Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Second Re-Launch of the 'Occident': News Round-up Part I: Iraq

Finally after many months during which no one probably missed it, I've decided to re-launch Views from the Occident for the second time. So, we'll see how well my reliability and stamina last this time around.

The first new post will deal with recent events in Iraq since the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Iraq: Violence Continues to Spiral after Death of al-Zarqawi

Although Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the bloodthirsty former leader of al-Qa'ida in the Land of the Two Rivers/Mesopotamia, was killed in a June 7 U.S. airstrike on a safehouse a few miles north of the Iraqi city of Baquba, which is located northeast of Baghdad, the steady stream of suicide attacks by Salafi militants has continued unabated. Under the command of his successor, the shadowy Egyptian Abu Hamza al-Muhajer, who is also known as Abu Ayyub al-Masri ("the Egyptian") [right] al-Qa'ida has launched its most vicious and successful, in terms of civilian deaths, terrorist attacks since the March 2003 American-led invasion.

On November 23, multiple car bombings and mortar attacks killed over 200 people in Baghdad's Sadr City section, a teeming lower-class district that is home to an estimated 2 million Shi'a. In reprisal attacks, Shi'i militiamen connected to groups led by expelled former commanders of the Mahdi Army militia of mid-ranking Shi'i cleric Muqtada al-Sadr [left] and possibly members of renegade factions of the Mahdi Army itself attacked Sunni neighborhoods with mortars and ransacked several Sunni mosques, killing dozens of Sunnis in the process.

Despite calls by al-Sadr for his followers not to indescriminately target Sunnis in revenge attacks, Shi'i militias have been active participants in the descent into a low to mid-level civil war (yes, civil war albeit not a full-blown one) since the February bombings of the sacred al-Askariyya Shrine of the tenth and eleventh Shi'i Imams, 'Ali al-Hadi and Hasan al-Askari by al-Qa'ida. Legal opinions (fatawa) by Iraq's senior Shi'i ayatullahs, who are all considered moderates, and even hardline Sunni religious leaders like Harith al-Dhari [right], leader of the Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars, which is believed to have loose ties to Sunni insurgent groups, have also failed to reign in the violence. The Mahdi Army is beginning to become divided and new groups, many led by expelled former Mahdi Army commanders as well as independent Shi'i clerics, have led to further splits within the Iraqi Shi'i community. This phenomenon will be analyzed in a later post.

For more information on the shrine bombing, see:

U.S. President George W. Bush met the leader of Iraq's largest Shi'i political party, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), Hojjat al-Islam 'Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, Dec. 5. Although he stated that Iraqi security forces should be given more responsibilities (the Iraqi government does not have full control over its operations at this time), al-Hakim also said that he believed a sizeable number of U.S. troops should remain to help stabilize the country.

Al-Hakim urged increased military action against Salafi Sunni elements such as al-Qa'ida and radical Iraqi Sunni groups: "The strikes they are getting from the multinational forces are not hard enough to put an end to their acts. Eliminating the danger of civil war in Iraq could only be achieved through directing decisive strikes against Baathist terrorists in Iraq. Otherwise we'll continue to witness massacres being committed every now and then against innocent Iraqis," he said.

Bush made it clear that he wasn't satisfied with the progress in Iraq but said he remained committed to helping the Iraqi government. In recent days, the Bush administration has rejected calls for a rapid withdrawal or the implementation of a timetable for troop withdrawals from Iraq.

In a change of heart, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki [left] has sent envoys to neighboring countries in order drum up support for a regional conference devoted to finding a solution to Iraq's low to mid-level civil war. "We will send envoys to neighbouring countries to encourage the governments of those countries to reinforce security and stability," he said.

For more information, see:

Bush's nominee to be the new Secretary of State after the resignation-under-pressure of one of the last Neo Conservatives in his administration, the hawkish Donald Rumsfeld, Robert M. Gates [right]told the U.S. Senate's Armed Services Committee that the U.S. wasn't winning the war in Iraq though he stressed that it hadn't lost yet either. "Our course over the next year or two will determine whether the American and Iraqi people and the next president of the United States will face a slowly and steadily improving situation in Iraq and in the region or will face the very real risk of a regional conflagration," he said. Gates won unanimous committee support for his nomination to go before the entire Senate.

For more information, see:

Neo Conservative John Bolton [left], the controversial U.S. ambassador to the United Nations whom President Bush had to appoint last year during a Congressional recess because the Senate wouldn't approve Bolton's nomination during session, has resigned his post. It became increasingly clear since the Democratic Party won the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate due to the rising unpopularity of the Iraq escapade and the plummeting poll numbers for Bush and his Republican compatriots that Bolton would not be approved by the new Congress. Bolton said he did not resign by choice and Bush said that he "reluctantly" accepted the resignation while chiding the Democrats and moderate Republicans for blocking Bolton.

For a "fair and balanced" (cough, BS) analysis on Bolton's departure and why it's "bad for America," see the editorial by Fox News show host John Gibson:

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