitution and called for three days of mourning for the nearly 200 dead from yesterday's bombings of Shia religious celebrations. While some Iraqis blamed the US or Israel for the attacks, most, including the governing council, recognized that the attacks were likely carried out by Sunni Islamic radicals. In other words, "Wahabis" (the form of Islam that is predominant in Saudi Arabia). Sunni Islamic radicals have a long history of persecuting Shia Moslems. Many Wahabis consider Shia to be heretics. The Saudi government officially outlaws such attitudes, and cracks down on Sunni preachers who speak out against the Shia. But the attitudes remain, and many of those in al Qaeda have it in for the Shia. For example, yesterday, there were also suicide bombing attacks against Shia in Pakistan, where violence between Shia and Sunni has been going on for a long time. Iraqis know that al Qaeda is trying to start a civil war between Sunni and Shia, but the population is not taking the bait. 

Iraqis complain the Americans should be able to protect them from these terrorist attacks. But the Iraqis are told that they will have to make an effort themselves. US troops are a lot safer in Iraq these days. The resistance doesn't like to tangle with coalition troops, because the Americans spend a lot of time coming up with ways to defeat Iraqi tactics, and are always developing new ploys to ambush the attackers. Hundreds of robots and UAVs have been sent over to make roadside bombs less effective, and to constantly patrol the roadsides for armed Iraqis setting up ambushes.

There are plenty of Iraqi cops and security troops in action now, but many of the Iraqi commanders lack initiative and resolve. This is driving the American advisors and trainers nuts. This is why you keep hearing about Iraqis being sent to long training courses in Jordan (where the cops are pretty effective) and the US. A lot of effort has gone into recruiting Iraqis who have the right stuff to be effective police commanders. But for now, the coalition is stuck with a lot of old timers who came up at a time when Saddam's secret police were around to do the dirty work. The Sunni resistance and al Qaeda know they can intimidate the Iraqi cops, and that's what they are trying to do. 

The Karbala suicide bombings yesterday were unavoidable because most security in those towns is left to the religious militias (organized by mullahs to protect the holy sites.) These guys don't like to take advice from Americans, but this may be changing after the recent bombings.


 

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