Update [2006-3-5 13:58:3 by Steven D]: Juan Cole of Informed Comment provides links to this story of the assasination of University professors and other intellectuals in Iraq:

IN A letter to a friend in Europe, Abdul Razaq al-Naas, a Baghdad university professor in his 50s, grieved for his killed friends and colleagues. His letter concluded: “I wonder who is next!” He was. On January 28 al-Naas drove from his office at Baghdad University. Two cars blocked his, and gunmen opened fire, killing him instantly.

Al-Naas is not the first academic to be killed in the mayhem of the “new Iraq”. Hundreds of academics and scientists have met this fate since the March 2003 invasion. Baghdad universities alone have mourned the killing of over 80 members of staff. The minister of education stated recently that during 2005, 296 members of education staff were killed and 133 wounded.

Not one of these crimes has been investigated by the occupation forces or the interim governments. They leave that to international humanitarian groups and anti-war organisations. Among them is the Brussels Tribunal on Iraq, which has compiled a list to persuade the UN special rapporteur on summary executions to investigate the issue; they do so with the help of Iraqi academics, who risk their lives in the process. Their research shows that the victims have been men and women from all over Iraq, from different ethnic, religious and political backgrounds. Most were vocally opposed to the occupation. For the most part, they were killed in a fashion that suggests cold-blooded assassination. No one has claimed responsibility.

Like many Iraqis, I believe these killings are politically motivated and connected to the occupying forces’ failure to gain any significant social support in the country. For the occupation’s aims to be fulfilled, independent minds have to be eradicated. We feel that we are witnessing a deliberate attempt to destroy intellectual life in Iraq.

Dr al-Naas was a familiar face on al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya TV. He had often condemned the continued presence of US-led troops in Iraq, and criticised the sectarian interim governments and their militias. His case echoes the assassination of the academic Dr Abdullateef al-Mayah. A prominent human rights campaigner and critic of the occupation, Mayah was killed only 12 hours after he had appeared on al-Jazeera denouncing the corruption of the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council.

More below the fold . . .

Leading off: the failure of Iraq to form a Government due to “sectarian violence” (i.e., that war which can not bear to speak its name):

Pressure mounted Sunday on Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari to give up his bid for a new term amid anger over a recent surge of sectarian killing that has complicated already snarled negotiations on a new Iraqi government.

The delay forming a government has prevented the parliament elected Dec. 15 from meeting since the vote was certified last month. But Kurdish and some Shiite officials said Sunday it should be ready to convene within days.

The political turmoil has left a dangerous leadership vacuum as Iraqi armed forces, backed by the U.S. military, battle to contain the violence that pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war.

The trouble with al-Jaafari is that the Sunnis don’t trust him. They see him as a rubber stamp for whatever havoc the Shi’ite dominated Interior Ministry wishes to wreak upon the Sunni minority. And they are probably right. Mr. al-Jaafari is a Kurd, and I suspect he’s made a deal with the Shi’a political parties and their militias, along the line of “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” In other words, keep me as Prime Minister (with that office’s opportunities for graft and influence) and I’ll look the other way as you carry out your pogroms against Sunnis. Mr. al-Jaafari’s ties to radical shi’ite imam Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mehdi Army are well known, a fact with which even many other Shi’ite politicians are fairly uncomfortable.

In any event, whether he is corrupt or merely incompetent, he certainly doesn’t seem to be doing much to stop stuff like this:

Early Sunday, police reported commandos from the Interior Ministry stormed a Sunni mosque in west Baghdad, killing three people and injuring seven in a 25 minute gunbattle. Later, two relatives of an influential Sunni leader were killed in a drive-by shooting in another part of west Baghdad. The Shiite-led Interior Ministry denied involvement in either attack.

The Kurds are also unhappy with him for what they see as failure to act forcefully enough on their behalf in the matter of Kurdish control over the oil rich region around Kirkuk. The Americans, meanwhile are pushing for a “unity government” to contain elements of all three major political blocs: Kurds, Shi’a and Sunni. Yet as long as the Shi’a caucus continues to support his candidacy (i.e., as long as al-Jaafari has the support of al-Sadr) that seems highly unlikely.

Not that I believe any so-called unity government could end the violence. Its a desperate attempt by the US government, in my view, to salvage a situation that is increasingly out of their control.

Another Update [2006-3-5 13:58:3 by Steven D]: Shi’a alliance still standing by their man, al-Jaafari, here.


Switching gears, US military spokespersons in Iraq are now denying reports that Coalition forces would withdraw completely from the country in 2007:

Reuters News Service

BAGHDAD, Iraq — The U.S. military denied British newspaper reports today that it planned to pull out of Iraq early next year, saying the stories, sourced to senior British defence officials, were “completely false.”

The Sunday Telegraph and Sunday Mirror said a plan for U.S. and British forces to pull out in spring 2007 followed an acceptance by the two governments that the presence of foreign troops in Iraq had become an obstacle to securing peace.

But a spokesman for the U.S. military in Iraq reiterated previous statements by U.S. and Iraqi officials that the withdrawal would begin only when Iraqi security forces were capable of guaranteeing security and there was no timetable.

“This news report on a withdrawal of forces within a set timeframe is completely false,” Lieutenant Colonel Barry Johnson said of the stories, which quoted unnamed senior British defence ministry sources.

“As we’ve said over and over again, any withdrawal will be linked to the ability of the Iraqi security forces to maintain domestic order on behalf of a representative Iraqi government that respects the rights of all its citizens. This is an ongoing assessment and not linked to any timeframe,” he said.

Have no idea what this means regarding the accuracy of those initial reports of a troop withdrawal in 2007. Were they merely a trial balloon seeking to discern reaction in Iraq and across the Middle East for a such a proposal? Or were these reports the result of deliberate leaks in order to give the Blair government some “good news” at a time when public unrest in the UK over its involvement in Iraq is at an all time high? Or is the US military blowing smoke up our collective butts to cover up a real plan for withdrawal that the Bush administration was not yet ready to announce?

Who the [expletive deleted] really knows, but my money is that while the UK may withdraw its forces entirely next year, I don’t see the Bushies following in their footsteps. They have poured too much money into the construction of permanent military bases in Iraq, and in lucrative management contracts to Halliburton to operate those bases, to just walk away from their “investment.” I honestly believe that until Bush is removed from office, we will have troops stationed in Iraq, even if they are merely there to secure their own bases and the Green Zone, and nothing else.