A series of three coordinated car bombs killed dozens in Baghdad Wednesday morning, AP reported.[1]  --  The attack occurred as drafters of Iraq's constitution struggled to meet an Aug. 22 deadline, but their work was denounced by the leading Sunni party, the Iraqi Islamic Party, who accused the drafting committed of bias and incompetence and emphasized disagreements over federalism, the role of religion, and the distribution of oil wealth.  --  Even if a constitution is achieved, rejection by two-thirds of the voters in three provinces will be enough to defeat it, and "Sunnis form the majority in at least four provinces," reporter Bassem Mroue noted.  --  In a piece published Monday in the Independent (UK), Robert Fisk describes the unreality of the constitutional discussions, taking place as they do "the Alice-in-Wonderland world" of the Green Zone, where life bears no resemblance to existence in the rest of the city and country (except Kurdistan), where life is dominated by "the violence of the American occupation, the oppression of the insurgents and the daily threat of mass, organized crime."[2] ...


Breaking News


By Bassem Mroue

Associated Press
August 18, 2005


BAGHDAD -- Three car bombs exploded Wednesday near a crowded bus station and a nearby hospital where survivors were being taken, killing up to 43 people in the deadliest suicide attack in Baghdad in weeks. Rescuers used bolt cutters to free some victims hurled into barbed wire fences by the blast.

The attacks came as Iraq's main Sunni Arab party denounced the talks on Iraq's constitution, raising doubts the document can win Sunni support and lure disaffected Sunnis from the insurgency.

Police said the first bomb blew up at the Nadha bus terminal, the city's largest, shortly before 8 a.m. as swarms of travelers were boarding buses. As Iraqi police rushed to the scene, a suicide driver detonated his vehicle in the station's parking lot.

Another suicide bomber blew up his car a half-hour later across the street from nearby Kindi Hospital, where ambulances were transporting the injured.

Police Capt. Nabil Abdul-Qader said 43 people were killed and 85 were wounded in the attacks. The U.S. military put the casualty toll at 38 dead and 68 injured.

Terrified survivors -- many crying and screaming -- scrambled about the smoking, charred hulks of buses and cars looking for signs of relatives. Several weeping men hugged inside the open-air terminal. One man searched through the charred buses for signs of his brother and cousin.

Several of the dead near Kindi Hospital were hurled into barbed wire security fences, and rescuers had to use bolt cutters to free the bodies.

"We want our voices to be heard by the president of the republic and every official to tackle such violence," shouted one dazed security guard who refused to give his name. "All those who were killed are innocent people. There were no American nor Iraqi troops on the scene."

Four suspects were detained at the bus station on suspicion of involvement in the bombings, the Transportation Ministry said.

The attacks Wednesday were the deadliest series of single-day suicide bombings in Baghdad since mid-July, although suicide attacks with far lower death tolls occur here near daily.

Twenty-five people died in a suicide blast July 10 at an army recruiting center in Baghdad. On July 13 a car bomb in Baghdad killed 27 people, including 18 youths and one American soldier.

The latest attacks occurred shortly before the leaders of Iraq's political factions met to try to finish the constitution by the new deadline next Monday. If no agreement can be reached this time, the interim constitution requires that the parliament be dissolved and that a new transitional assembly and government be elected in December.

Some Shiite officials spoke of progress in the Wednesday talks.

However, the largest Sunni group, the Iraqi Islamic Party, issued a blistering attack on the drafting committee, accusing it of bias and incompetence. The party, which has members on the committee, said major differences remain on the same issues that blocked a deal last week.

They included federalism, the role of the Shiite clergy, and the distribution of Iraq's vast oil wealth. The Sunni party also insisted that the new constitution affirm the country's Arab and Islamic identity and demanded that Islam be declared a main source in legislation -- a measure opposed by Kurds and women's activists.

"The battle of the constitution is not over yet," the Sunni party said. "Our people should be awake and cautious and the popular will should arise to put pressure for a free Iraqi national draft constitution that preserves the sovereignty and unity of its people."

The Sunni group's statement raised serious questions about the constitution, and if it can achieve a major U.S. objective of luring disaffected Sunni Arabs away from the Sunni-dominated insurgency.

Once the draft is approved by parliament, it will be submitted to the voters in a referendum Oct. 15. If two-thirds of the voters in three of the 18 provinces reject the constitution, it will be defeated. Sunnis form the majority in at least four provinces.

Failure to finish the constitution by the original deadline last Monday was an embarrassment for the Bush administration, which insisted that the timetable be followed to maintain political momentum and blunt Iraq's deadly insurgency.

But Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, dismissed reports that the administration has lowered its expectations about what can be achieved in Iraq.

"I don't think expectations have been lowered," Myers said in Baghdad during an interview on NBC's "Today" show, with U.S. troops standing behind him. "Our plans are on track."

In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said he had been informed by the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad that drafters of a constitution "did make some progress" on Wednesday but that "the issues have not been all completely settled."

Despite U.S. hopes for the constitution, none of the previous milestones -- the December 2003 capture of Saddam Hussein, the June 2004 transfer of sovereignty and the Jan. 30 election -- has managed to curb the insurgency.

On Wednesday, the U.S. military said two more American soldiers were killed this week. One died Tuesday when a roadside bomb exploded near his patrol in southwest Baghdad and another on Monday in an insurgent attack in northern Iraq.

Elsewhere, six new Iraqi soldier recruits heading to a training camp in Kirkuk were killed after gunmen stopped their minibus, Iraqi Army Brig. Gen. Anwar Mohammed Amin said. Three people, including two children, were killed Wednesday when a car bomb exploded in Fallujah, hospital officials said.

The U.S. military said it is investigating a clash Tuesday in Baghdad during which an undetermined number of Iraqi civilians were injured after insurgents opened fire on a U.S. patrol and U.S. helicopter fired back. Iraqi police said one civilian was killed and 23 wounded.


By Robert Fisk

August 15, 2005


Behind ramparts of concrete and barbed wire, the framers of Iraq’s new constitution wrestled yesterday to prevent -- or bring about -- the federalization of Iraq while their compatriots in the hot and fetid streets outside showed no interest in their efforts.

Today is supposed to be "C" day, according to President Bush and all the others who illegally invaded this country in 2003. However, in " real" Baghdad -- where the President and Prime Minister and the constitutional committee never set foot -- they ask you about security, about electricity, about water, about when the occupation will end, when the murders will end, when the rapes will end.

They talk, quite easily, about the "failed" Jaafari government, so blithely elected by Shias and Kurds last January. "Failed" because it cannot protect its own people. "Failed" because it cannot rebuild its own capital city -- visible to it between the Crusader-like machine-gun slits in the compound walls -- and because it cannot understand, let alone meet, the demands of the "street."

In the Alice-in-Wonderland Iraq of Messrs Bush and Blair -- inhabited, too, by the elected government of Iraq and its constitutional drafters and quite a few Western journalists -- there are no such problems to cope with. The air-conditioners hiss away -- there are generators to provide 24-hour power -- and almost all senior officials have palatial homes in the heavily protected "Green Zone" which was once Saddam Hussein’s Republican Palace compound. No power cuts for them, no petrol queues, no kidnaps and murders.

As an Iraqi academic just returned from Paris and Brussels told me yesterday: "Europeans understand politics through the Green Zone level. They have no idea that the rest of Iraq -- save for Kurdistan -- is a place of anarchy and death. One asked me: 'Do you think federalism is really a danger to the Sunni?' I answered him: 'Do you think the fear of constant death is not a danger to Sunnis, Shia and Kurds?' His eyes glazed over. It was not what he wanted to talk about. But it is what we talk about."

Those few Iraqis who bother to read the government press in Baghdad -- their low circulation mirrors the same phenomenon of disbelief that existed under Saddam's regime -- are told every nuance of the constitutional debate. The name of the state has been agreed (The Iraqi Republic), the distribution of financial resources according to demographic areas rather than provinces (bad news for the Kurds), and that Islam should be "one" of the sources of legislation (bad news for those who want an Islamic republic).

There is a "constitutional committee" and a "constitutional commission" (comprising 55 elected parliamentary deputies) with 15 unelected Sunnis (because the Sunni population largely boycotted last January’s election), each committee divided into five sub-committees, each one studying one chapter in the constitution. The actual writers of this massive document -- they allegedly include at least two professors -- remain anonymous for "security reasons." And all live in the heavily guarded Green Zone, safe -- more or less -- from the insurgents and, more importantly, safer from ordinary Iraqis who have to endure the violence of the American occupation, the oppression of the insurgents and the daily threat of mass, organized crime.

Everyone knows the real issue behind the constitution: will it allow Iraq’s three principle communities -- the Shias, the Sunnis and the Kurds -- to form their own federal states? And if so, will this mean the break-up of Iraq? The Sunnis, the only one of the three whose homes do not sit on oil reserves, are naturally against such a division which would, incidentally, allow the Americans and the other Western nations, who still claim to have liberated Iraq for "democracy," to reach oil deals with two weakened entities rather than a potentially united Iraqi nation.

Add to all this Kurdistan’s demand that the future demography of Kirkuk -- the Arab population injected by Saddam, the Kurdish population of the city exiled by Saddam and its minority Turkomans -- be settled before the constitution is written, and you get a good idea why even the Americans are beginning to lose patience. The Kurds want oil-rich Kirkuk to be the capital of Kurdistan -- a state which already exists although no Iraqi seems to be prepared to admit this -- and thus further cut away at the frontier between "Arab" Iraq and "Kurdish" Iraq.

The problem is that all these issues are played out not in Iraq but in the Alice-in-Wonderland world already described. This is a unique place in which Saddam’s trial is always being predicted to start in two months' time -- on at least four occasions this has happened -- in which Iraqi reconstruction is always about to restart and in which insurgent strength is always weakening. In fact, Iraqi guerrillas are now striking at the Americans 70 times a day and so fearful are senior American officers of an increase in attacks that this has become their principal reason for trying to prevent the release of 87 further photographs and videotapes of the Abu Ghraib prison torture and abuses.

In Real Iraq, it makes no difference. For the "street," Saddam is history, there is no reconstruction, and the filth of Abu Ghraib causes no great surprise -- because most Iraqis knew all about it months before the West opened its horrified eyes to the pictures.

As for the constitution, I asked an old Iraqi friend what he thought yesterday. "Sure, it’s important," he said. "But my family lives in fear of kidnapping, I’m too afraid to tell my father I work for journalists, and we only have one hour in six of electricity and we can’t even keep our food from going bad in the fridge. Federalism? You can’t eat federalism and you can’t use it to fuel your car and it doesn’t make my fridge work."