The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 69/No. 01           January 11, 2005  
Killings of civilians in Iraqi cities
show desperation of Baathist forces
(front page)
AFP/Getty Images/Ahmad al-Rubaye
Damage from December 19 bombing in Najaf that killed 52 Iraqi civilians

Two car bombings December 19 in the majority Shiite cities of Najaf and Karbala killed nearly 70 people and wounded as many as 175. Iraqi officials said police have arrested 50 suspects in the baombings, and banned cars from entering sections of downtown Najaf in an effort to prevent similar attacks.

The bombings were aimed at Iraqi civilians, especially Shiites, who were targets of widespread repression under the former Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein. The one in Najaf took place in the middle of a funeral procession and the attack in Karbala occurred at the city’s bus terminal. The nature of the attacks and the reaction to them inside Iraq indicate the increasing isolation of the “insurgency,” which lost its base in Fallujah since the city’s takeover by the U.S. occupation forces in mid-November. These bombings also show that the attempts by Baathists and their allies to stop the march toward the U.S.-orchestrated elections for an Iraqi national assembly are becoming more desperate.

Statements by U.S. and Iraqi officials and actions by most political forces in Iraq indicate that the elections are likely to be held as scheduled on January 30.

Meanwhile, Washington has stepped up its political pressure on the Syrian government, charging it with sheltering former officers of Hussein’s regime and becoming a conduit for funding the groups that have carried out kidnappings and beheadings of hostages and armed assaults on civilian and military targets.

On December 21 a mortar and rocket attackbombing at on a U.S. military facility near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul killed 22, including 13 U.S. troops. and More than 70 were wounded more than 50, according to U.S. officials. Media reports indicate that Ansar al-Sunna, a Sunni Muslim group, took responsibility for the attack, whose targets were U.S. and Iraqi troops, and non-Iraqi “contractors.”

These attacks, and the execution of three employees of Iraq’s Independent Electoral Commission on a busy street in Baghdad December 19, were aimed at disrupting the elections planned by the interim government of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.

No one has yet taken responsibility for the car bombings in Najaf and Karbala or issued statements explaining their purpose.

Those who carried out the bombings were aiming for the maximum number of civilian casualties among the Shiite population, which makes up about 60 percent of Iraq’s population of 25 million.

The destruction was greatest in the car bombing in Najaf, where 54 were killed and 142 injured, the Associated Press reported. The bomb went off during a funeral procession in a central square crowded with people in this city 100 miles south of the capital. “In Karbala, a suicide bomber detonated his vehicle amid minibuses at the entrance to the city’s bus terminal,” said a New York Times dispatch from Baghdad the next day. The director of a nearby hospital said 14 had been killed and 52 wounded.

Haidar al-Ubadi, a top official with the Dawa party, a key component of an alliance of leading Shiite-based parties, blamed Sunni forces from the Wahhabi branch of Islam for the attack. “The Wahhabis are being fed intelligence from the Baathists to carry out this slaughter,” al-Ubadi said. “We will hand them victory if we respond in kind.”

Another Shiite cleric, Muhammad Bahr al-Uloum, charged, “They are trying to ignite a sectarian civil war and prevent elections from going ahead on time.”

The Saddam Hussein regime had its main base of support among a wealthy layer of Sunni Arabs, who recognize that the January 30 elections could register a crowning blow to their former domination. A new government brought into office with relatively little disruption of the election process would have greater authority among Iraqis and internationally than the one installed by U.S. imperialism more than a year after the March 2003 invasion.

The U.S. takeover of the city of Fallujah in November was a powerful military blow to Baathist groups and their allies. Following the brutal U.S.-led assault on Fallujah, more evidence has been made public of the central role played by remnants of the Hussein regime in organizing the attacks on U.S. forces and the Iraqi interim government.

Having lost their territorial base in Fallujah, the Baathist-led forces have tried to regroup in sections of Mosul and other former Baathist strongholds, and more and more are turning to desperate attacks on civilians. The isolation of these armed groups is also demonstrated by the fact that the two largest Sunni-based political parties have decided to participate in the elections, along with the parties with majority support within the Shiite population and the Kurdish groups in the north.

Washington has taken advantage of these kind of attacks to push ahead with the January 30 elections as the only “democratic” alternative for Iraqis, and increase the pressure on the Syrian regime to clamp down on Baathist forces operating from its territory.

Washington’s imperialist allies in the “coalition of the willing” have continued to back the U.S.-led occupation—all have maintained their forces in Iraq since the Spanish government withdrew its troops earlier this year. British prime minister Anthony Blair traveled to Baghdad December 21 where he confirmed London’s support for Washington’s military campaign in Iraq and for holding the January 30 elections on schedule. Rome and Tokyo have followed suit. In early December the Japanese government extended the deployment of its 600 soldiers in Iraq for another year. Simultaneously, a layer of the Japanese ruling class is seeking to take advantage of the “war on terrorism” to press for a new military plan that will increase the size of Tokyo’s armed forces.

At a December 20 press conference, U.S. president George Bush continued Washington’s threats against the government of Syrian president Bashar Al Assad for allegedly aiding Baathists who are “funneling money to the insurgents” in Iraq. “We have sent messages to the Syrians in the past, and we will continue to do so,” said Bush. “We have tools at our disposal, a variety of tools ranging from diplomatic tools to economic pressure. Nothing’s taken off the table. And when I said the other day that I expect these countries [Syria and Iran] to honor the political process in Iraq without meddling, I meant it.”

A year ago, U.S. Congress passed the Syrian Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Act, which gives the president the authority to impose a range of sanctions against Damascus, from banning exports to Syria to freezing Syrian assets in the United States. The legislation demands that the Syrian government prevent armed groups opposed to the U.S. occupation of Iraq from entering its country; shut down the offices of Palestinian groups that Washington labels as “terrorist”; withdraw its troops from Lebanon; and halt any development of medium- and long-range missile systems.

As a reminder of the “tools” Washington has available, the U.S. military ordered fighter jets to strike positions of “extremists” along the Iraqi-Syrian border in early December.
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