Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Iraq on Ashura

Scores of Shiite were killed on their holiest day today.

Messianic cult

The BBC has a balanced account of Abdul Zahra's odd cult and dramatic end. McClatchy reports thousands of rifles and hundreds of RPGs. The Christian Science Monitor accounts for less weapons, but still a large cache. The International Herald Tribune reports that Iraqi forces "appeared to have dangerously underestimated the strength of the militia" and recquired United States ground support.

Sectarian politics

Azzaman Online reports that Sadr's movement is seeking rapprochement with Sunni organizations:
Sadr has dispatched one of his most senior aides, Bahaa al-Araji, who is also a member of parliament, to meet with officials from the Iraqi Islamic Party, a major Sunni political faction.

In the meeting, in the presence of President Jalal Talabani, the sides have agreed to put an end to sectarian killings and form joint committees to administer mixed quarters in Baghdad and work for the return of displaced people from both sects.
Think tanks

Dire predictions from Brookings in the Independent:
The unremittingly bleak document, drawing on the experience of civil wars in Lebanon, the former Yugoslavia, Congo and Afghanistan, also offers a remarkably stark assessment of Iraq's "spill-over" potential across the Persian Gulf region.

It warns of radicalisation and possible secession movements in adjacent countries, an upsurge in terrorism, and of intervention by Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Ending an all-out civil war, the report says, would require a force of 450,000 - three times the present US deployment even after the 21,500 "surge" ordered by President Bush this month.

Everywhere looms the shadow of Iran. In a "war game" testing US options, the Saban Centre for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution found that, as the descent into civil war gathered pace, confrontation between the US and Iran intensified, and Washington's leverage on Tehran diminished. Civil war in Iraq would turn Iran into "the unambiguous adversary" of the US.

Indeed, everything indicates that that is already happening. The study appeared on the same day as the Iranian ambassador in Iraq told The New York Times that Tehran intended to expand its influence in Iraq. US commanders now claim that thousands of Iranian advisers are arming and training Shia militias.

Nonetheless, the Brookings report urges the creation of a regional group to help contain a civil war. That would see exactly the contacts with Iran and Syria that the Bush administration steadfastly refuses. An alternative in the report would be "red lines" which, if crossed by Tehran, could lead to a military attack by the US on Iran.


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