Iraqi Landscape Remains Turbulent
SHEILAH KAST, host:
Leaders of Iraq's Shiite-dominated National Assembly today formally presented the final version of the proposed constitution to its members. There was no vote on new amendments which fall short of Sunni Arab demands. Iraqis will decide whether they accept the constitution in a referendum in mid-October.
In violence this weekend, a car bomb explosion in a Shiite market town north of Baghdad killed at least 30 people yesterday and, today, insurgents killed a Kurdish member of the Iraqi parliament, his brother and driver as they drove south to attend today's session. NPR's Anne Garrels is on the line from Baghdad.
Anne, there have been many bombings, many deaths in recent days. But American officials, at least publicly, say progress is being made against insurgents. Is that a realistic view?
ANNE GARRELS reporting:
I have to say it's a pretty mixed picture, diplomatically. US and Iraqi forces have been attacking a major insurgent stronghold, Tall'Afar in the north, and they say they plan to follow this up with similar assaults on towns to squeeze Zarqawi and those who are battling the US and the US-backed Shiite government. And officials say they've arrested hundreds of suspects in Tall'Afar and they've announced the detention elsewhere of people they say are key operatives. But we've heard this before, and it's unclear if this really marks any kind of a turning point.
And privately, officials acknowledge insurgents are still able to move around, and they can see this week's explosions underscore how the illusive Zarqawi, former Baathists and other extremists can still recruit Iraqis and launch devastating and well-coordinated attacks.
KAST: You returned to Baghdad this past week after being away for a few months. What were your first impressions when you returned?
GARRELS: Well, the security situation hasn't improved. My mobility is still extremely limited, and whatever hopes Iraqis had for the new government, frankly, haven't been realized. What I see is frustration turning more and more to despair. Iraqis see no improvement in basic services, like electricity, and even US officials acknowledge that reconstruction projects, which is key for Iraqis' daily lives, have been ill-conceived. They've been hindered by poor planning and Iraqi corruption. Many projects have been stopped in their tracks because money is eaten up by security.
And the bombings this week really, really rattled people. Even down in Basra, a Shiite city which has been relatively calm, residents responded to the Baghdad bombings and Zarqawi's declaration of war against Shiites with palpable fear.
KAST: Well, does the situation look more like a civil war and less like an insurgency against the American occupation?
GARRELS: Iraqis in--almost to a man insist that they want to be patient, that they don't want to respond, you know, to this. But they are scared. They're being drawn and sucked into a civil war that they say they don't want. The car bombs and gunmen are attacking more and more Shiites: officials, police, important Shiite clerics as well as ordinary civilians.
Meanwhile, Sunni Arabs say that Shiite extremists, possibly with the support of the government, are taking revenge. This week I was in a neighborhood. Four Sunni real estate agents were gunned down in Huriyah. They were then taken to a Shiite hospital because it was the nearest one. When their relatives went there to retrieve the dead bodies, they were murdered.
GARRELS: Now this led families to believe the people in the hospital were acting along with Shiite extremists. And now the neighborhood, meanwhile, which is mixed, rallied together. They held the funeral for the Sunni dead in a Shiite mosque to defy those who might want to defe--divide them all. But nonetheless, many of the Sunnis say Shiite extremists are trying to force them out, and they have no choice but to flee the neighborhood. That's the sort of thing you're seeing.
KAST: Briefly, Anne, what was the Sunni Arabs response to the final version of the constitution today?
GARRELS: Well, they clearly weren't happy. The amendments do nothing to assuage their concerns that a new federal Iraq, which will give special powers to Kurdish and Shiite regions, will further institutionalize their minority status. But there wasn't much defiance. It remains to be seen how they're going to ask, you know, their Sunni constituencies to vote.
KAST: NPR's Anne Garrels in Baghdad. Thank you, Anne.
GARRELS: Thank you.
KAST: It's 18 minutes past the hour.
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