Iraqis clear debris at the site of twin blasts in the city of Khales, northeast of Baghdad. The casualty toll of the twin bombings in Khales has risen to 52 dead and 73 wounded, a security official said. (AFP) This occurred yesterday and was noted in yesterday's post.
Afternoon Update: President Obama is in Kabul meeting with Hamid Karzai. "In a briefing with pool reporters on the trip, National Security Adviser James Jones said Obama would push Karzai to improve efforts to meet benchmarks for better governance in his second term, which began last year. According to Jones, Obama planned to point out that more attention was needed to certain issues -- such as a merit-based system for appointing key government officials, battling corruption and taking on narcotics trafficking that helps fund insurgents." Good luck with that -- C
Reported Security Incidents
A series of explosions apparently targeting a leader of the Development and Reforms movement, a small party in the al-Iraqiya bloc, kills 6 people. The dead include movement leader Ghanim Radhi, who was not himself a candidate for parliament. As this MSNBC report notes, accounts conflict as to whether the house that was targeted belonged to Radhi himself, or to Sheik Murdhi Muhammad al-Mahalawi, who was a candidate. Other reports describe the blasts as "roadside bombs," but these seem more credible. The location is remote so the confusion is not unusual. -- C Reuters also reports 15 people injured.
Bomb attack near a police officer's house in Albo Ebeid causes damage but no casualties.
One Iraqi soldier killed, 1 injured in drive by shooting late Saturday.
Other News of the Day
Asaib Ahl al-Haq (League of the Righteous) releases kidnapped U.S. contractor Issa T. Salomi, claiming it did so in exchange for 4 prisoners held by the U.S. The U.S. had no comment. The U.S. had previously been in reconciliation talks with the group and had released hundreds of its members before talks broke down.
Iyad Allawi starts efforts to form a governing coalition. As Leila Fadel tells us, in addition to wooing potential Shiite and Kurdish partners, "He will also almost certainly have to make overtures to predominantly Shiite Iran, which is more influential in Iraqi politics than the United States."
Jim Loney of Reuters thinks the election results in fact empower the Sadrists. Excerpt:
[O]fficials with Maliki's State of Law bloc and a fellow Shi'ite coalition, the Iraqi National Alliance, say they are talking about a merger that would make anti-American Shi'ite Moqtada al-Sadr, whose Mehdi Army fought fiercely against U.S. troops, a power player in Iraq's new political landscape.
"The government will not form (from other than) State of Law and INA because the kingmaker now is Moqtada al-Sadr," Iraqi political analyst Ibrahim al-Sumaidaie said. "Moqtada will not stand in front of the Shi'ites and Iran and tell them 'I got you a mainly Sunni government with Baathist links.'"
The "Baathist links" remark is a bit of a canard. People in government or high level professional positions during the Saddam era had no choice but to belong to the party; but Allawi himself broke with the Baathists in 1975 as Saddam consolidated power, and plotted to overthrow Saddam from exile in 1978, whereupon Saddam tried to have him killed. He spent the next 30 years working for the overthrow of the Baathist regime. So this is hardly about a restoration. -- C
And Juan Cole also sees the Sadrists empowered by the results:
Al-Hayat reports in Arabic on the emergence of the Sadr Movement as the largest Shiite party within the Shiite fundamentalist coalition, the Iraqi National Alliance. The Free Independent (al-Ahrar) party that represented the Sadrists won 38 seats out of the 70 that the INA garnered, making the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, the Islamic Virtue Party and other Shiite religious components of the list much smaller and less weightier in the coalition's deliberations.
No sooner, the article says, than the election tallies began coming in did the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki begin gradually releasing Sadrist prisoners who had been in Iraqi penitentiaries for years. Al-Hayat's sources say that in Babil Province, orders were received from the government to release members of the Sadr Movement, in an attempt to mollify that group.
al-Hayat is also reporting that a couple of days ago representatives of the Sadr Movement and of al-Maliki's State of Law met in Tehran in an Iranian-backed attempt quickly to form a new Shiite-dominated government. In Iran for the talks were President Jalal Talibani and his Shiite vice president, Adil Abdel Mahdi of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq.
This move underlines the way in which Iraq's election has geopolitical as well as local significance. Also that Iran is sitting pretty while the US prepares to withdraw.
And meanwhile, Rod Nordland describes Maliki's various machinations to undo the election results. Excerpt:
On Thursday, a day before the results were announced, he quietly persuaded the Iraqi supreme court to issue a ruling that potentially allows him to choose the new government instead of awarding that right to the winner of the election, the former interim prime minister Ayad Allawi.
On another front, officials in charge of purging the government of former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party said Saturday that they still expected to disqualify more than 50 political candidates, many of them members of Mr. Allawi’s Iraqiya Party. That could strip Mr. Allawi of his plurality, 91 parliamentary seats compared with 89 for Mr. Maliki’s State of Law party.
And if all that does not work, the prime minister still is clamoring for a recount, and he said he planned to file a legal appeal even though the United Nations, the elections commission and international observers have declared the election valid.
Six civilians killed in 2 separate IED explosions in Helmand; 5 children injured by explosion in Herat.
AP's Adam Goldman and Kathy Gannon report on the murder of a prisoner by the CIA in Kabul in 2002. Excerpt:
More than seven years ago, a suspected Afghan militant was brought to a dimly lit CIA compound northeast of the airport in Kabul. The CIA called it the Salt Pit. Inmates knew it as the dark prison. Inside a chilly cell, the man was shackled and left half-naked. He was found dead, exposed to the cold, in the early hours of Nov. 20, 2002. . . .
The man was Gul Rahman (gool RAHK'-mahn), a suspected militant captured on Oct. 29, 2002, a U.S. official familiar with the case confirmed. The official said Rahman was taken during an operation against Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin, an insurgent group headed by Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (gool-boo-DEEN' hek-mat-YAR') and allied with al-Qaida. . . .
It remains uncertain whether any intelligence officers have been punished as a result of the Afghan's death, raising questions about the CIA's accountability in the case. The CIA's then-station chief in Afghanistan was promoted after Rahman's death, and the officer who ran the prison went on to other assignments, including one overseas, several former intelligence officials said.
British soldier from Third Battalion The Rifles has been killed by a car bomber in Afghanistan on Saturday, on the same day another soldier killed by a grenade was named. A soldier from Suffolk killed in Afghanistan on Friday was named as Lance Corporal Jonathan Woodgate.
A clash between Taliban and police in west Afghanistan's Farah province left two militants dead and two others injured, police said on Sunday.
"If the U.S. Marines at Combat Outpost Turbett have any problems with their Afghan colleagues, they're with the Afghan soldiers who followed them into battle against Taliban fighters, not with the elite police officers who have stepped in to help fill the security vacuum. While the Marines praise the Afghan National Civil Order Police force, they can barely conceal their contempt for the Afghan soldiers who live alongside the Americans in this one-time drug den in Marjah," reports McClatchy's Don Nissembaum.
However, the Afghan police in general do not get much love, says the AP.
Britain's Foreign Office says the U.K. has deep concerns over progress in building an Afghan national police force. Its comments come as the Independent on Sunday newspaper reported that, in a series of memos, Foreign Office officials complained about the standard of police recruits — criticizing the fitness, poor literacy and lax vetting of candidates. It quoted one document suggesting drug testing for police should be compulsory.
And here's the original Independent article, by Brian Brady. Excerpt:
A series of internal Foreign Office papers obtained by The Independent on Sunday lay bare the deep concerns of British officials over the standard of recruits to the Afghan National Police (ANP), ranging from high casualty rates and illiteracy to poor vetting and low pay.
The memos, which warn that building an effective police force "will take many years", also reveal how non-existent "ghost recruits" may account for up to a quarter of the purported strength of the police force, often the front line against the Taliban insurgency. The "attrition rate" among police officers – including losses caused by deaths, desertion and dismissals, often due to positive drug tests – is as high as 60 per cent in Helmand province.
Quote of the Day
Muqtada al-Sadr will not return to an occupied Iraq. He has said more than once that he will only return when the American occupiers have left. There is no doubt that gaining the rank of ayatollah will empower the Sadrist bloc. It will also broaden the Sadrists’ base by giving those who love Sadr the chance to follow him as a marja.
Sadrist politician Nasser al-Rubaie
Note: Muqtada al-Sadr is in the Iranian city of Qom pursuing religious studies.